There are behaviors in life that once adopted, change the way in which you approach everything that you see or do. Behaviors that enable you to see beyond the face value of what is in front of you to the potential of something so much better.
One of these behaviors is curiosity. When we are curious, we are more willing to explore ambiguous situations. We are more willing to find ways to understand the perspectives around us. We are more willing to come up with a multitude of ways to solve a problem rather than embracing just one solution. We are also more willing to experiment to see what works.
Research has also shown that those are curious have better academic performance as children. As adults, curiosity can improve learning, engagement, and performance at work.
“Curiosity is the engine of achievement.” — Sir Ken Robinson
Can We Cultivate Curiosity?
For some, curiosity is as natural as breathing. These individuals naturally seek out answers to questions that haven’t occurred to others and tend to think in ways that seem completely counter to anything we’ve known. What is their secret and is curiosity something that we can cultivate?
Fortunately, curiosity is something that can be cultivated. It does require that we overcome what Diane Hamilton, Ph.D. calls F.A.T.E. — Fear, Assumptions, Technology and Environment. These four factors are the most likely candidates for reasons that people aren’t curious.
For example, you might have a good question to ask in a meeting, but because you are afraid that the question might be stupid you hold back from asking the question. Instead, you get into your own head and a potentially negative dialog. Or you might assume that the question has already been asked so what is the point of asking it here. Or you might be in a cutthroat environment that lacks psychological safety making it career suicide to be anything but a yes person.
You can see how you sit in each of the four dimensions by taking the Curiosity Code Index.
Cultivating Your Own Curiosity
Fortunately for us all, curiosity is easy to cultivate. Curiosity is largely an exercise in asking questions. However, like all things, there is an art and science to how you approach curiosity.
Curiosity without focus or context can lead you down a variety of tangents, but probably isn’t going to help you glean meaningful information or insights.
Curiosity for curiosity’s sake may hopefully one day help you, but for most of us we are looking to solve problems that we have now or in the near future, not problems that we might never encounter.
To cultivate your own curiosity:
Ask “humble questions” — focus on asking questions in a way that not only provides answers about what you don’t know, but provides information about the feelings, reactions, and motives of others.
“Humble inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you don’t already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” — Edgar H. Schein, retired MIT Professor
Use diagnostic inquiry to uncover causes, future actions and the overall picture of the situation or challenge.
Identify who has knowledge or is an expert in an area that you are curious about. Their perspectives can be invaluable in helping you generate better questions.
Think like a skeptic. Your job here is not to be a critic, but to question why something is the way it is, why a certain situation continues to occur, and identify ways to change.
Use the Five Whys. Asking “why?” once will typically get us to the more obvious answer. Continuing to ask why helps you get to more meaningful information, but can also help drive new insights for the person you are asking the questions of, identifying new areas to explore.
“We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.” — Lloyd Alexander, American author
So whether you are just starting your journey to building curiosity or striving to have more of an impact, remember to ask questions that gets you to new insights and information. This often means that you have to ask “why?” more than once to get past the so-called standard answers and into a meaningful dialog and to better insights.
Most importantly, remember that curiosity alone is not enough. You have to be willing to do something with the information and insights you glean. Think about what you learned and then craft a course of action to put those insights into play against the challenge you are facing.
If you are looking to dive deeper on curiosity and how to cultivate it, here are my top reading recommendations:
A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer
The Curious Advantage by Simon Brown
Cracking the Curiosity Code: The Key to Unlocking Human Potential by Diane Hamilton
Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by Edgar H. Schein