There is a LOT to feel challenged by at the moment. Try Googling ‘unpredictable times’ and you get a sense of just how unstable and uncertain our world is right now!
While organisations and their people grapple with ongoing political and economic instability, many workplaces have been shifting beyond recognition:
- Old command and control methods from the 1950’s and 60’s are finally being dismantled in favour of more open and collaborative styles of leadership
- Rigid policies and procedures are being critiqued, questioned and, where necessary, thrown out or re-written
- New working patterns are not just a temporary ‘Covid’ inconvenience, but deemed viable and scalable by companies both big and small (perhaps with a few notable exceptions!)
At times of great change and unpredictability a common human coping strategy is to “put our heads in the sand”, to avoid discomfort and possible pain. In psychological terms this ‘ostrich-effect’ is a cognitive bias describing how people often avoid negative information to try and protect themselves.
But, what if different perspectives can provide powerful keys to unlocking new and innovative ways of thinking and coping. What if there are alternative and better options out there to help navigate uncertainty and change?
The most impactful first step to delving into difference is to be curious about the change. Curiosity is a strong desire to know or learn something and it’s not just for children and cats. Sadly education, conformity and a ‘fear of failure’ frequently make adults lose their willingness to be curious about their world and the complexities within it. Thankfully, curiosity can be rekindled and reactivated. There is now a growing body of research that identifies curiosity as pivotal for innovation, creativity and growth. According to sociologist, Tracy Bower, curiosity is the hot new skill that is emerging as a critical trait.
So how do you go about reigniting curiosity within your teams and workplaces?
A. Slow Down
Fast-paced, technologically busy lives are anathema to curiosity. Curiosity needs time to breathe and space to grow. One of the best ways to encourage curiosity to resurface is by scheduling ‘unstructured’ time in the diary, allowing people to look at problems from new angles and try out different possible solutions, or have actual time and space to read, listen or watch new and interesting content.
B. Ask ‘why?’
Encourage more employees to ask ‘why’ – it can lead to greater clarity, more honesty and gives the opportunity to explore better solutions collaboratively. Questionning, rather than answering and judging, stimulates more of the brain, allowing for more insights to be generated.
Listening is an incredibly underrated skill, but active listening goes hand-in-hand with curiosity, openning up many new ideas, perspectives and opinions. Being seen, listened to and understood helps to empower people and engenders trust.
Encourage people to own their learning and adopt a learning mindset. An interest in learning helps make the prospect of gaining a new skill or insight far more positive. By reframing ambiguity from something negative into one where there are infinite opportunities to learn and develop helps open people up to not only being more flexible but better able to adapt quickly and creatively to changing tasks and situations.
Fear is the mortal enemy of curiosity. Allowing for ‘reasonable’ failure creates opportunities to ask questions and creates safe spaces to experiment. A favourite quote of mine is “experiment where failure is survivable” – it’s not about letting your workforce be reckless, but allowing them to try new ideas.
Curiosity can help us do so many things: break cycles of repetitive behaviour and tasks, reduce ‘groupthink’, tackle inefficiencies, injustices and bureaucracy, enable agility, innovation, creativity and growth – surely we shouldn’t be keeping it just for children and cats?