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Curiosity is the New Black

Are you looking for a skill that’s always in style, goes with anything and makes a bold statement wherever it goes? Look no further; simply consider curiosity.

curious is new black2Depending upon whom you ask, curiosity is defined as a competency, skill, quality, or emotion. It’s the capacity to demonstrate keen interest, an inquisitiveness spirit, an eager drive to understand, and an appetite for experimentation.

No matter how you define it, there’s a growing agreement that curiosity is a vital (and too frequently missing) ingredient in today’s workplace. There’s also agreement that it’s gaining attention and a prominent seat at the leadership table.

Where did it go?

“Children are born scientists. From the first ball they send flying to the ant they watch carry a crumb, children use science’s tools—enthusiasm, hypotheses, tests, conclusions—to uncover the world’s mysteries. But somehow students seem to lose what once came naturally.”
– Dr. Carlo Parvanno

Research indicates that on average curiosity increases beginning at about 12 years old and continues until college age. But by age 30, curiosity drops off. And it’s understandable. There are considerable factors that make it challenging to lead with curiosity. Which of the following get in your way?

  • Demonstrating curiosity requires conscious effort, attention and time, all of which are in short supply for busy professionals.
  • Leading with curiosity can be uncomfortable because it means constantly entertaining and operating in the realm of the unknown.
  • A solid self-image and a deep sense of confidence are based upon what people know, not drawing attention to what they don’t know.
  • A leader’s value lies in sharing knowledge.
  • Demonstrating curiosity and asking questions may be perceived as a lack of expertise or competence.
  • Adopting a spirit of curiosity and genuinely being open to new possibilities demands being willing to let go of what has contributed to one’s success to date.
  • Curiosity feels like a threat to being right, looking good and the ego.
  • A genuine commitment to curiosity demands a willingness to change based upon new information/insights/learnings — and change is one of the most challenging things around.

For any number of reasons, as many professionals progress through their careers, they find that curiosity becomes a smaller image in their rearview mirrors.

Profound benefits

Yet, research suggests that keeping curiosity close throughout one’s life can yield tremendous benefits including greater health (Swan and Carmelli), enhanced meaning and purpose in life (Kashdan et al), stronger social relationships (Brdar and Kashdan), and greater levels of happiness (Rodrigue, Olsen and Markley).

Curiosity also contributes to business success. Today’s landscape is complex, volatile and unpredictable. Surviving and thriving demands approaching each day and each opportunity with fresh eyes and an inquisitive spirit. Critical business imperatives such as creativity, innovation and continuous improvement require the prerequisite of curiosity. In fact, every workplace skill, including coaching and change management, is enhanced when it’s performed in the presence of curiosity.

That’s why curiosity is the new black. It literally goes with everything in business, providing a complement that doesn’t pull focus but rather amplifies and expands whatever ensemble it’s brought into.

Cultivating curiosity

Since it operates as a behavioral “neutral” — going with, supporting and turbocharging any number of workplace skills — leaders will likely find a substantial return on investments made in cultivating curiosity. Four strategies allow you to begin inviting in greater levels of curiosity today.

  1. Watch your airtime ratio. How much talking you’re doing is always a good barometer. Questions are the currency of curiosity. Putting greater emphasis on asking means that those around you will do more of the talking. Take a few moments to prepare for conversations by identifying a few curious questions. They’ll likely start a dialogue that will spark other follow-up questions, allowing you to dig deeper, clarify or build on what’s been shared.
  2. Seek outside data. Curiosity is not a spectator sport. Information will not find you; you must develop a plan for finding out what you need to know. Do an online search. Explore external resources. Collect best practices. Find data to establish benchmarks. Scan the business landscape for trends and changes. Actively and curiously interact with the resources at your disposal and extract the data, perspectives and insights required for you to excel in your role.
  3. Monitor your internal dialogue for curiosity killers. As a result of beliefs, time pressures and conditioning, most leaders have developed a host of mental processes that smother curiosity. Many want to control where the discussion is going; others want to jump efficiently (and prematurely) to solving problems. Neither can co-exist with curiosity. Also, be on the look out for assumptions, judgments and biases.
  4. Incorporate curious phrases into your vocabulary and interactions. The words you use can telegraph your sincere interest in learning and exploring while also building new habits for yourself. Consider such expressions as:
    • What if …

    • I’d really like to understand more about …

    • How would it work if …

    • What’s your experience of …

    • How would you …

Try these strategies and you’ll find that you learn more, your relationships are stronger, you’ll gain a clearer understanding of the business and its drivers, and you’ll better recognize and exploit the opportunities around you. And just like black, these outcomes are always in style.

What about you? What role does curiosity play in your work life? How has your appreciation for curiosity changed since you were a child? How do you bring greater curiosity to your work?

This post originally appeared at SmartBlog on Leadership.

6 comments on “Curiosity is the New Black

  1. Deborah Hayden on

    This is hopeful information. As a middle aged woman who is still trying to climb the corporate ladder, I am interested in many specialties within my profession. I am limited by time and money as I seek to enhance my knowledge, skills, and value.
    I have read that leaders sometimes feel like “fakes” as they get started in a new venture, but unfortunately it does seem that one has to worry about her perceived credibility when she asks questions, and admits to her strong desire to learn [as opposed to pretending to know everything].

    • Julie Giulioni on

      Continue the climb, Deborah! And you bring up a good point re: imposter syndrome… although I think that it frequently extends beyond just starting new ventures for some of us! To be honest with you, I find curiosity to be very smart and credible… and I don’t think I’m alone. But, it might make you more comfortable to ask those novice questions if you framed them with either why you want to know or what you already know on the subject. If you try that out, let us know how it works. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Peter Moore on

    Julie, Your wealth of business savvy always ensures a reader has an in-depth education on a topic! Incidentally, with this one, it’s ironic that although as children we were warned that it killed the cat, curiosity brings life to relationships.
    As regards your “Watch your airtime ratio” point. The listening factor, as always, underpins true/real/actual “communication.” An interesting exercise would be to apply the 80-20 rule to a conversation (80 percent listening, 20 percent speaking) and see the difference to one’s usual results.
    Stay curious!

    • Julie Giulioni on

      That ‘cat’ thing has always bothered me. You’re right… curiosity does enliven all sorts of things. And, I love your exercise, Peter. I will put it into practice and report back the results. I so appreciate your curious and generous spirit!


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