CATALYST Issue 6 | Page 13

Catalyst | Dexterity D Why organisations need to invest in curiosity to thrive Francesca Gino C uriosity 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 pandemic. 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 they treasure inquisitive minds, most of them stifle, rather than encourage, curiosity Smothering curiosity 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 at work. 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, people thrive. 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.