You know the saying: Curiosity killed the cat. It’s an interesting phrase because if you apply it to the business world, it basically says that if you are curious, you’re dead. As a naturally inquisitive person, I find this borderline insane. But, because I don’t have all the answers (see related post), I decided it needed to be talked out. So the conversation came up the other day over coffee with a CEO friend and we were discussing whether curiosity is a trait you hire for. We realized there are two schools of thought – some leaders and managers see curiosity as a big bonus and others see it as career-limiting.
The definition of curiosity is a strong desire to know or learn something. Hm, so how can that be a bad thing? As the CEO of a business or a manager or leader of a team, wouldn’t you want a team of curious people? I found that the answer is often no. And here’s why. First off, curious people create more work. When you challenge something or what to know or learn more about something, chances are, being the smart person you are, you are going to suggest some way to change it. AKA: More work. But isn’t the spirit of continual improvement what makes for a great business? Challenging the way you always do it to do it better? My CEO friend says that not all leaders drink that koolaid.
Second, curious people can ‘get in the shorts’ of other people who like their shorts a certain, non-bunched way. Curious people ask questions. They often don’t stop and think: “Hm, should I ask Jerry about why the system was down yesterday?” they act. They ask Jerry why the system is down and you know what happens? One of two things. Thing #1: Jerry says to himself – wow, she’s paying attention that the system is down and here’s my chance to tell her that we have a problem. OR Jerry says Thing #2: WTF is her issue with my department and why is she questioning our process?! You see the difference? Yep, the shorts get all bunched up. In the spirit of continual improvement, most people would assume Jerry would think #1, but I am going to bet that, in most companies, Jerry thinks #2. Which is fascinating to me, in a not so good way.
We all go to work for a variety of reasons. For me personally, in addition to helping me pay the bills, my work is a tremendous passion for me. I am always thinking about new ideas, how to do what we’re doing better, how to push the envelope and do things differently. I am always asking questions. I am always thinking about change. Change not to put my stamp on it. But change it to make it better. Change it to make the company better. Change to make our customers happier. I have also found that I tend to hire people who are curious about everything. Not just marketing. They want to understand all facets of the business. They bring new ideas to me everyday because they ask questions. Their curiosity makes them outstanding employees and I value their willingness to learn and grow.
So, I ask you this. If you are someone who thinks curiosity is a negative trait in an employee…why? If you remember that everyone is in the boat together, rowing in the same direction, striving to achieve the same big-ass goals, then why, for the love of Pete, can’t you get over yourself and embrace someone’s willingness to learn and think differently? Maybe it’s an insecurity. Maybe it’s having to think you have all the answers. Maybe it’s because you hate cats. I guess I just don’t understand it but fill me in.
I challenge you to embrace curiosity. Engage that employee who is asking you “why” we do things a certain way. I think of my kids when they were 2-3 yr olds and it was constantly why, why, why. Instead of saying “because I said so,” I took the time to tell them why. Even if I didn’t have all the answers, I embraced their curiosity. It makes them the amazing and fantastic little people they are today. And I do the same thing for the people who work for me.
Challenge me, challenge us, make us better together. It’s a gift, people. Don’t let your own insecurities get in the way of what could be an amazing thing for your business.