Julie Kjær-Madsen (Denmark) is an innovation specialist and owner of the Loop Company. She is also a master practitioner in concept making and business innovation and has previously worked at KOMPAN, LEGO, and Danfoss Universe.
Curiosity is an Irritating, Underestimated Driving Force
We will measure curiosity in the future just as we measure the ability to innovate. In our organizations today, we use the word innovation in many contexts. We say we want to be innovative. That’s relatively easy to say but much more difficult to be. The ability to innovate can nevertheless be strengthened by cultivating curiosity. That is the key we need.
To be curious is to be interested and greedy for knowledge. We are born with curiosity. As children, we examine everything we can get our hands on. We take things to pieces, find out what they’re made of, how they’re put together, and how they work. We create for ourselves an understanding of the world through our curiosity. As long as we’re children.
Daniel Goleman states the following in his book Emotional Intelligence:
A child’s readiness for school depends on the most basic of all knowledge, how to learn. The report lists the seven key ingredients of this crucial capacity—all related to emotional intelligence. One of these is Curiosity. The sense that finding out about things is positive and leads to pleasure.
The innovative organization is irritatingly curious. It stops and examines contexts; it turns things upside down, dissects challenges, and looks at them from many angles.
The curious organization uses the constructive question mark: What if? What if one could? How could we? Who should we involve? Where is the knowledge we can use? The curious organization solves problems by looking at them with constructive wonder. The constant changing of time requires that we learn to be curious. This is irritatingly time-consuming—and very, very underestimated.
The Constant Questioner should stop asking all those “stupid” questions, and Curious George should rein
Curiosity must be reinvented. Curiosity is connected with something negative. Although we are born curious, we are brought up to not be curious. On the contrary.
The Constant Questioner gets a slap and is sent to bed because he’s curious. Curious George gets into all sorts of potentially dangerous situations because he’s seduced by his curiosity.
The Constant Questioner should stop asking all those “stupid” questions, and Curious George should rein in his curiosity. The message is that curiosity makes problems for us. Being curious is not associated with anything positive. It’s mainly perceived as something a little improper. The curious pries. The curious is ignorant; he doesn’t know the answer.
Here’s the rub: We’re brought up to be clever. When we’re clever, we know the answer. We know what we’re examined in. We understand, can explain, and can answer. The clever employee knows the answer. His answer isn’t “What if…?”
The public rhetoric isn’t about curiosity but about reaching a conclusion. Politicians are required to give answers, and they give them in a cocksure way. The media reach conclusions. This is the context and this is why. Bang. That’s the way it is. Over and done with.
Imagine if asking good questions was held in high esteem. Imagine if being able to formulate visionary “what if” questions was widely recognized. As a politician, as a journalist—and as an employee.
Employees who question decisions are not cooperative. They don’t have the right attitude. If we ask organizations working with innovation what their greatest challenge is, the answer is often, It is difficult to implement something new.
Imagine if we more often asked for curious exploitation of all that we want to change and anchor
That deep-rootedness is the greatest challenge. It’s obvious. We don’t give the members of the organization the chance to come to an understanding of changes. We haven’t included curiosity in the equation.
It’s as if we still think that change is a matter of management and communication as determined by the situation. Imagine if we more often asked for curious exploitation of all that we want to change and anchor. If we invited the organization to use curiosity in solving the challenges and qualifying the decisions.
Curiosity: It’s Something we Practice!
We must facilitate curiosity. Use it. Until we are curious naturally, we must ensure that we practice it and use curiosity. Applied curiosity is a discipline. It’s something that’s easy to forget in our everyday evidence-based and reflective thinking processes. What does being curious as part of an innovation process mean? How do you do it?
When we work with problem-solving or innovation processes, where there’s a need to identify new areas of opportunities, we can consciously practice curiosity. There are many ways of working with curiosity in a divergent way of thinking. What is important is that we consciously try to unfold the subject in various directions and look at things constructively. One of the methods is called untangling.
As an illustration, let us try to untangle a cupcake. If we look at a cupcake with curious eyes, it comprises many things. There are the ingredients, the various glazes, and decorations, the form they’re baked in, the recipes, the dishes, and cakestands specially made for cupcakes. But it is also the process of baking them.
Baking and decorating them can be a social activity; perhaps they’re being baked for a social event, and finally, it could be that they’re being baked so we can show the final results on Facebook. There are “I would like” cakes and “I shouldn’t eat cake” cakes.
There’s a cupcake trend. There are the logistics, packaging, shipping, foodstuff approvals, and a whole lot more. Different eyes will look at things from different angles. And now we can think about what it is that we’ve created a view of. Ingredients and packaging. Dilemmas and social needs. Production and trends. Much, much more than just a cupcake.
The innovative organization can use curiosity to work with changes and the anchoring of something new
That you are facilitated through an exercise that turns something you know well on its head is often regarded as something very valuable and exciting. It creates awareness that there are many other solutions to the question you’re working on and many more angles to look at it from. They are the exercises that create the greatest understanding of what innovation really is.
The innovative organization can use curiosity to work with changes and the anchoring of something new. If we turn the process around and refrain from communicating what it is that we want to be anchored, and instead involve our employees, who will help anchor something new in an open and curious process, then we can qualify and develop new solutions that to a greater extent build on the experiences, knowledge, and resources in the organization.
What does the change I am a part of mean? How can I dissect it, understand it, qualify it, and put it together again? How can I add my knowledge and experience to it and place it in the reality that I know, where I am the specialist and where it must function every day?
Curiosity becomes the key to successful anchoring.
One, two, three, curiosity.
There’s only one thing to do: get curiosity rolling! That requires conscious decision and action.
• Use rhetoric: Use the word curiosity to describe positive behavior and ways of thinking. Find invisible solutions and new angles that arise through the conscious use of curiosity. Mention curiosity as a behavior or way of thought that generates value.
• Recognize curiosity: Point out curiosity in the organization. Make it clear that curiosity is a valued ability. Ensure you put into words how the combination of knowledge and a curiosity-driven adaptation of knowledge creates results. Honor curiosity. Hire curiosity.
• Plan curiosity: Put it on the agenda. Create room for curious processes at meetings and workshops and in everyday work. Include methods involving curiosity in work processes.
• Be good at being curious: Train the staff. Learn it. Facilitate curiosity training.
You cannot be Curious if you Think you know the Answer
Curiosity is an inborn motivation
Let’s create the framework for showing the original definition of curiosity: Curiosity is an inborn motivation and urge to examine something closely, accompanied by information-seeking behavior, which results in a better understanding of a given area and gradually diminishes what the unusual in it is. Let us recognize curiosity as the key to innovation and cultivate it as a natural driving force.
We would like to thank Jonathan Løw, the editor of The GuruBook for kindly letting us publish this chapter: Julie Kjær-Madsen: Curiosity is an Irritating, Underestimated Driving Force.