Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Upside Down - A Culture of Curiosity

Does your company have a culture of curiosity? If not, it should.

Over the holidays, I took my boys on a couple of science "field trips:" one to the LA Science Center to see the space shuttle Endeavour (a must-see) and one to the Sea Lab in Redondo Beach, where they got a personal tour and got to touch, and learn about, some cool sea life.

At the Sea Lab, I stood there taking pictures and listening to the kids ask questions, lots of questions. They are both "science kids" and love anything science. My older son could probably teach the folks at the Sea Lab a thing or two about sea life, and yet he's still the most-inquisitive kid.

Bear with me. I promise I have a point here.

They are always asking questions... who was X? why? how did they do that? how much longer? when? what if?  Etc. You name it, they ask it. If you have kids, you know the drill.

When we're in the car, they tend to ask me questions for which I don't have answers. If I don't have the answer, I say, "Google it when we get home." Of course, by then they've forgotten about it. It's gotten to the point where I gave them a notebook to keep in the car so they can write down the questions (that I can't answer) when they think of them. But they aren't interested in doing that. They want the answers now, when the thoughts cross their minds. Why? Because by the time we get home, they've asked me 10 more questions.

What's the point? There are three.

First, it occurred to me that their curiosity is infectious and, hey, I've learned a few things, too! They make me think of stuff I never think about or haven't thought of in years. Second, we don't know everything. And finally, we should always have an inquisitive mind in order to stretch the limits of what we know and what we're doing.

Are there things being done within, or by the people in, your company that you haven't thought about for years? Well, it's time! That infectious curiosity I mentioned is something any organization can harness, embrace, and use to excel. I'm going to refer to it as a Culture of Curiosity. (I'm sure I'm not the first.) Set aside outside-in or inside-out thinking for a moment and do some upside-down thinking. Toss everything you know on its heels and think about it in a different way.

If companies are constantly asking questions, they get to:
  1. Learn more about their customers and employees
  2. Better understand customer and employee needs
  3. Learn about partners, the market, emerging trends, etc.
  4. Ideate and innovate
  5. Create new/better products, features, and services
  6. Eliminate processes and policies that are harmful to the experience
  7. Change the way you do business (for the better)
Don't keep things status quo for the sake of comfort, convenience, or keeping things status quo. If you keep doing the same thing, you're going to keep getting the same results, right? With some of the statistics about customer experience as bad as they continue to be, I think companies are continuing to do the same thing. It's time to start asking some serious questions. And not being afraid of the answers - or the consequences and changes as a result.

Encourage open thinking and communication. Don't stifle or squash new ideas just because they aren't what "you usually do." Hire people who come from different backgrounds or industries. Look for questions and curiosity from all corners of the organization. Break the mold, turn things upside down, and stay curious!!

Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. -Walt Disney Company


  1. LOVE IT! yes, being one of those kids who has grown up physically, I still ask lots of questions.

    Being true to who we are is usually why people say they are not more child like. I say - bunk, you lost your wonderment. Being inquisitive has nothing to do with if you are quiet, boisterous or emotional, intellectual. It has everything to do with if you were encouraged as a child or shut down.

    Might be good to find ways to stimulate and reward yourself for opening back up.

    Again, I love this, thanks.

    1. Michele, thanks for reading and for commenting. Glad you enjoyed it! I agree...the more we encourage our kids (and our organizations) to be inquisitive, the more inquisitive they will become. And the more they learn and grow!

      Annette :-)

  2. Annette,

    I sat and watched my mother in law (74) and my daughter (4) and an iPad the other day.

    The 4 year old was all over the iPad, exploring it, trying things out, playing with it.

    When the 74 year old was offered a go she said "no thank you" though clearly she was as curious as her grand daughter.

    I don't think we get less curious as we get older, we just get more scared of looking foolish if we try something new and it doesn't work out.

    Sad really


    1. James,

      Thanks for your comment. Good point. And it is sad.

      I've always been taught, and use the same approach with my teams, for example, that no questions are stupid. OK, there are some stupid questions, but my point is that I don't want to discourage anyone from asking questions, nor do I want to crush their "right" to curiosity.

      Annette :-)

  3. Being curious is a natural instinct and as you point out is infectious. Yet we seem to have "beaten" it out of people as they work their way through "the system". The "knowledge is power" paradigm continues to be alive and well in many places - corporations and education to name a few.

    A great example is when I went to my advisor in college to talk about studying abroad he highly recommended I didn't go because I wouldn't be able to get a few of the accounting courses he thought were core to the scholars curriculum (although not essential for graduating). My curiosity and sense of adventure won. I chose to go to Germany and decline the university scholars program for which he was the advisor. I have no regrets.

    I wholeheartedly agree it is time to reignite our curious selves where we live and work.

    1. Susan,

      Thanks for reading and for your comment.

      I'm glad your curiosity and sense of adventure won out on that one. I turned down my chance to do the same, and unfortunately, I do regret it. Wish I had gone to Germany. Lesson learned!

      I was just watching a Ted video about culture and creativity, and in it was this quote from Picasso: "Every child is an artist. The problem is staying an artist when you grow up." I think that sums it up nicely.

      Annette :-)

  4. Here's the link to the Ted video I just mentioned... wish I would have seen this earlier in the week. I'd have included it in this post. It's a great talk that ties in nicely here. http://blogs.volunteermatch.org/volunteeringiscsr/2013/01/04/tedx-and-creativity-how-to-transform-corporate-culture/

  5. Hi Annette,
    Maybe there is value in inviting more kids into companies to be curious so we can learn and keep on learning the value of staying curious.


    1. You know, Adrian, that's not a bad idea! The kids would seriously question everything, just because they don't know what it is - and I bet we'd all be forced to rethink the how and the why when we have to explain it in 10-year-old terms.

      Annette :-)

  6. great inspiration for the new year - thanks, annette!

    1. Thanks, Denise! Hope 2013 is off to a great start for you!

      Annette :-)