As leaders struggle to motivate people to get along with each other, work smarter and be more productive, they often fail to develop the most critical ingredient to success. Curiosity is the spark that ignites motivation and drive and leads to improvement in engagement, innovation and productivity.
In Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, he says the real barriers to collaboration and communication remain in people’s heads. When researching the factors that impact curiosity, it appears to me that Senge was correct. I've found four factors impact curiosity: fear, assumptions, technology and environment.
People often fear they might appear unprepared or, worse, stupid if they make suggestions or ask questions. They assume that some things might not interest them or are too complicated or tell themselves some other story that talks them out of exploring new ideas. They might find technology overwhelming or allow it to do things for them rather than understand the foundational information behind it. And often, environmental influences, such as family, educators, peers, leaders and just about anyone people connect with, have shaped how employees view opportunities or what they allow themselves to explore.
When people are influenced by what is in their heads, leaders can help employees recognize what holds them back. This requires leaders to adopt an environment that embraces curiosity. Individuals must feel comfortable posing questions and providing input into discussions. If the culture of the organization has supported the status quo, not only is the business in for a rude awakening when the competition becomes more innovative, but employees may not be fully engaged, which can harm productivity.
First, to help people overcome their fear, it is critical for leaders to open a dialogue about the value of contributions and questions to the overall success of the organization as well as the development of the individual. When leaders say things like, “Don’t bring me a problem if you don’t have a solution,” it shuts down the potential for people to point out issues that they might not have the skills to solve. Leaders can model the behavior they would like their employees to display. Being humble and expressing that no question is a dumb question is essential. To model that, leaders must be willing to show they, too, don’t know everything. When employees recognize that leaders allow themselves to be more vulnerable and human, it will enable them to be the same.
Assumptions are another key factor. Often, people do not recognize the impact of their assumptions. Everyone has a voice in their head that tells them they will or will not like things. Sometimes the voice is based on the experience of not enjoying something. Sometimes it is based on what others have told them about something they did not like. As everyone ages, the things that might interest them could change. However, if they hold onto that voice from their past, exploration might not continue. It is essential to listen to what that voice says in terms of what is “bad,” “uninteresting,” “too hard,” “boring” and so on. Then it is important to consider trying some of those things that were labeled that way to see if experience has changed that perception.
If technology is over- or underutilized, curiosity can be impacted. People can become over-reliant on technology or completely run from it. If too much reliance is placed on technology, people might not have a full understanding of how things work. Understanding how things work opens opportunities for making connections to ideas and thinking more critically. On the other hand, if technology is not embraced, the potential for coming up with innovative approaches to problems diminishes. Organizations can help employees recognize their level of technological knowledge and work with them to improve foundational levels as well as explore potential uses for problem-solving.
Finally, recognizing environmental influences can be critical to improving curiosity. Employees could have been brought up in families or exposed to educators who had little time to answer questions or guided them toward their preferences. Co-workers, current and past leaders, friends and even social media can impact everyone’s level of curiosity. People want to be liked. They might avoid doing things that others do not deem interesting. Having discussions about how our environment can impact our level of fear and our assumptions is critical.
Once the four factors that impact curiosity have been addressed, employees can be more open to asking questions, which can lead to the development of critical skills like emotional intelligence, which can lead to improved collaboration and communication. By asking questions, employees can learn more empathy, which helps with interpersonal skills. A thoughtful exploration of other perspectives comes from developing the desire to ask questions that focus on viewpoints other than their own. When people understand each other better, it is easier for them to work on teams together, which improves collaboration.
A version of this article appeared on forbes.com, posted on May 13, 2019
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Diane Hamilton Forbes Councils
EXPERD, Human Resources Consultant, Jakarta - Indonesia