The Importance of Curiosity
Edmund Burke wrote, 'The first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind, is Curiosity’.
And yet this is one emotion that few of us continue to utilise in adulthood. As a child we were probably annoying the adults around us by asking questions and seeking out new sounds, smells, tastes, etc. All with a desire to find out what was happening in the world around us - and why it was happening.
However, as we grow we become increasingly aware of the environment we are in and we adapt to ensure that we can remain safe and comfortable. We learn that not everything is “good”, and because not everything makes sense to us, we begin to find our own way of coping. This might mean we become quiet so that we are not noticed, it might mean we struggle to be perfect so that nobody will criticise us. It might mean all sorts of things, but as many of us grow older, the associated anxiety of feeling safe and comfortable begins to dampen our curiosity. Instead we opt for what we know and become less interested in what we don’t know, and what might hurt us.
This can result in spending much of our lives trying to convince others of our opinion or showing “them” that we are “right” rather than allowing ourselves to be challenged. Being curious might lead to a different perspective and not one that aligns with who we are, what we know and our sense of identity. And although curiosity might mean being uncomfortably challenged, it can also open our eyes and show us new and exciting possibilities and alternative ways of being. It has the ability to open up the world for us to explore and discover.
Without curiosity we are making assumptions on what is actually going on, what other people might think or how they might feel. And even if we know somebody well, we don't ever really know what is going on for them, particularly if they are choosing to adapt to the ever-changing world that we live in.
So being aware of this underlying anxiety to feel comfortable, and acknowledging our own views (as our own) and yet still being curious and allowing ourselves, and what we know, to be challenged take courages. It is that courage that fosters a growth mindset and enables us to grow and to learn.
As a Leader And as a leader curiosity is an important trait to have. It ensures you continue to learn and grow. It keeps your mind active and most importantly when leading a team, it helps make connections and build trust with others. Curiosity of others, of your organisation and of the team will also help promote a growth mindset in the people around you. It can encourage innovation in the workplace. This is how ideas, especially those crazy, winning ideas, get initiated before becoming realised. A passion for learning and for discovery helps us to expand our minds and to think differently and more creatively. It inspires collaboration and it can also encourage improvements as people begin to question and find alternative - and possibly better - ways to do things.
“You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them.” Ken Robinson
As well as improving relationships and bringing innovation, curiosity can also help in decision-making and in disagreements, as you seek out information and explore with more interest. Communication may be considered one of the most important traits in leaders, but if the communication is coming from a place of anxiety and the need to feel comfortable, and not from one of curiosity and openness, then the impact is likely to be detrimental rather than useful.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as a leader you benefit from being curious about yourself. This means understanding yourself and your actions, as well as how others view you. This is invaluable as a leader, because only if you are truly curious and truly aware, can you begin to understand your impact on others and the organisation around you. Knowing the impact you have gives you the choice to adapt, to pivot, to optimise and to really deliver as a leader. It helps in bringing increased self-awareness and allows you to identify any self-limiting beliefs and become aware of your blind spots. (I am a strong believer in the need for self-awareness in leaders!)
If you want to be a better leader, then be curious, not just about the people around you, the organisation and the teams, but really curious about yourself and how you influence the systems which you are part of. Be curious, be aware of any underlying anxieties and create an environment where exploration, self-discovery and open communication are encouraged. And yes, sometimes being curious can be a struggle, because we feel “stuck”, too tired or we have become disillusioned with what is going on around us. It can also be daunting because it can challenge our beliefs and ideas.
But remember the joy as a child when you were curious about everything, and how much you learnt when asking questions, how much fun you had finding out how things worked or just getting new information. Remember how you connected with the world around you. Being curious is a great way to bring joy, to learn, to grow and to build authentic relationships.
This article is an attempt to summarise my experience, learnings and readings.