How to Succeed at Almost Anything
Erika Andersen, Founder/Partner
Molly Ivins, the acerbic and wildly funny Texas journalist who died of cancer in 2007, once said that the thing she found most disturbing about George W. Bush was his ‘incuriosity.’ I’m not sure it’s a word, but I knew exactly what she meant. Regardless of your politics, and whether or not you agree with her—that quality of not being curious is truly disturbing, and problematic for leaders everywhere.
Let’s define our terms. A dictionary definition of curiosity that I like a lot: “an eagerness to know or learn more; a strong desire for learning; inquisitiveness.” So, incuriosity would mean the quality of not being eager to know or learn more; not having a strong desire for learning; not being inquisitive.
In other words: incuriosity is believing that you know all you need to know. Yikes. Especially now, in this 21st century, with technology and business models changing daily, instantaneous worldwide communication and information-sharing commonplace, more generations in the workplace than ever before (with all their differing expectations and beliefs about work)—thinking that you’ve got it all figured out seems just foolish.
I’ve observed that great leaders are, without exception, actively curious; eager to understand and learn, recognizing there’s lots more to know and lots more they need to know. And I’ve seen that their curiosity is not only key to their ongoing development—it makes them great to be around. People really like having leaders who are interested in them, in what they do and what they know.
So, how do you get curious?
1) Ask real questions. Too many leaders ask fake questions designed to show how smart they are. E.g. “Don’t you think we’ll do better next quarter if we lower our inventory from three months to two?” That is not a curiosity-based question—the asker knows exactly the answer he or she wants to get. Real questions sound like, “How do you think we could…?” or “Why do you think that might…?” or “What do you know about…?”
2) Be OK with not knowing. I believe the main promoter of ‘incuriosity,’ is leaders’ belief that they ought to know everything. Until you can get comfortable with not knowing things (especially in front of your employees), it’s nearly impossible to act on your curiosity. Notice how you’re talking to yourself about ‘not knowing.’ If you’re saying things to yourself like, “I’ve got to show I’m on top of this,” or “They’ll think I’m an idiot if I don’t know this,” you won’t be able to be curious. Curious self-talk sounds like, “Wow, I’d love to know more about that,” or “Hmmm, I wonder what that means?”
3) Surround yourself with people not like you. Even if you’re asking actual questions, and your self-talk supports your curiosity, it won’t do you much good if everybody around you knows all the same stuff you do. It’s one of the main reasons diversity (of race, gender, age, background, thinking style) is a good business practice; leaders who build strongly diverse teams have the chance to find out and get good at a huge variety of things.
4) Learn from children. Little kids are insatiably curious. It’s how they learn to walk, talk, eat, play, run, draw, socialize, sing, etc. all in the first 3 years of life. Here’s an example. The more you can operate like a little kid, in terms of your curiosity, the better off you’ll be.
An added bonus—besides being the best possible way to turbo-charge your acquisition of new skills and knowledge, to be a good and followable leader, and to grow as a professional and as a person….being curious is really, really fun.