By Dr. Diane Hamilton
Curiosity is one of the most critical skills organizations can encourage in their employees. Curiosity is the spark that ignites innovation, engagement, and most things that lead to productivity. Developing curiosity is more than just asking questions; through curious behaviors, individuals and organizations can get out of status-quo antiquated ways of doing things. But first, we must determine the things that inhibit curiosity. Ground-breaking research has shown that four things inhibit curiosity including: fear, assumptions (that voice in our head), the over and under-utilization of technology, and the environment (people with whom we surround ourselves). However, some of the most successful organizations have created a culture that embraces developing it.
- GE encourages curiosity in the workplace by providing employees with “GE Garages,” where employees can collaborate with other companies and researchers to explore new technologies and business models. For example, by encouraging this behavior, GE produced the first fully 3D-printed working miniature jet engine. They also created 3D parts for appliances that reduced development time by 80%. In addition, GE Healthcare created the “GE Healthcare Technology Center,” where employees can focus on their interests and align them with the organization’s goals.
- Procter & Gamble has a strong culture of innovation and encourages curiosity in the workplace through its “Connect + Develop” program. The program encourages employees to seek out new ideas and partnerships from outside the company, leading to the development of many successful products such as Swiffer and Febreze. Additionally, P&G seeks partners with potentially innovative ideas to improve their customers’ lives.
- Intuit encourages curiosity in the workplace through its “Follow Me Home” program. Employees can visit customers’ homes to understand their needs and pain points, leading to the development of many successful products such as TurboTax and QuickBooks. They utilized design-thinking empathy to discover how their customers felt about their products.
- Apple has a strong culture of innovation, driven by a focus on encouraging curiosity in the workplace. Employees are encouraged to think differently and challenge assumptions, leading to the development of many successful products such as the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. They are the very definition of a learning organization, which is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge and modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.
- The 3M company is known for its culture of innovation, which is driven by a strong focus on encouraging curiosity in the workplace. For more than 70 years, 3M has inspired curiosity by challenging the status quo and giving license to their employees to innovate. For example, they have a “15% rule,” which allows employees to spend 15% of their time working on projects about which they are passionate. This rule has led to many successful products such as Post-it Notes and Scotch tape.
These organizations have embraced curiosity to develop empathy and learning, leading to innovation. That required them to go beyond asking questions; they took what they learned to make changes. Organizations must synthesize what they learn, just as individuals must listen and take action after asking questions. This change requires leaders to focus on changing the culture of their organizations to incorporate curiosity as a critical value. To ignite curiosity requires determining what inhibits it, creating a list of weaknesses and threats, and the SMART goals to overcome them. Most importantly, leaders must emulate what they want from their employees. That is when organizations become world-class innovators.
Dr. Diane Hamilton is the Founder and CEO of Tonerra, which is a consulting and media-based business. She is a nationally syndicated radio host, keynote speaker, and the former MBA Program Chair at the Forbes School of Business. She has authored multiple books which are required in universities around the world, including Cracking the Curiosity Code: The Key to Unlocking Human Potential, and The Power of Perception: Eliminating Boundaries to Create Successful Global Leaders. She is the creator of the Curiosity Code Index® assessment, which is the first and only assessment that determines the factors that inhibit curiosity and the Perception Power Index, which determines the factors that impact the perception process. Her groundbreaking work helps organizations improve innovation, engagement, and productivity.
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Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.