We all know them, and maybe you are one: the person with a high curiosity quotient. This person questions everything, looking for answers or just exploring an idea for the sake of exploration. He or she does not accept the status quo.
Within every team or company is the potential to expand the curiosity quotient—and, as a result, increase creativity and potentially company performance. In fact, research from Oregon State University has found that people who showed strong curiosity traits—or an interest in exploring and learning new things—on personality tests performed better on creative tasks. They also were more likely to come up with creative solutions to problems.
Building your team’s curiosity quotient
Business leaders who nurture these leadership traits will develop more forward-thinking managers and more innovative employees. Here are three steps to foster a sense of curiosity and creativity:
Step 1: Observe
Not everyone has a natural sense of curiosity or the ability to approach situations creatively rather than just logically. As such, the first step in cultivating curiosity traits is to identify them in existing employees. This process can give you a jump-start on grooming employees for future leadership opportunities.
Start by keeping an eye out for employees who ask thought-provoking questions in team huddles, frequently socialize and collaborate with co-workers outside their department, or like to dabble in side projects unrelated to their day-to-day tasks.
With naturally curious team members, you can almost see the wheels turning. They’re always thinking and looking for new, creative solutions, and you see this in their notion of work-life integration rather than separation. These are your curious leaders and employees.
Step 2: Play devil’s advocate
As a manager or an individual contributor, you have the opportunity to expand the curiosity quotient.
Curiosity isn’t as apparent in some employees as it is in others. At times, you may need to draw it out of employees by challenging them to look at a situation or project in a new way. This may mean looking at both sides of an agreement or discussing the pros and cons of an idea.
Explore people’s suggestions and ideas with follow-up questions or what-if scenarios, and invite their feedback on your projects. If you manage others, encourage them to seek out development opportunities through projects, courses, and conferences. These opportunities allow employees to learn new things, gain additional insights, and understand different perspectives, thus sparking a new level of curiosity in your team.
If you’re introducing curiosity into meetings and conversations where the focus is on execution, start slow by asking one or two questions in your first few meetings. If you get short answers, gauge the mood and either stop or continue.
Be mindful of others’ defensiveness. Share why you are asking questions. Make it about the subject, not the person. Communicate in a way that is open, not accusatory, and invites others to share.
Step 3: Make room for curiosity
Once you’ve begun to introduce curiosity and exploration through your own behavior, you can explore how to enable others to be more curious.
In your conversations and meetings, resist moving to solutions to issues too fast. It’s too easy to want to get to an answer, drive to a solution, and move on to the next issue. To allow for curiosity and thus greater creativity, you must create space to explore ideas and get input from multiple perspectives.
As a leader, you can ensure this takes place by calling on a range of people in the room, from junior to senior. If you’re an individual contributor, you can influence this process by posing exploratory questions and asking others what they think.
The key here is to give employees—or yourself—an opportunity to explore different options and ideas, rather than settle for the easy route or the majority vote. Sometimes the obvious solution isn’t always the best solution. When you make room for curiosity, you make room for innovation.
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