The Business Benefit of Curiosity
We learn from a young age that curiosity leads to trouble.
When we’re toddlers, our incessant “whys” charmed and then frustrated our parents.
When we’re kids, we read tales that correlated curiosity to disturbance. Sleeping Beauty explored a castle, pricked her finger on a spindle, and ended up in a coma. Alice fell into a rabbit hole, nearly drowned in her tears, and outgrew a courtroom.
When we’re young adults, we saw horror movies where curiosity gets you killed. That person just had to check out the noise in the garage. That kid had to talk to the clown in the sewer. Why didn’t you get out of there?!
Over time, our curiosity muscles atrophy. Perhaps we ask fewer questions or settle into comfortable routines. Maybe we get so busy with our daily routines that we push it to the background. Regardless, that strange, fantastic urge to question and explore gets neglected.
But taking the time to stoke curiosity has amazing benefits, especially in the workplace.
1. Curiosity creates connections.
Ever meet someone and they drone on and on about themselves? You’re a cardboard cutout in the conversation. Anyone (or anything) could sub in for you. And you’re not interested in sticking around for more.
Using curiosity in a conversation creates an opposite response. Questions arise. Conversations evolve into interactive experiences. “What did you like best about Thailand?” “Why do you recommend that restaurant?” “What did you think about that book?”
Curiosity invokes the sense that someone genuinely has an interest in you. That, in turn, leads to sharing information that is mutually interesting and intriguing. And when that happens, you’re developing stronger connections.
In a business context, this trait can lead to stronger teams and better communications built on trust and respect. You end up knowing more about your co-workers—their habits, preferences, and priorities. You draw your own conclusions based on what you discover, kicking out stereotypes.
2. Curiosity helps you learn.
No one wants to learn boring stuff. And yet, in business that’s often necessary to do a job well.
Curiosity makes it easier for you to learn boring stuff. Seriously.
A study from the University of California, Davis discovered that test subjects could recall mundane information better when curiosity was invoked. They discovered that curiosity sparks the reward part of your brain. When you pair curiosity and learning, it perks up the hippocampus, which is the portion of the brain that forms new memories.
Instead of trying to make boring information more interesting, think of ways to encourage curiosity during the learning process to help people retain the information. In the study, they used trivia. But other ways to do this could include scavenger hunts, TV, and interactive presentations.
3. Curiosity opens you up to new experiences.
What if you wanted to know what it’s like to walk across Spain? And then you did it.
That’s what Richard Palomares did. He was driven by the “I wonder what that feels like” sensation. He hopped on a plane almost overnight and walked the pilgrimage Camino de Santiago—500 miles from one side of Spain to the other across mountains to the seashore. His only regret after the 40-day trek: he says he probably should have trained ahead of time. Small price to pay for the experience, right?
Curiosity puts that wonderfully endless question in front of you: What if…
What if it takes you to new places? What if it pushes you to expand your mind, and rewards you with new experiences? It keeps your brain nimble and it forces you into situations that are out of your comfort zone. A doctor focused on positive psychology (yes, that’s a real thing) even asserts that curiosity can combat anxiety. Curiosity encourages a “growth mindset” and can help individuals focus on new experiences or learning, not on anxiety,
In a business, sometimes you encounter unexpected situations. If you practice curiosity on a regular basis (and grow back that muscle), you’ve been exposed to new ideas and surprises that can help you add perspective and move forward positively.
How can you encourage curiosity in the workplace?
There are simple steps you can take to create a curiosity-powered business. They require only a bit of effort for a big payback.
1. Create a question-friendly environment.
You can’t act on curiosity if you’re afraid to ask questions. Encourage questions and provide a positive environment for them (aka don’t condescend.) Sometimes the simplest questions lead to unexpected and appreciated answers. It also upends the status quo. Businesses not only fall into a pattern of “This is how we do it”—they also fall into the pattern of “This is what this means.” They attach predefined outcomes that haven’t necessarily been proven or tested. Curiosity challenges that type of thinking.
2. Mix it up.
Get your team outside of the office. And make it a surprise. It breaks up routines, excites participants, and raises curiosity. It can be small changes like moving a meeting outside, talking team walks, or even larger endeavors like social off-sites. But either way, it promotes more curiosity. Escape room, anyone?
3. Bring curiosity to the office.
Roll out the welcome mat to your office. Bring in people outside of the office to talk about non-work skills and experiences. Host a brown bag lunch with a presenter that discusses origami or animation. Invite someone from a different profession to field questions from employees. For example, what about a tattoo artist talking about the creative process? Or an engineer explaining how bridges are made? All these actions will nurture curiosity.
One last note about curiosity.
Like fairy tales and horror movies, sometimes curiosity results in bad decisions. You see, the uncertainty associated with curiosity (what’s really behind that door) will make you do something you already know won’t turn out well. Think about this research: Scientists laid out pens in front the subjects and told them that half of the pens would shock you, while the other half wouldn’t. They didn’t say or show which pens would do what. People still picked up the pens to figure it out, getting shocked in the process. But even this has a silver lining. It can help you identify self-destructive behavior.
So, get out there and be curious.