Curiosity got a bad name back when it killed the cat, and outside of academic and specific research positions, until recently, it didn’t rank particularly high on the ’desired characteristics’ list for many roles or sectors. Descriptions of leadership skills or behaviours embraced by large corporates may have been more weighted to the analytical - judgment, the organisational - influence, and the display of personal ambition - drive, as opposed to more creative skills such as curiosity, innovation, collaboration and enthusiasm for shaping change.
Entrepreneurs have always been curious - it is what drives innovation and development, and the upsurge in tech start up successes has seen curiosity making a comeback in corporate parlance as a trait employees are expected to seek out, foster and develop for themselves. So how can being curious get you ahead at work?
Ask the right questions
The naturally curious are able to pair an incisive question with a non threatening manner, and get better insight and answers for it. Newcomers to a business and new graduates in particular, are well placed to display this naive questioning style, which is really a natural coaching of their peers. The ability to reframe and reimagine issues others had not even necessarily spotted is one of the major reasons to recruit externally for established businesses. The greater challenge is in maintaining this ability to see things with fresh eyes, and ask the right questions after the first six months with a business.
Keeping a record for your personal use of your initial impressions of the company might help you to return to that sense of questioning, as well as watching keenly the relevant competition. If they do something you don’t, ask why. Go to industry events, product shows and conferences to keep up with the pace of change and keep grounded. Becoming a bit of a geek in regards your own particular industry will make sure you’re always learning which questions should be asked of your own business.
Creative problem solving
Curiosity isn’t nosiness or childish insolence. It is what keeps you scanning the horizon to see what opportunity is next, what challenge is coming and what we need to think about. Curious people are not terribly interested in maintaining the status quo. By being curious you may find you spot challenges others have not yet seen coming over the horizon. The next step is to use your curiosity to spot new solutions and ideas to resolve any challenge.
There are far more creative ways of generating ideas than the traditional brainstorming process, most of which focus on allowing all involved to contribute. In team discussion, if you start with the premise that ’no idea is a bad idea’ and ensure all stakeholders are involved in the discussion, then the eventual pot of creative solutions you have to draw on will be significantly fuller! By being naturally curious you can help people develop their own ideas, asking questions such as "what would happen if....", and "what else might have a similar effect...." to use your curiosity to coach ideas out of others on your team.
Keep it interesting
Curiosity and creativity often come hand in hand naturally - there are few genuinely curious people who aren’t also creative. Use the creativity you have to keep work interesting for yourself and others. Think beyond your role or department to spot the creative approaches possible elsewhere in the organisation. By using your curious questioning you can help others see the opportunity whilst also building a strong network beyond your immediate team.
Offer your services if you know another area of the business are about to enter a project that interests you - keeping yourself up to date will help you keep your curious edge, build new networks and skills. You will find that by simply showing your interest in what is going on in other teams, your network runs wide and deep - people are generally genuinely flattered and intrigued by others asking them to talk about their passions at work, so you will not only find out something new, but also make new contacts in the process.
Help others make connections - if you spot an idea that could be shared and used to great effect elsewhere in the organisation, suggest it - don’t take any credit for an idea that’s not yours, but be the catalyst for change and for ideas shared.
Curiosity is already well on its way to becoming a corporate buzz word to replace some of the more tired and staid alternatives we are familiar with. Spend some time thinking about how you show your curiosity at work, to get you ahead of the curve.