Why Fostering a Spirit of Curiosity Spurs Enterprise Innovation

Woman raising her hand in a meeting.

Asking questions makes companies better.

Curiosity is “a strong desire to learn or know something.” You’d think that would be highly prized in society and the workplace alike.

However, in some cases, people don’t necessarily value curiosity. One person’s sincere desire to learn can be seen by another as a desire to pointlessly rock the boat, and as the waters of business become more complicated to navigate, there are many who’d rather shut the curious down.

That’s a mistake. Curiosity is, in fact, often the key to survival, unearthing new markets, revealing new products, and finding new approaches to seemingly intractable problems. You can, and should, cultivate curiosity.

Modeling Curiosity Builds Engagement

People tend to consider the actions of their leaders closely, and that makes modeling curiosity, in the form of asking questions and being gentle about people not having the answers, particularly important. One thing to be aware of is that employees should never feel “on the spot” when you ask them a question; they should be able to reply “I don’t know yet, but I will.” Keep in mind that as you ask questions, it’ll inspire others to seek answers.

Respect Both Sides Of Question and Answer

Part of the reason curiosity can be discouraged is that everyone has, at one time or another, been on the receiving end of a question they didn’t have an answer to at the worst possible time. Nobody wants to be in front of a major investor or a CEO and be made to look dumb.

The solution, though, is to develop an environment where it’s okay to both ask probing questions and not to have the answer to them. After all, the fundamental goal of curiosity is to learn, and nobody learns anything if they already have all the answers. By opening the door to learning, you’ll reduce friction at meetings and encourage more innovation.

Man looking at a fork in the road.

When the road forks, take both paths.

Give Curiosity Space

While few companies can allow any employee to noodle with a strange question all day, many of them can, and should, give employees at least a little time to pursue their own questions at work. Sometimes these questions can seem offbase, but even the simplest questions can lead to some surprising results. If team members know they’ve got room to both ask and try to answer questions, even if they don’t find an answer, they’ll begin exploring. This makes their job more rewarding.

Offer Learning Opportunities

Putting opportunities to learn out there can stimulate curiosity. These opportunities can take a number of forms, from a company newsletter filled with thought-starting links related to your industry, to podcast playlists your employees curate, to webinars and day-long classes, to running a company library full of books and journals to stimulate new ideas, to an employee “lab” where employees can take a little time to put a rough idea into practice.

Remember, everybody learns slightly differently; some learn by reading, others by doing, still others by seeing. Catering to all these methods will not only encourage curiosity but help keep your staff intellectually limber and on top of their game.

Curiosity is, to some degree, innate. Some people are just more inclined to ask questions than others. Regardless of where employees fall on the curiosity scale, an employer’s best bet is to foster curiosity wherever possible. To learn more about building an intellectually curious, mentally flexible workforce,  join our newsletter!

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