In today’s world, we do not pause for a moment. The mobile informs us of new messages on various channels, the boss calls us on vacation, the emails keep coming. We appreciate pace, efficiency, productivity, and these are often expressed in a quick search for the ” right ” answer, the need to take responsibility and make a decision, to stay on schedules and stick to the plan that was defined so that we don’t get off track. The problem here is that none of this leaves us with the time to ask the seemingly unnecessary questions, to slow down to have a real, and meaningful conversation, to pause a bit before making a decision. And with these we are in danger of losing our ability to be curios, the secret weapon to advance ourselves, our organization, our career to a whole new level of success.
Welcome to the era of the curious leader, an era in which success is less related to the knowledge of the answers than to the ability to wonder out loud and the permission to ask questions. In response to a PWC Annual CEO survey, when asked to point out one important attribute for CEOs in this day and age, Michael Dell said he would choose curiosity.” Because curiosity yields learning and new ideas and in a rapidly changing business world, if you’re not curious, you’re not learning, you have no new ideas and that is clearly not the desired outcome. Curiosity encourages leaders to seek new ideas and approach problems in new ways to keep pace with change and lead organizations transforming into the new worlds. And when you ask the CEOs what are the most important traits for people in today’s organization, most of those cited are related to curiosity.
In the changing world of work around us, there is a higher probability that yesterday’s answers will not be the right ones tomorrow. If you stay curious, your brain expects to be surprised. You do not assume one answer, you are mentally and emotionally ready for a wide range of possibilities and therefore you are more likely to identify new opportunities, be open to new ideas, and adopt new attitudes and most of all, be willing to experience, adapt and explore. Curiosity builds tolerance for ambiguity, so that when we find ourselves in a stressful position at work, we can be more creative. We can approach the unexpected with a positive attitude. And if that’s not reason enough, curiosity also allows leaders in this new era to listen, really listen, and thus make them better leaders for their people. Because today’s workers want to be heard, to influence, to be involved. And leaders who communicate, really communicate with the people around them, not only those who come to them for a decision or a presentation, but in the dining room, hallway, elevator, initiating conversation with a random group of workers, they will be the ones who will create an engaged organization. How does this relate to curiosity? Because if you are curious you think outside of yourself, you know it’s important to hear what others are saying. Curiosity will force you to get to know your colleagues, your team, and thereby make better use of what they can bring to the table. This connection between you and others builds confidence and makes sure the people around you are not afraid to voice their ideas and move the organization forward with innovation and creativity.
The good news is that curiosity is not a trait but a condition, which means we can create the conditions to allow ourselves to be curious. In his book Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life Todd Kashdan claims that since we were born with it, we just need to train that ability. Curiosity is an active state of expressing interest, in which we really want to know more about something. And this situation opens us to unfamiliar experiences, paving the way to discover new things that will enrich our world.
You can train this muscle, you simply start with awareness, to approach even the most routine task with new energy, to start paying attention to details, to the environment, to people, not to give in to routine. Kashdan offers several strategies.
The first is simply the accumulation of knowledge, because knowledge opens our eyes to what we do not know. Someone who plays a musical instrument will hear more nuances when listening to a concert compared to someone who has never studied music. The student who had just learned about World War II will have a different experience on a trip to Berlin, and if he had studied the bible or the religions will see a visit to Jerusalem in a whole new light.
Another strategy is to be deliberate about enjoying uncertainty. For the most part, we do not look forward to the tension it brings with it, but studies show that mixed emotions lead to positive experiences. People who take part in new and unexpected activities will be happier and more satisfied compared with those who stick to the familiar. We believe that certainty will make us happier and thus prefer it to uncertainty. Kashdan suggests that we think about how we experience a sports event. Many will say they would love to go to the game knowing that their team will win but there is a good chance that it would reduce the experience of the game and the positive tension that comes with the fact that we do not know what will happen in a minute or two. And don’t forget about the experience of holding that wrapped birthday gift, or the first encounter with that very special person who became a good friend or a partner or spouse. It is likely that if you stop to think about it some more, you will also be able to prepare a list of some positive events in your career that began with uncertainty.
Another option is to actively look for the new and different within the familiar routine. To intentionally go against expectations and assumptions precisely in so-called familiar activities. It is very easy for us to assume we know the result if we’ve been there before, expecting the boring or unpleasant. But if our starting point searches for the unknown in the familiar, we must give up expectations and experience what is really happening, not what we expected to happen. Kashdan suggests that we choose a few mundane activities from a regular working day and perform them while intentionally searching for three new or unexpected things. And if the activities are new to us, that we actively search for something surprising we did not expect to find.
This mindset, by the way, is important far beyond work and career and touches us in essential areas of quality of life and health. In 2007, Krueger and Kahneman published the results of a study conducted in the United States under the title Are We Having More Fun Yet? They examined whether social, economic, and technological progress over the last 50 years has improved our quality of life, allowing us to spend time on the things that are most important to us. The study found that we do perform fewer routine tasks and spend more time in neutral activities like watching television. But in general, we did not transfer the time freed up to meaningful activities like conversing with friends, quality time with loved ones, creating, playing and other activities that increase satisfaction and a sense of meaning in life. This does not have to be the case. Furthermore, a Gallup study with over 130,000 people from about 130 countries, a sample that should represent 96% of the world’s population, identified two factors that have the most impact on the quality of our experience on a given day. The first was the ability to know that there would be someone available to help us if we need it. And the second was the fact that we learned something new yesterday. In other words, the quality of our relationship with people and our ability to grow are the basis for a happy life. So be curious, curiosity introduces something new everywhere, invites exploration, plays with the environment. Above all else, curiosity will help you be good at luck, it will allow you to see opportunity in everything. And that includes your ability to be flexible in a changing world of work and open up your path to a fascinating career.