Fostering Curiosity in the Workplace

Curiosity is a curious thing. Mankind’s greatest discoveries are in part the result of curiosity. It can lead you to mistakes or great successes, but it always leads to more knowledge and fresh perspectives. 

A curious display of question marks on a white background.

Curiosity starts with time-old questions like how or why with answers as unpredictable and innumerable as the stars in the sky (which also happen to be a source of great curiosity for great minds and even nations throughout time). It only makes sense then that if curiosity can lead nations and provide unimaginable progress, that it would be just as useful and ground-breaking in business.

In fact, a study reported in the Harvard Business Review suggested that employees with greater curiosity also had greater job performance and creativity. However, that same study reported another finding: while business leaders claim to value curiosity they oftentimes unwittingly discourage it. Tellingly, the article reported that out of 3,000 employees “only about 24% reported feeling curious in their jobs on a regular basis, and about 70% said they face barriers to asking more questions at work.” 

Today, we’re taking a look at just what you can do to better understand the benefits of curiosity and put it to work in your organization.

Curiosity in Action

Recently, on the Narativ Story Talks podcast. Julienne and Jerome hosted guest Zev Shalev, CEO of Narativ Studios (no relation to Narativ), a production firm creating original digital content for Fortune 500 companies, broadcasters and tech start-ups. One of the topics they discussed was the value of truth-seeking in storytelling. 

Zev Shalev is an award-winning journalist, and curiosity has led him to his greatest stories. One such experience in his youth propelled him on his journey: It was South Africa, and Nelson Mandela had just been released from prison. Zev and some of his friends attended a celebration to see what it was all about. He had only heard of Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and someone trying to destroy his country. Yet as Zev joined the crowds of people celebrating, all he could feel was an overwhelming sense of peace coming from the man. This piqued his curiosity to know the real story, and he has never stopped questioning what he’d been told since. That drive has taken him from one story to the next—and one award to the next.

And the power of curiosity doesn’t only apply to journalism. Curiosity drives all of us to question and discover, which is the seed of improvement.

Innovation and Creativity

You may be familiar with the phrase “curiosity killed the cat,” but you’re likely not as familiar with the nearly forgotten second half: “but satisfaction brought it back.” The phrase encapsulates the risk-and-reward dynamic of curiosity. While there are always risks with experimentation and questions, the rewards often outweigh the risk. However, it is this same dynamic that often causes leaders to actually discourage curiosity; leaders become so risk-averse that employees lack the freedom and support to try new methods, practices, and procedures that could improve the business—foregoing all of those rewards.

In the podcast with Zev, there was an entire discussion on how he often relies on soccer moms to discover and vet information. When pressed on how much he has to guide and dig, Zev explained that a lot of the work has already been done. These soccer moms on social media, driven by a sense of purpose and a genuine curiosity, organize themselves into groups and have become an effective source of information Zev uses regularly. And if this is happening organically—out in the wild, so to speak—just imagine what could be accomplished in an organized setting with resources and devoted employees! They’re likely already identifying problems and testing solutions; the trick is simply to harness that curiosity.

On the flip side, when employees are not motivated by their own curiosity they can become lethargic and uninspired, leading to worse results and fewer innovative ideas. As an illustration, think back to a time when you were driven by a desire to understand or learn more versus simply a responsibility that was less intriguing. The difference is palpable.

From these considerations, the question becomes how to inspire creativity in your workforce. We’ve pulled together some of the strategies you can use to increase curiosity and the valuable outcomes that come with it.

Open the Lines of Communication

The first step is to communicate. Employees and leaders alike need to feel they can share ideas and questions before curiosity will even start to take root. They need to feel safe, and they need to feel heard. When workplaces ensure these qualities you can expect that employees will start to share ideas and questions, which are key to the creative process that awakens curiosity and is subsequently propelled by it. 

Once you’ve established this environment where curiosity can exist, you will find that communication improves across the board. Not only will you get new ideas, but with this constant stream of information, you’ll also more easily discover the problems holding your company back and ideas to fix them. Open communication builds freedom and openness in your employees that allows them to exercise their curiosity and build it.

And with more open communication, trust is a natural follow-on. As ideas, questions, and suggestions are encouraged and appreciated, employees will naturally feel heard and understood. 

Foster Trust

As curiosity grows and is encouraged so too will trust. These two almost feel like cousins who naturally thrive together. When you foster curiosity, not only will you gain the insights and ideas of your employees, but they will also trust you more. 

If you think trust is important, you’re not alone. The Harvard Business Review reported, “55% of CEOs think that a lack of trust is a threat to their organization’s growth.” Throughout the article, it stresses that not only is trust fundamental in business, but it is also faltering across the board. 

Luckily, the open communication we discussed earlier will stop this trend by building trust—and along with it the curiosity that is a telltale sign your employees are doing well.

Inspire Curiosity Through Storytelling

For better or worse, curiosity is hard to extinguish once the flame has been lit. Ask anyone you know about something they are curious about and you might struggle to get them to quiet down once they get going. 

Curiosity is a great motivator, and it also helps things stick in our minds. When we are curious about something are mind latches onto it like a steel trap. This is invaluable. It’s said the best lawyers don’t just practice law, they study it, moving from one case to the next until they understand the law on a level above their peers. That is the power and energy that curiosity can harness.

One of the best ways to pique that curiosity is through storytelling. A story helps to take dry and informative data and transform it into something that speaks to the listener. A properly told story grabs the attention of the listener and begs them to ask questions—the same questions that drive curiosity.

Curious Yet?

Curiosity can propel your business forward. It helps employees, procedures, and businesses improve. Find ways to foster and grow it in your employees and you’ll see your business grow right alongside them. And if you’d like a little help and direction, learn about how incorporating the power of storytelling in your business can bring it to the next level.

If you are interested in listening to the podcast with Zev Shalev you can listen to it here, or follow his work here

If you want to kickstart your curiosity-building efforts, we are always open to discussing the process with you.

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