Curiosity is the heartbeat of your learning culture
Weekly Insight 8: The love of learning stems from exercising the power to be curious.
The quality of one's life is deeply influenced by the possibility of developing an appetite for learning and exploration. With it, we create unique and rich relationships with the world that reflect how we solve problems, make decisions, and self-realize. The underlying force driving both learning new things and establishing relationships is curiosity. Without it, creativity may never exist, and we would never discover our true interests, passions, or talents.
While the tone of the current times encourages everyone to "stay" curious to innovate and generate new ideas for business success, a thriving culture requires a more dynamic approach to harnessing curiosity. Still, the freedom to pursue an interest or an idea outside the direct business application is given reluctantly at work, even in the most forward-thinking hubs. But if businesses fail to recognize and acknowledge the need to create a learning culture that nurtures curiosity, many opportunities and doors to innovation will remain closed.
So, rather than "staying" curious, what if you follow curiosity beyond the comfort zone and into the unconnected possibilities? With the right intention and purpose, you can overcome the fear of discomfort and find a new sense of stability.
“Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” – James Stephens
But how well do you treat curiosity – yours and others?
To give a good answer, let's look at the limiting attitudes that suppress curiosity and build a more encompassing case for empowering hungry minds to work together.
#1 Curiosity has a negative side, but not in the way you might think.
Deeply rooted in nature and society lies a fear of letting youngsters explore too loosely too early, as the price of naïve exploration is costly, severely punished, and sometimes even fatal. So, it is no surprise that curiosity is better if it is within the norms to contain risk, disobedience, and unpredictable behavior.
Being too curious has a negative connotation, and when curiosity is deemed "inappropriate," repercussions are applied consistently to temper the thirst for playing outside the rigorous boundaries established in culture. Luckily, some can withstand the pressure at the cost of becoming outcasts and perceive the limitation as an invitation to further develop their skill.
"Curiosity is as much the brisk steps in search of a new vantage point as it is the silent daydreaming by a river's edge." (Curious Minds, 2022)
Curiosity has a negative side, but it rarely comes from the risk it exposes people to experiences - that is recklessness. Rather, curiosity negates the overwhelming effect the unknown has on the mind. The experience of being curious has to be more fulfilling because the limits of what we can know are too great.
For instance, I am curious to know what the Earth will look like in 100 years or if there is life somewhere else in the universe, and these possibilities incite my imagination, but I will never know for sure. Curiosity offers me an incentive to create a story of what could be and derive some insights into how best to spend my time on Earth right now.
Not all curiosities can be satisfied, nor need to be, because what you fulfill when staying curious is the need to feel connected - to create new connections between people, ideas, and things. In that sense, curiosity has a negative side because it doesn't always end in knowing or valuing the piece of knowledge acquired.
Before organizations can harness curiosity, a learning culture must grow to overthrow this negative perception of curious behaviors and create the right environment to stimulate relentless minds. Letting them unfold in whatever form they may, it's far more valuable.
The effect of crushing curiosity can be disastrous: if the appetite for learning and creativity starts to fade away, people begin to favor routine and sameness instead of exploration. Any problem arising is a headache to be dealt with swiftly and not an opportunity to exercise the curious mind to discover something new.
#2 Not all curiosity is the same.
People are curious about many things but also in very different ways. In Curious Minds (2022), three curious archetypes are particularly highlighted:
1. Busybody is oriented toward gathering extended collections of pieces of information that could satiate their vast appetite for learning, even though not everything is channeled into achieving their goals.
2. Hunter is focused on a particular course or interest and more disciplined in the exploration with a more practical and efficient approach to achieving their goals.
3. Dancer pursues a more creative approach to exploration by seeking unconventional connections, willing to take leaps of imagination where most cannot recognize the value or relevance.
In time, people develop a certain preference for one of these archetypes, but that doesn't mean access to the others is lost. Depending on the activity, the curious mind shifts to find the most enticing way to stay curious and persevere through the journey.
But curiosity requires a strong platform to turn it into an advantage and achieve breakthrough success. It needs a learning culture that harnesses the power of curiosity to explore the unknown in the business landscape, emerging user demands, and new behaviors. Companies must understand how the curiosity archetypes work, what they need to succeed, and, most importantly, how they work together.
For instance, busybodies are fantastic knowledge curators that can satisfy the needs of multiple team members who are trying to solve a complex and multi-faceted problem.
Hunters are fast and effective at mobilizing their capabilities to reach results and respond to urgent challenges, a highly valuable skill in agile teams.
Lastly, dancers are creative problem-solvers and gifted innovators who can identify high-value spaces that weren't properly mined by others and help product and strategy teams identify valuable insights.
“In a learning culture, curiosity archetypes are creative behaviors that can help everyone understand and solve challenges in an empowering way.”
Leadership can't create curious people but can enable them to develop this muscle and channel it more effectively into the right activities. They also need to revise expectations in terms of completion and format. Forcing a busybody to create a 3-bullet point summary of their extensive research, putting the hunter in a complex environment without a purpose, or stressing a dancer to meet a meaningless deadline are all curiosity-killers.
Also, there shouldn't be a bias against a particular archetype: the dancer seems to be punished the most because of overdue deadlines, especially as the skill to express the emerging connections develops slower than in the other types. Communicating and offering means to practice curiosity is essential to developing a healthy learning culture.
#3 It’s time to admit the current and future crises call for more curious minds to start working together.
Curiosity can help teams become more effective and innovative. If managers consider giving their employees more independence to stimulate their curiosity, research shows that the sense of autonomy will increase (Kashdan and Steger, 2007). Wicked problems need a mature sense of autonomy to evolve into trust between all the players involved to push the boundaries of what is possible. Such freedom may encourage people to look beyond the narrow confines of their primary expertise and explore new domains adjacent to their area, energizing their thinking and allowing them to spot new connections and insights.
Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches are becoming increasingly popular as their value is appreciated in many contexts. Deep expertise was an efficient strategy in the industrial age with clearly defined job requirements and tasks, but the network economy requires a completely different approach to skills. It values seekers with cross-discipline expertise who are willing to collaborate with others and keep an open mind without letting themselves feel intimidated by complexity.
Businesses have to embrace all of this to build strong learning cultures.
People underestimate this inner drive and the authority it exercises on individuals. You can't just stay curious; you must feed it and allow it to evolve alongside your pursuits. If you treat curiosity well, it will reward you tenfold back. But it will sabotage even the best intentions to create and provide value if you don't.
Subscribe to receive more weekly insights!
Some interesting links and materials:
The Philosophy podcast that inspired the topic
Research Study on Curiosity
Curious Minds Book
For more Owtcome insights and stories, check out the spaces below:
A very important distinction is made in the podcast about the curiosity of the novice and the curiosity of the master. The former is prone to the Dunning-Kruger effect and it is the one that is more dangerous. The curiosity of the master is one where there is an elevation of knowledge only through programmatic failure.
Very interesting. Organizations should use the curiosity and learning as the baseline and empower the leaders to define the learning standards without a direct mapping of the learning goals to their work. They should provide the incentives to the teams for their curiosity and not for the work.
I wrote recently: https://www.vinishgarg.com/inspiring-leaders-need-learning-teams-to-support-the-organization-goals/