5 Ways to Prime the Learning Pump with Curiosity

Curiosity opens the door to learning. It creates an appetite for and receptivity to new ideas. It transforms routine activities into relevant, performance-enhancing opportunities.

Learning professionals today—like those who have come before them—work tirelessly to help elevate the capability and contributions of individuals and organizations. They also work tirelessly to find ways to optimize their own contributions and efforts by helping to ensure that participants get the most from training. They’ve focused on such strategies and qualities as:

  • Relevance: Making sure that content offered directly affects a person’s ability to perform a task.
  • Motivation: Helping employees find their own “whys” and building the inspiration to learn and change.
  • Expectations and pre-reflection: Letting participants know in advance what will be taught so they can consider how it will support their performance and success.
  • Content co-creation: Partnering with employees to contribute to the content (which supports relevance, motivation, and clear expectations).
  • Management support: Drawing on next-level supervisors to engage with participants and hold them accountable for learning.

But there’s one quality that’s been overlooked, a prerequisite that’s not been considered. It’s curiosity. And it might be the most effective tool Learning professionals have at their disposal to prime the learning pump and deliver greater development results. Curiosity opens the door to learning. It creates an appetite for and receptivity to new ideas. It transforms routine activities into relevant, performance-enhancing opportunities. But in many organizations, curiosity is in short supply.

And it makes sense. Curiosity appears to be bred out of us from an early age. The wonder and “whys” of childhood are replaced by skepticism, judgments, assumptions, and a sense of having “been there and done it all.” In the workplace, as the stakes become greater, caution and fear step into the space that curiosity might occupy. In the process, the absence of curiosity chokes off learning and so much more: creative solutions to recurring problems, breakthrough innovations to products and services, and even meaningful, authentic relationships.

Yet while Learning professionals are the ones who’d like to coax out the curiosity that will optimize their investment, it’s actually managers and supervisors who are in the best possible position to bring curiosity back into the workplace and into the hearts of employees—and they can accomplish this through some relatively straightforward strategies. They can:

  1. Model curiosity themselves. There’s an expression, “We teach what we live.” When managers “live” curiosity, it sends a powerful message to their followers. It demonstrates not just the how-tos and behaviors associated with curiosity but also the depth of the leaders’ commitment.
  2. Encourage people to follow their “what ifs.” How many times have you allowed a curious “What if…” or “I wonder…” to evaporate into the ether? What if leaders fueled the energy of these questions instead? What if they inspired others to go find the answers? They just might facilitate some remarkable discoveries… and some curiosity.
  3. Hold back a bit. Cultivating curiosity demands the development of independent thinkers, people who have confidence in their ability to solve problems. And this can’t happen when managers answer everyone’s questions and handle everyone’s issues for them.
  4. Embrace the experiment. My daughter returned from her lab internship one day excited about the mistake she’d made. An experiment she was responsible for didn’t turn out as planned. And instead of recriminations, she was met with a scientist’s curiosity. Her boss was genuinely interested in understanding what happened. And in the process, she reframed failure and unlocked learning.
  5. Celebrate the askers of “Why?” and “Why not?” What gets praised and recognized by leaders sends a powerful (and magnifying) message to employees. So rather than shutting down those eternal questioners, lift them up and spotlight them as a model of curiosity to inspire others.

Leaders who adopt even one of these practices can unleash a wave of curiosity that will prime the pump for growth, development, and learning.

Julie Winkle Giulioni has spent the last 25 years working with organizations worldwide to improve performance through learning. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, Winkle Giulioni is the co-author of the Amazon and Washington Post bestseller, “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want”; a respected speaker on a variety of topics; and a regular contributor to many business publications. You can reach her at www.juliewinklegiulioni.com

Julie Winkle Giulioni
Julie Winkle Giulioni is an author, consultant, trainer, and speaker who helps organizations tap their only sustainable competitive advantage: talent. One of Inc. Magazine’s Top 100 speakers, she’s the author of "Promotions Are So Yesterday: Redefine Career Development. Help Employees Thrive" and co-author of the international bestseller, "Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go." Visit https://www.juliewinklegiulioni.com and connect with Julie on LinkedIn and Twitter.