Sunday, January 22, 2006

Strategies for Sustainable Curiosity: Part 1

Back-Tracking to Go Forward

Continuing on the topic from the last few weeks:

Psycholinguistics demonstrates that thinking is associative. In other words, our brains make patterns automatically with whatever information we provide.

What Does This Have to Do With Business?

Innovation requires the ability to break from the familiar and make new connections, and the process can only be sustained by finding fresh perspectives on a regular basis. This, in turn, requires engagement primarily driven by curiosity and supported by a variety of disciplines

For a real-life example, just ask a leader in the financial service industry.

It seems that adults are born very curious indeed.  However, as these grown children begin work, they increasingly narrow their focus in order to block out anything not directly related to a work problem. So the rest of their visual field becomes peripheral.

The question is: how can these once-curious adults find their ability to see completely again and leverage the parts that were once driven to explore?

Or to tie the issue directly back to the bottom line:

What strategies can be employed in the workplace to look again for what engages your employees? How can you support these workers to stay connected to that in which they can be curious once identified? And how can such a strategy actually work in a business?

First of All, What is Curiosity?

There are very few drives more powerful than the desire to know. Most people I know make themselves crazy trying to remember a name on the tip of their tongue. Fans sit on the edge of their seats for hours in suspense over the outcome of a sports event.

The success of Soap Operas -- and subsequently, the money networks generate through advertising dollars -- is due entirely to an audience's curiosity about what will happen next. What's more, this phenomenon can be sustained for years through increasingly unlikely of scenarios gluing fans to their sets -- every day.

But Why?

If someone is curious, the outcome matters. Once taken over by curiosity, ordinary blocks to new possibilities are overrun by a focus on the goal of discovering. In the hunt for answers, everything else is often either subordinated or forgotten.

Curiosity can be a tremendously powerful tool to help the otherwise timid forget a lack of confidence or the most despairing find a drive to explore.

How Does This Work?

The state of being curious is a little like anger, infatuation, or any other passionate state -- if stoked enough, it entirely takes over. As a combination of emotional and intellectual drives, a key component of curiosity is desire. What can be stronger than that?

Wonder is useful as well, but that's for another post.

First, Engage

Here's where ownership is essential: in order to support and sustain curiosity, the desire to know must begin with an idea in which someone is genuinely invested, both emotionally and intellectually.

After all, the meeting point of emotional and intellectual engagement is where inspiration comes from.

In other words, an interest in pleasing -- in getting the right answer for the sake of someone else's reward or praise -- can't generate sustainable curiosity. The results can only be temporary and will lack his or her full range of resources.

So What's the Problem?

In a work environment, developing one's full range of resources, even one's own interests, is usually deferred in favor of doing what's necessary to succeed. The theory is that once one climbs to the top of the ladder, one can choose the projects or processes in which one feels genuine investment.

However, by the time most people have worked for a year or more, habit has set in. Employees trained to guess and produce what pleases the boss go into automatic pilot. There are also written objectives that spell out exactly the behaviors and accomplishments that constitute success and failure just in case someone misses the signals elsewhere about how to satisfy the boss's needs.

For more on the blocks to and strategies for sustainable curiosity, tune-in to the next post . . . .

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