Curiosity is an Irritating, Underestimated Driving Force

– with Julie Kjær-Madsen / From the GuruBook edited by Jonathan Løw

We will measure curiosity in the future just as we measure the ability to innovate. In our organizations today, we use the word innovation in many contexts. We say we want to be innovative. That’s relatively easy to say but much more difficult to be. The ability to innovate can nevertheless be strengthened by cultivating curiosity. That is the key we need.

To be curious is to be interested and greedy for knowledge. We are born with curiosity. As children, we examine everything we can get our hands-on. We take things to pieces, find out what they’re made of, how they’re put together, and how they work. We create for ourselves an understanding of the world through our curiosity. As long as we’re children.

Daniel Goleman states the following in his book Emotional Intelligence:

A child’s readiness for school depends on the most basic of all knowledge, how to learn. The report lists the seven key ingredients of this crucial capacity—all related to emotional intelligence. One of these is Curiosity. The sense that finding out about things is positive and leads to pleasure.

The innovative organization is irritatingly curious. It stops and examines contexts; it turns things upside down, dissects challenges, and looks at them from many angles.

The curious organization uses the constructive question mark: What if? What if one could? How could we? Who should we involve? Where is the knowledge we can use? The curious organization solves problems by looking at them with constructive wonder. The constant changing of time requires that we learn to be curious. This is irritatingly time-consuming—and very, very underestimated.

The Constant Questioner should stop asking all those “stupid” questions, and Curious George should rein.

Curiosity must be reinvented. Curiosity is connected with something negative. Although we are born curious, we are brought up to not be curious. On the contrary.

The Constant Questioner gets a slap and is sent to bed because he’s curious. Curious George gets into all sorts of potentially dangerous situations because he’s seduced by his curiosity.

The Constant Questioner should stop asking all those “stupid” questions, and Curious George should rein in his curiosity. The message is that curiosity makes problems for us. Being curious is not associated with anything positive. It’s mainly perceived as something a little improper. The curious pries. The curious is ignorant; he doesn’t know the answer.

Here’s the rub: We’re brought up to be clever. When we’re clever, we know the answer. We know what we’re examined in. We understand, can explain, and can answer. The clever employee knows the answer. His answer isn’t “What if…?”

The public rhetoric isn’t about curiosity but about reaching a conclusion. Politicians are required to give answers, and they give them in a cocksure way. The media reach conclusions. This is the context and this is why. Bang. That’s the way it is. Over and done with.

Imagine if asking good questions was held in high esteem. Imagine if being able to formulate visionary “what if” questions were widely recognized. As a politician, as a journalist—and as an employee.

Employees who question decisions are not cooperative. They don’t have the right attitude. If we ask organizations working with innovation what their greatest challenge is, the answer is often, It is difficult to implement something new.

Imagine if we more often asked for curious exploitation of all that we want to change and anchor.

That deep-rootedness is the greatest challenge. It’s obvious. We don’t give the members of the organization the chance to come to an understanding of changes. We haven’t included curiosity in the equation.

It’s as if we still think that change is a matter of management and communication as determined by the situation. Imagine if we more often asked for curious exploitation of all that we want to change and anchor. If we invited the organization to use curiosity in solving the challenges and qualifying the decisions.


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