The Innovation Leader’s Secret Superpower: Curiosity

Woman raising her hand to ask a question.
It’s the people who ask questions that innovate.

One common quote about science you often hear is “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’,” which is usually attributed to Isaac Asimov. Ironically, the truly curious will find it’s not an Asimov quote at all. 

The point, of course, is that it’s not the driven single-minded people who make the big discoveries, but the people who notice the little things that don’t fit and follow up on them. Curiosity, it turns out, is often the driver of innovation, and it’s worth developing.

Why Curiosity?

The fundamental value of curiosity in innovation is that it pushes people to ask and find the answers to questions. We’ve all had the experience of finding the answer to a seemingly simple question opening up a list of new questions or even entire new vistas of knowledge we didn’t know were there. We have hobbies because we were presented with a question or challenge that took on a certain momentum in our lives as we found the answers.

Innovation is no different in that respect. While we may not always find that momentum, when we do, it can take us down unlikely paths or in unexpected directions. It’s rare that people know exactly what kind of innovation they’re seeking, and even when they find it, curiosity often takes over. How often do businesses get started not because somebody spots a brilliant market opportunity, but simply because they wanted a solution to a problem or a product they couldn’t find?

So, how do you bring curiosity forward in your organization?

Woman peaking over the top of a hood.
What’s on the other side?

Encouraging Curiosity

Really, it’s all about asking questions. Encourage your team to challenge assumptions, to never decide somebody else must have the answer, and to always follow up if they want to know something. Just asking a question can clear an innovative logjam or push somebody to find the answer. Even if it’s something they just always wanted to know, it’s a good thing.

The second is to follow up on details and hunches. If some detail stands out as strange or unusual, you should encourage followup. This is just good practice in general, of course. A detail-oriented team can save you time and aggravation, but this practice can also be the tipping point for your team.

The key thing to remember about curiosity is that it can’t be forced. It has to flow naturally from what people are interested in and are inclined to notice. This makes it important to recruit teams interested in different, but related, aspects of your innovation strategy, teams that approach that strategy from different angles. No matter how open-minded and curious we are, there are simply some questions that won’t occur to us, but that will occur to others. A broad tent in your innovation team will help ensure everything that might stimulate the curiosity is explored.

Curiosity can and should be nurtured across your organization. Giving your team the tools to follow up on those questions that won’t go away will make their jobs more satisfying and your innovation strategy more effective. To learn more about curiosity and innovation strategy, join our newsletter today! 

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