I witnessed an interaction between a little girl who must have been about 4 or 5 and her parents the other day in a restaurant. I was eavesdropping like mad.
The little girl was curious about everything and asked question after question after question. Some of those questions had to do with people and things around her - strangers she wanted to know about by asking her parents a whole lot of "Why" questions.
"Why does that lady have a bump on her face?" "Why does that girl look sad"? "Why don't they let dogs in here?" "Why is that man eating by himself?" "Why can't I have an ice-cream?"
All very reasonable questions if you are 4. Actually, they are reasonable questions if you're 40, it's just that by that age we often ask those questions in our head not out loud.
What was key here is that instead if answering her in the simplest way possible, they kept trying to shut her up. "Shhhh. It's not nice to ask about other people." "Quiet, you need to behave."
What happened? She got stroppier and stroppier. What a surprise. Her curiosity was being squashed out of her for the sake of her parents not being embarrassed by her questions. They were clearly uncomfortable that the people being asked about might overhear and on one level that's understandable.
However, there were a lot better ways to handle the barrage of questions other than shushing her.
Eventually she will stop being curious or will get the message that her curiosity is wrong.
Why it feels relevant to talk about that experience is that I see how many people have had their curiosity stifled and don't bring it into the workplace environment. I don't ever want to stop asking "Why?" and I don't want other people to stop asking "Why?"
"Why?" leads to knowledge and getting under the skin of stuff; "Why?" leads to trying something out just for the heck of it; "Why?" leads to knowing people better.
"Why?" leads to "I wonder what would happen if I…..?"
When we run Creativity and Innovation courses and Creative Strategic Thinking, curiosity has to be a big part of not only making things happen but in changing patterns in order to create something new.
In other words, curiosity and creativity are divine partners.
Having said that how many of us were told "Curiosity killed the cat" when we were asking too many questions or probing something that the 'grown ups' didn't want us to know?
It was years before I heard the very reassuring rejoinder, "But satisfaction brought it back". Ahhh, it's OK to be curious after all.
What about your curiosity? Is it in full bloom at work or have you shut down part of your natural inquisitiveness because it might upset someone else or it might put you in the spotlight or even worse, it might humiliate you?
Here are just a few questions to ask yourself about your level of curiosity:
Do you accept the way things are done because they've always been done that way?
Do you ever ask why something is done in a particular way when you're not convinced it's the best way?
How well do you know what your colleagues actually do at work?
How well do you know what your colleagues do outside of work?
Do you ever ask people to explain their jobs in more detail so you have a greater understanding?
Do you ever seek to understand how something works because not knowing makes you a little uncomfortable?
Do you let what happens around you wash over you or do you like to join in and put in your two cents worth?
There are loads of people who go to work, put their heads down, eat their lunch, put their heads down again and never ask "why?", never seek to know more, never take the lid off their curiosity.
Personally, I think we should be asking lots and lots of "Why?" questions and "What if…." questions every day.
At the same time, companies come to us saying they want their people to be more innovative. The more managers encourage their teams to be curious, the more innovative and creative they will become.
The workplace would be a far more interesting place if people gave full vent to their curiosity.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory