By Oliver Mills
There is a saying, that curiosity kills the cat. This devalues curiosity as an important factor in business innovation and success. It discourages initiatives towards change and development, and supports things remaining as they are. But the concept of curiosity has a more positive meaning and purpose attached to it.
The editor of the Harvard Business Review sees curiosity as the spark that can lead to breakthrough innovation. And in an article in the same magazine, titled, “The Business case for Curiosity,” Francesca Gino says that most of the breakthrough discoveries and remarkable inventions throughout history are the result of curiosity.
Gino notes three important insights about curiosity and its relationship to business: its importance to the performance of the enterprise, since it helps leaders and employees to adapt to uncertain market conditions, external pressures, and results in deep and rational thinking about decisions. This enables more creative solutions, and inspires employees to develop more trusting, collaborative, collegial relationships.
Another aspect of curiosity involves making small changes to the way employees are managed, and how organisations are designed. This improves companies, and encourages curiosity. A further aspect of curiosity deals with the fact that although leaders might treasure inquisitive minds, most stifle curiosity since they fear it will increase risk and inefficiency.
I find the concept of curiosity in business fascinating, and agree with the views of both writers about its possibilities. But nowhere in their discourse do they sufficiently and precisely define what curiosity is. Its importance is given as well as its ends. Because of this, I think that curiosity is sustained interest, enthusiasm and effort focused at enhancing and broadening greater business propositions and potential.
It is demonstrated eagerness to explore what is new and different in order to ensure greater benefits for business. It is about experimentation, and the testing of what initially appears as a haunch, or having an intuition about how what exists could be fashioned better to achieve richer ends.
Curiosity is also about open-mindedness concerning the unknown, and expanding the known to realise better alternatives, so that business processes are transformed immensely to maximise results.
In some Caribbean countries, to managers not philosophically inclined, curiosity could be seen as wasting the company’s time and resources, and not doing what one is being paid for. The idea is, you are paid to do a job, so get on with it. Employees might even be referred to their job descriptions and told to follow it. The idea of creative thinking is regarded as a luxury, particularly when no immediate results seem possible.
Curiosity is also seen as a fruitless endeavour devoid of anything concrete, even as attempts to get into things of no concern to the immediate environment. But the inquisitive person sees curiosity as opening up and accessing new dimensions of knowledge, which could make business more competitive and ensure present and future sustainability.
Curiosity and critical thinking, promote intellectual awareness, which penetrates the deeper essence of existing reality, and moves thinking and creativity beyond the present and the particular pushing back barriers to the unknown. It means new discoveries of what is possible, and their application to business processes, and a further expansion of employer and employee understanding and competence.
Business is not a stagnant enterprise. It is dynamic, being subjected to leaps because of environmental changes. Curiosity concerns potential new findings and developments, including new transformations that add greater value. This is why it should be encouraged, since it overlaps and rewards all business stakeholders. Curiosity therefore does not kill the cat. It lengthens and ensures its continued existence.