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The Incredible Benefits of Curiosity

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You may be too young to remember the K.D. Lang classic: Constant Craving.

Haunting, hypnotic song.

Lang is making a rare concert appearance in Ft. Lauderdale this week. I think of “craving” a lot last week while engaging with a Europolitan group of business leaders. Oliver, the super-insightful German Operations Manager of a global manufacturing firm, gives me a little linguistics lesson.

Neugierde” is the German translation for curiosity, Oliver reminds meIt is a typical German phrase, constructed by fusing two words into one. ‘New’ and ‘Craving.’ Craving the New.

Neugierde is curiosity amplified.

We can learn all sorts of skills and techniques, Oliver elaborates, but this is what any great conversation ultimately boils down to … Craving the new.

Powerful intention. Not mildly curious. Not politely interested. Not kinda, sorta intrigued. No. Boldly craving the new.

Francesca Gino is a Professor at Harvard Business School. Gino has been researching the business impacts of curiosity (The Business Case for Curiosity, HBR, September/October 2018). Her findings are not unexpected. And they are depressing.

While paying lip service to wanting inquisitive team members and colleagues, most leaders actively stifle curiosity because they fear it will increase risk and inefficiency. In a survey Gino conducted with over 3,000 employees in a range of firms and industries, only 24% reported feeling curious in their jobs on a regular basis. 70% said they face barriers to asking more questions at work.

Common-place corporate craving longs for “execute and shut up.” Curiosity is confused with creating efficiencies. Incremental change is glorified while true exploration is stifled. Exploration at its best means not settling for the first possible solution – and thus uncovering potentially more impactful and unexpected outcomes.

So how do we foster more Neugierde? If you’re a leader who hires folks, don’t hire for technical and social competence alone. Hire for curiosity. And in your every engagement with others, fiercely model inquisitiveness.

Related: How To Be Authentic … on Steroids

1. Hire for Curiosity

A classic Google story that I love. In 2004 a huge anonymous billboard appeared on Highway 101, in the heart of Silicon Valley, posting a puzzle: “{first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e}.com.” The answer, 7427466391.com led the curious online where they had another equation to solve. The handful who did so were invited to submit a resume to Google. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO from 2001 to 2011, emphatically stated that we run this company on questions, not answers.

Yes, Google values curiosity. Google asks curiosity questions when interviewing a job candidate: Have you ever found yourself unable to stop learning something you’ve never encountered before? Why? What kept you persistent? The answer may reveal the degree to which an individual is intrinsically motivated to uncover new information and be surprised.

Fine Google questions. And great questions you and I can ask ourselves, as well. So, how curious are we really?

Other ways to hire for curiosity: Administer a well-validated curiosity assessment. Curiosity assessments tend to measure whether people explore things they don’t know, analyze data to uncover new ideas, read widely beyond their field, have diverse interests outside of work, and are excited by learning opportunities. Decide to make curiosity an explicitly stated norm.

2. Model Inquisitiveness

If you want others to be curious, be curious yourself. Not merely in thought but in behavior.

It may seem obvious but yes, ask questions. Follow-up questions. And more follow-up questions. Show with each question that you have heard what was said. Heard the words. Understood the underlying meaning.

Mind your tone. Your questions are an expression of genuine interest, not an interrogation. They are an inquiry into best practices and new possibilities, not a quest to find fault of flaws. They spring from a sincere desire to open doors and expand the view.

Consider the filters that may prevent you from being inquisitive. Sometimes we may fear that we’ll be judged incompetent, indecisive or not intelligent if we ask too many questions. Time is precious, and we may worry that we’re wasting people’s time. The deepest barrier to inquisitiveness may be the belief that when we are more seasoned than others, we may have less to learn from them. Or the related belief that because we are the formal leader of a situation we should talk more.

Inquisitive questions are the hallmark of an easy authority. Full confidence. And a deep faith in a collaborative discovery process. Model them consistently. You will uncork everyone else’s curiosity.

This week, remember Neugierde.

Before you enter a meeting, before you answer a phone call, before you talk to anyone. Decide. Refresh the thought in your mind. Neugierde. Imagine the energy this super-charged intent will bring to every conversation you have. Intent is free. But we need to choose it.

And notice how your craving fires up every conversation you have.

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