I recently had the opportunity to listen to school children presenting their science project. Based on the fundamentals of innovation and creativity, it was a joy to hear youngsters speak with passion and conviction.
There were a few ideas that were absolutely outstanding; not just in the area of innovation but also because of the simplicity in execution and implementation. These were all scalable models that would truly create an impact.
Where did these students get their ideas from? Why were some of them able to speak with confidence whereas some faltered when it came to explanation and responding to questions?
I realised it was a combination of two factors – the presence of a teacher who acted as their mentor and guide feeding the hunger and thirst that was latent in children. The second was curiosity. Children by nature and even by default, are curious. They have no fear in asking tough questions.
Somehow, as they grow older, children leave their curiosity behind. The curiosity is replaced by ‘socially right’ manners and asking the right questions. Have you noticed how people react to an adult being curious and asking the how, why, when questions? The person is often labelled as being nosy and inquisitive. Curiosity is certainly not the word that would describe this adult! Yet, if it was a child asking the how, why, when questions, the adults would be amused and may even encourage the child to be more curious so as to fuel learning!
What an ambiguous world we live in! Companies now hold special sessions on curiosity and innovation is given a big thumbs up! We seem to have forgotten that we were all born with curiosity built in within us.
What kills curiosity?
According to Dr Diane Hamilton, an expert in emotional intelligence and behavioral science, there are four factors (F.A.T.E) that keep people from being curious.
F = fear – fear of speaking up, of being embarrassed, of being questioned, of being seen as a failure
A = assumptions – assuming that people know the answers and do not want anyone asking questions
T = technology – getting overwhelmed with technology and getting paralysed when asked to be tech savvy
E = environment – working in an organisation that does not encourage curiosity, is very process orientation, discourages new methods, and hierarchical driven
Organisations can do a lot to create a culture that fuels curiosity and enables people to give their best. When people work for a learning organisation that is agile and willing to experiment, and also where autonomy is ingrained, curiosity is at an all time high. This goes back to FATE – when there is nothing to be afraid of and when the people have the right to question, the environment becomes very conducive to put forth new ideas, brainstorm and taken an unknown path.
Benefits of being curious
People fear failures. Being encouraged to be curious and empowered to question means embracing failures. When people feel safe to experiment and are given an environment that unleashes new ideas, it also makes them happy. The freedom given to being curious can improve the mental wellbeing of employees, and that has a direct impact on productivity levels.
Moreover, when people ask questions, they are forced to think differently and look at new dimensions in a problem. This new direction leads to more brainstorming and thinking of innovative solutions.
At a self-awareness level, curiosity functions effectively to keep people from forming judgements and assumptions of other people or situations. Often, assumptions are the underlying cause of organisational conflict and strained relationships at work.
Be curious. Stay curious.
You can begin your journey by challenging yourself to ask a couple of questions every time you come across something new or see someone sharing a new thought.
Most importantly, make curiosity your best friend and have fun!
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