How To Foster Curiosity In The Workplace And Why It’s Important

To be an effective leader and create a thriving workplace is a feat that requires a rather intricate concoction of hard and soft skills. You may be quite familiar with some of them: the ability to engage and inspire, and navigate tough conversations. But have you ever considered the role of curiosity in the workplace? Turns out, it’s more important than you may think. In fact, it might be the missing puzzle piece your team is needing. 

Only about 24% [of employees] reported feeling curious in their jobs on a regular basis, and about 70% said they face barriers to asking more questions at work.

Why are the above statistics important? Why do we want curiosity shown by our team, and even more so by our leaders? And if curiosity in the workplace is so impactful, why do people feel like they cannot be curious at work?  The answer is within the question – literally. 

According to the research written by Francesca Gino in the Harvard Business Review, most leaders and superiors know that curiosity is beneficial. And yet, they still stifle it.
Why? Gino explains, “Exploration often involves questioning the status quo and doesn’t always produce useful information. But it also means not settling for the first possible solution—and so it often yields better remedies.” 

When you become curious about something, you have a different type of engagement. Your mind goes into a space of asking questions and feeling a bold, almost excited approach towards the unknown. Needless to say, without curiosity the new and unknown can be a scary thing indeed, and often avoided.

Perhaps it’s out of fear of causing a costly mistake, or resistance to abandoning the status quo. But either way, leaders are missing out on igniting innovation. Which type of leader do you want to be?

Why You Need Curiosity In Leadership

Take a look around you. Everything you see is a result of someone being curious. The reason we have moved from cave dwellers to the species we are today, is because we were brave enough to question and explore. No great idea was born without the flame of curiosity driving it.

When we are inquisitive, we see things from alternate angles. This is a powerful way to break fixed mindsets and engage someone’s attention around a matter that needs the welcoming of new ideas.
As a leader, you set the bar for your team’s work culture. By demonstrating thinking, you are encouraging innovative and creative thinking from your team.

When you as a leader are boldly curious, unafraid to ask questions and grow your understanding, you are revealing an authenticity that seeps into your surrounding workplace. By showing that you can be authentic, you are showing others they can be too. 

Curiosity in the workplace also means more is noticed. If you are eager to see and be inquisitive about your team, you could unearth previously hidden potential and growth. Leadership requires a readiness to embrace and utilize growth to avoid a stuck and stagnant team. To do this, you need to become a student of life. Here, you will find electrifying energy for learning and asking questions. This energy towards growth is so tangible, that your team could start waking up to it in front of your very eyes.

How To Foster Curiosity In The Workplace And Why It’s Important

The Benefits of Curiosity In The Workplace

Like anything valuable in life, this needs to be nurtured if you want it to become a part of your work culture. You will need to prove to your team that questions are encouraged and welcomed, not shamed or shunned. You might need to abandon old beliefs of yours so that you can challenge ones that no longer serve your organisation. Perhaps this is the belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Or, that asking questions demonstrates a lack of capability. Whatever it may be, growth must start at the top; with you.

Once you are a curious leader, you start to awaken the inquisitive minds around you. And when you get that going, you’ll see an array of benefits that might even surprise you.

- Curiosity fuels goals orientated around learning, which are more productive than performance goals.

Performance goals are valuable and have their place. But learning goals have been proven to be more effective. Studies have shown that only focusing on performance goals produces lower results in success both on a financial and personnel-based front. Although performance goals have their place, learning goals allow people to think out-the-box and focus on things such as how to become more effective in their role, or improve customer service. Inevitably, this produces more successful results. 

- A curious team doesn’t get stuck.

We mentioned it earlier, but it’s worth highlighting again. Inquisitive minds are always seeking, questioning, and creating movement within an organisation. We all know the pressure we face to remain relevant. Without a curious culture, you become rigid and stop exploring new ideas. This is important both on a personal and collective scale. Motion is vital; as long as we’re moving, no matter how small our steps are, we are making progress.

- It increases engagement.

