I believe that, in its most pure form, curiosity is actually very selfish. Why? Because I want to know more because it serves me now or in the future. As I have mentioned before, I also think that as a leader, it is table stakes to be ever-curious about the world around you and not to allow what you think you know to blind you from what you may not know.
Let’s start with a very simple scenario that many of us find ourselves in regularly in a meeting with your peers. For this example, everyone in the room is equal in seniority and role; no one is the “leader.” As the meeting unfolds, you formulate where the group should go. This is based on your years of experience or subject matter expertise on the topic at hand; for the sake of this example, you are the most qualified to direct the group. So, how do you use curiosity in a way that adds to the group dynamic while leaving everyone feeling like part of the solution?
Note: If you are reading this and rolling your eyes because you would much rather simply tell the group the right answer or the right path to take and get on with it, consider this: Yes, you can absolutely do that, as command and control leadership is nothing new and clearly has its place. After years of leading with a curiosity-centric style, my thesis is that spending what can be seen as additional time upfront to use curiosity to engage the people around me truly leads to an exponentially better outcome. Problems are complex, nuanced, and often changing on the fly. A team that will continue to pull together when variables change, which they ultimately always do, is something that a command and control approach can struggle to maintain. When you have a team that was bought in from the start and who can see their fingerprints on the idea or the path forward, their level of personal commitment and discretionary effort will be the force multiplier to reach the other side with greater success and better outcomes.
Let’s dig into where things start to really take shape for leaders, when you use curiosity to add to the people around you vs. simply using it to deepen your own perspective.
Curiosity to learn.
Everyone in the room has an opportunity to increase their knowledge and perspective on the problem being solved. By taking leadership around asking deeper, more meaningful questions vs. simply sharing the answers you believe you already know, the entire knowledge level of the group increases. Most people tend to walk away with a greater understanding of a topic if they can participate in the entire process. To clarify, this does not mean everyone engages in the same way. It means you create a psychologically safe space where they can speak or listen at the amount they feel comfortable with.
Curiosity to elevate.
The simple art of asking a question of someone allows them to deepen their understanding and go further into an idea or concept they are already engaged with.
“What would it be like if…”
”I wonder – if you added X to Y, what do you think would happen?”
Even if you believe you know the answer, when you engage with the people around you in this way, the outcome will almost always be greater than the sum of the parts.
Curiosity to inspire.
By asking questions that help people open up can not only inspire them to broaden their perspective, and in a group setting, it can also set the tone of feeling safe for everyone to join in. Does everyone in the room feel safe and possibly even inspired to think bigger and bolder? By asking questions that open that door, everyone can get excited to join.
Curiosity to include.
As I mentioned earlier, not everyone engages in the same way. Some of us love to talk our way through a problem, while others would rather think through it first and talk about it later. To be clear, those are two oversimplified versions of how people like to process information, the point being how can you allow people to have their own space to process while also using curiosity to include them in the discussion? Questions asked with the right intent can and will make all the difference in the world.
We have a “rule” at my marketing agency that when a group of people get together to strategies, brainstorm or simply come up with new ideas for a client, no matter who says what or comes up with something amazing, it is always tied back to the group and not to the person who physically said it or wrote it on the whiteboard.
Because we learned long ago that the magic that created the idea was from the power of the group and not simply one person’s capabilities. The group coming together to push, pull and ask questions about each other created the magic.
By using curiosity to fuel your insatiable appetite to learn more and sharing that with others with the only goal of adding to their experience, you will be left with loyalty and better ideas than you could have ever thought possible.