Managing curiosity has always been hard for a business - balancing between innovation and speed, between creation and return on investment. Curiosity has empirically-proven business benefits such as fewer decision-making errors and more innovation and positive changes. Curiosity also offers reduced group conflict and more open communication and better team performance. At the same time, exploring one’s creativity in an organization has its own challenges such as short-term performance goals are often given precedence.
A recent research by Francesca Gino, a behavioral scientist, reveals these benefits of curiosity and the barriers to exploring creativity in an organization.
In this article, we will refer to the research findings to determine how organizations can overcome these barriers and harness their employees’ creativity. Here are the five strategies to bolster creativity, as tabled by the research.
The five strategies to bolster curiosity
- Hire for curiosity
Employers should factor in candidates’ curiosity as a parameter to be a part of their organization. Only if curiosity is an inherent trait in candidates, only then can they be expected to exhibit curiosity at work. Here are some things talent acquisition teams can include in their recruitment procedures:
Include interview questions which can assess an individual’s curiosity: Questions such as, “Have you ever found yourself unable to stop learning something you’ve never encountered before? Why? What kept you persistent?” can help in the process. A certain Google asks this question in interviews - if the candidates say that they just had to find the answer, then it is a good reflection on their curiosity levels.
Ask candidates about their interests outside of work: If they enjoy reading books outside of their field and just exploring new things only to gain knowledge and out of interest, then it is a good litmus test for curiosity. For instance, if a strategy leader likes to read about data science and graphic design, it may very well mean that she is a curious individual.
Administer curiosity assessments: There are research-validated curiosity assessments available in the market. They can be used to measure if people like exploring new things, read beyond their field, have a plethora of interests outside work, and get excited by learning opportunities.
Listen to the questions: Interviewers can be keen to focus on candidates’ responses to questions. But it is also important to closely listen to the questions they ask. If they are interested in knowing more about the aspects of the organization which are not directly related to their roles, it is a positive reflection on their curious behaviour.
2. Role model inquisitiveness
For an organization to be curious and inquisitive, the behaviour needs to permeate from the top management. Leaders can be role models of curiosity if they are inquisitie themselves. It is not only about being curious when asking questions, it is more about being curious when listening. This happens to be a very common flaw that humans have. Gino’s research proved the same. In her survey, she asked 200+ high-level leaders what they would do when confronted with financial crisis and cultural issues in the organization. A majority percentage responded that they will take immediate action. Not many said that they would “ask questions rather than simply impose their decisions on others.”
A common myth about asking questions is that people are apprehensive they will be judged “incompetent, unintelligent and indecisive.” Gino’s research says the opposite. According to her research, when we ask questions and demonstrate inquisitiveness, people like us more and view us as more competent.
3. Emphasize learning goals
When under pressure, the human tendency is to narrow in what immediately seems to be the best course of action. The ones passionate about continuous learning do not go with what is seemingly the best option in the moment - they “contemplate a wide range of options and perspectives,” says Gina in her research. Framing work around learning goals boosts employee motivation, according to research.
Here is how organizations can help employees adopt a learning mindset:
- Reward people for the learning needed to reach performance goals - this way, you are rewarding not only for the results, but also for learning.
- React positively to ideas which may not be practical in themselves but could branch to much better applicable ideas.
4. Let employees explore and broaden their interests
Give employees time and resources to explore their interests. This can bolster creativity in the organization, as well as keep employees engaged and happy. This could be achieved by:
- Providing employees with the opportunity to travel to new and unfamiliar places.
- Giving employees the platform to broaden their network. A large network often brings forth opportunities to explore new avenues.
- Connect people from different teams in forums and harness their inquisitiveness by encouraging them to ask questions from their colleagues unrelated to their lines of work.
5. Have “why?” “what if” and “how might we” days.
The innate curiosity of employees can be brought forth to the office floor using structured engagement activities. Some of the best innovations in this world happened because someone asked, “What if?” and Why?” “What if I could connect with all the cabs in my area looking for passengers?” Uber. “Why should we have to wait for the picture after clicking our cameras?” Polaroid camera.
Organize such days within teams, units, verticals and even company-wide where employees ask such questions. They can be springboards to business innovation, bolster employee curiosity, and at the same time make them feel valued.