You know that a leader must demonstrate the culture that your team is expected to adopt. Curiosity increases engagement with your tasks, even the most mundane ones, because it allows you to ask questions like, “how can I do this better?”, or, “what isn’t working here, and what is?” This kind of thinking has the power to re-mould your approach towards tasks. 

- Curiosity encourages brave thinking and risk-taking which produces progress.

We might still be a species that lives in caves and wears loin cloths if it were not for inquisitive minds. The biggest hesitancy that comes with embracing curiosity is the fear of risk and failure. But success will not stem from anything other than learning and experimentation. So, in order to progress, we must be bold enough to question, experiment, challenge, and take risks. 

How To Foster Curiosity In The Workplace And Why It’s Important

How To Foster Curiosity In The Workplace

I think we’ve built a pretty good case to support the importance of curiosity in the workplace. But the big question is always “how do I make it a reality?”
It can be a daunting task that requires you to embed curiosity within your culture. Therefore a lot of companies who don’t have the resources to dedicate energy to this, opt to get CAFE Life in to support and transform their work culture. 

But there are still many things that leaders can implement to support this growth and encourage inquisitive and innovative thinking in their team. You will need to become a facilitator of curiosity; a ponderer and a ‘question enthusiast.’ Here are a few ways you as a leader can encourage this type of curiosity in your workplace. 

1) Create a safe space for creativity to cultivate and bloom

Where people don’t feel shunned or shamed for trying something new and failing. Where speaking up, asking questions, and challenging the status quo, becomes unthreatening and welcomed. Create ways to encourage and celebrate your team’s diversity, whether this is dedicating time towards a playful and easy space for brainstorming, or initiating weekly exercises that cause people to ask questions and create perspective. 

2) Set learning goals for the team.

Reward people for achieving learning goals as well as performance goals. Remove the pressure to produce results and instead, focus on igniting growth mindsets. When your team achieves a learning goal don’t forget to reward them. This could be by using their idea in the next project, or allowing them to take the reins on a task with their new knowledge, or escalating a valuable question of theirs to a decision-maker above you. 

3) Ask the right questions.

As a leader, ask yourself the right questions, as well as your team. And encourage them to do the same. Don’t be afraid of a challenging question coming your way. But by demonstrating openness to engage the question even if it’s a tough one, you’re showing your team that curiosity is not to be feared and will in fact be respected. Make sure you’re not just asking reflective questions such as “how will my day become more meaningful?”, but questions that specifically make you inquisitive, such as  “What aspect of my role do I have room for learning in?”, and, “What fascinates me about my work, and leaves me hungry for answers?” You can encourage this type of thinking by regularly stimulating it in your team. You might even say to them, “Have you come across a ‘why’ question today? Write it down, and make time to ponder it.” 

4) Encourage “intellectual humility”.

This helps us remember that we don’t know all, and that allows a growth mindset. Encourage others not to fear failure – remind them of times when you or the company tried and failed, and how there was a silver lining. Create a space where everyone from every division is heard, their voices valued and ideas acknowledged. 

5) Create a colourful team.

When your team needs to group for something, mix it up. Combine various skill sets, cultures, beliefs, opinions, characters, and values. You’ll see an incredibly colourful result when perspective and innovation are unboxed.

6) Don’t mistake being curious as meaning that you don’t ever follow someone’s lead.

Curiosity is a partner in teamwork. It doesn’t mean you cannot get help or follow the lead. In fact, if you are curious, you will not be afraid to ask for help and receive valuable input. No matter your position, you can always be curious and ask questions. 

How To Foster Curiosity In The Workplace And Why It’s Important

“The inspiration for the Polaroid instant camera was a three-year-old’s question. Inventor Edwin Land’s daughter was impatient to see a photo her father had just snapped. When he explained that the film had to be processed, she wondered aloud, “Why do we have to wait for the picture?” – Francesca Gino

And lastly, remember that how you speak will either foster or kill creativity. Don’t create walls with your language. Instead, notice when you are facing hurdles or barriers and practice reframing your language. Instead of saying, “I cannot do this”, say, “I cannot do this YET…. But what needs to happen for me to do this?” Speak to yourself and others in a way that opens doors, encourages conversations, and allows questions to bloom into great ideas. 

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