Fostering Curiosity: The Hunger To Learn
The character, Alice, in the book, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” once exclaimed how she was “Curiouser and curiouser!”
While Alice realized this was not proper English when she said it, her adventures are a great example of the power of exploration and learning from being curious.
Most of us think we understand what curiosity is. But what does it really mean? Can we actually foster and develop curiosity and apply it to learning in the workplace?
ALWAYS THINKING “WHY?”
We all have moments of curiosity when we wonder why something happened or how something works. However, besides this momentary curiosity as a state of mind, it also can be a stable personality trait for some people. Some of us are high in curiosity, while others are low in this attribute.
Children are born with an innate curiousness that allows them to explore their new world and take in everything in their environment. They discover each sensory input as they develop and learn to understand their bodies and use them the best they know how. As they learn to crawl and walk, and speak and talk, childhood curiosity ignites a passion to learn.
When a child reaches about 3 years of age, his or her parents often are exhausted by their toddler’s repeated requests to answer the question, “Why?”
Alas, these inner traits are slowly stifled at home and at school. Boundaries are established, and children are told what they must and cannot do.
Similarly, Warren Berger author of “A More Beautiful Question,” says these same boundaries infiltrate the workplace. He notes, “…Many companies—whether consciously or not—have established cultures that tend to discourage inquiry in the form of someone asking, for example, ‘Why are we doing this particular thing in this particular way?’”
We need more opportunities for curiosity to flourish where we work.
CURIOSITY AND LEARNING
Mario Livio author of “Why?: What Makes Us Curious,” states, “Curiosity inspires the most exciting things in our lives, from conversation to reading books to seeing films. It drives all scientific research, and education. Other species are curious, but they don’t have the ability to ask, ‘Why?’ This is uniquely human.”
We all know learning is not about acquiring and regurgitating information just to pass a course or examination. Nor is learning about obtaining new skill sets in order to improve our career.
Learning changes how we think—pure and simple. And the irony is, if learning changes how we think, it actually can help us regain the curiosity needed to grow in today’s workplace.
Individuals with high curiosity describe the thrill of being challenged by new situations and learning new tasks. And they experience great pleasure associated with such learning. Whatever the outcome from their learning, it is reward enough. It also provides motivation to continue to want to learn.
Such individuals also like to gather information from varied sources. It becomes fascinating to find and learn new information and how to apply it in their lives. The seeking out of new and unfamiliar information is a stimulating and exciting exercise.
Nobel-prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman noted, “Everything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough.” That is the kind of curiosity we need to develop in the workplace for greater collaboration and to innovate new ideas and inventions.
STEPS TO FOSTERING CURIOSITY
Kathy Taberner and Kirsten Siggins in their book, “The Power of Curiosity,” advocate getting yourself into a state of being where you can be fully present before you can actively listen and ask good, open-ended questions.
All designers, innovators, scientists, and engineers are exceptionally good at asking great open-ended questions. Berger reminds us “that questions are important, and we should pay more attention to them.”
Following the line of thinking of developmental psychologist Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell, I have drawn upon some of her ideas around fostering curiosity in children and applied them to adult learners in the workplace:
1. Place a higher value on curiosity. Companies want innovation but don’t grow the ability to be curious within their employees. We need to recognize and reinforce employees when they ask good questions, challenge current thinking, and develop solutions to existing company processes and problems.
2. Teach employees the art of asking good questions. This is more natural for some than for others. It is beyond inserting questions into the Google search bar. Open-ended questions that begin with “Why,” “What if,” and “How” are powerful idea starters. Marilee Adams has written many books on this subject, including “Change Your Questions, Change Your Life,” and Dan Rothstein wrote “Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions.”
3. Hatch more curiosity in project teams. There always will be those who are more curious. Put less curious team members together with high-curiosity- minded people and have them work out a solution to a real-life work problem or idea. Curiosity is contagious as people become excited about making a positive contribution.
4. Draw out and don’t ignore the puzzled look. When you see someone with furrowed eyebrows and a visible question on his or her face, ask what he or she is thinking about. The immediate response will be a question. Sometimes we’re scared to ask what someone is thinking because we don’t want our ideas challenged. We should welcome being challenged because it leads to innovation right around the corner.
5. Highlight the curious leaders in your midst. We all know the creative individuals in our organizations and those who are born innovators. Provide a forum for them to share with staff the thinking process they go through to innovate and explore new ideas. Whether through articles, presentations, or video-recorded interviews, allow others to learn from the curious thinkers in-house.
Albert Einstein is purported to have said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”
Let’s do all we can to stimulate curiosity in our workplaces.
Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: http://AuthenticRecognition.com. For more information, e-mail him at RoySaunderson@Rideau.com or visit www.Rideau.com.