Catalyst | Dexterity
need to invest in
curiosity to thrive
fuels creativity, communication and innovation,
but too many organisations smother it, warns Harvard
Business School’s Francesca Gino.
Over recent months, leaders have come to realise that much of their
organisations’ talent is able to adapt and learn. For those businesses
that struggle to evolve and stay nimble, one thing has become clear:
curiosity, a main driver of learning and innovation, is an essential trait
that workplaces will need to foster, both during and after the COVID-19
This will be no easy task, as curiosity tends to be squeezed out of us as we
age. We are all born curious, but as we grow older, our attitude to curiosity
changes. In fact, research shows that curiosity peaks between the ages of
four and five, then declines steadily.
Organisations, in particular, have a way of killing curiosity. Data I collected
from hundreds of employees starting new jobs show that their curiosity
starts out high. However, when I checked in with these workers eight to
nine months later, their curiosity had dropped by at least 20% across the
board – no matter their industry or role. That’s a missed opportunity for
them, personally, and for their organisations.
Although leaders say
most of them stifle,
Although leaders say they treasure inquisitive minds, most of them stifle,
rather than encourage, curiosity.
In our survey of more than 3,000 employees from a wide range of firms
and industries, 92% credited curious people with bringing new ideas
into teams and organisations and viewed curiosity as a catalyst for job
satisfaction, motivation, innovation and high performance. Yet the same
study found that only a quarter (24%) reported feeling curious at work on
a regular basis, while 70% said they face barriers to asking more questions
This requires consideration, as curiosity leads to a wide range of benefits
for organisations, including:
• increased creativity
• fewer errors in decision-making
• reduced group conflict
• more open communication
• better team performance
• more diverse networks
The renowned 16th-century Italian artist Michelangelo described
sculpting as a process whereby the artist releases an ideal figure from
the block of stone in which it slumbers. What if we were all to start by
assuming that everyone has curiosity within them, and that our role
as leaders, colleagues, parents, partners, friends and teachers is to
help others to discover and bring out that curiosity? When we do so,
Be more pirate
A while back, I became interested in 16th-century pirate ships; 200 years
before slavery ended in the US, pirate ships were arguably the most diverse
and democratic ‘employers’ in the world. Crew members were recruited
for their skills and attitude, rather than by race or gender, and the captain
was chosen by the crew. They could also remove him or her if they didn’t
like how they behaved towards them.
That raised a question for me that I think about regularly: “Would my
‘crew’ choose me as their captain today?” I believe that leaders who help
their people to hold onto their curiosity are more likely to be chosen. In
encouraging curiosity, we are preparing ourselves and our ‘crew’ for even
the most turbulent of journeys.
Curiosity can be fostered, even in those who have lost it over time. So, my
message to all leaders out there is that during the ongoing coronavirus
crisis, don’t forget to think about the long term as well as the short term.
Invest in your people and support them to keep their curiosity alive.
Francesca Gino is an award-winning researcher and teacher, and
a tenured professor at Harvard Business School. She has been
honoured as one of the world’s Top 40 Business Professors under
40 and one of the world’s 50 most influential management thinkers.