A Culture of Curiosity Is the Key to Building a Company That Learns to Improve
There’s a lot of talk about creating cultures of creativity—especially within the creative industry -- and I agree wholeheartedly that such cultures are vital.
What I think too many people overlook; however, is creativity’s important driver: curiosity. To a large extent, curiosity underlies every act of creativity, but I think it also extends beyond it.
When we open ourselves fully to our curious natures, we are able to ponder without limits. Unlike creativity -- at least as practiced in business -- curiosity isn’t about solving problems. It’s about exploration and expansion. Curiosity can start and lead anywhere. And that’s precisely the sort of broader mindset our industry needs.
So how should we go about promoting a culture of curiosity within our organizations? It's essential to be curious about four things.
Be curious about your people.
Many organizations work hard to attract people with inquisitive mindsets and then stick them in an environment in which curiosity is discouraged.
The same thing applies to diversity. Companies set out to hire people with a vast range of backgrounds, experiences and aptitudes and then essentially ignore or even tamp down those differences as they work to create a cohesive unit.
Building a culture of curiosity starts with seeing the individuals behind the job titles and finding out what unique gifts they can bring to the game.
There are all sorts of ways to do this.
A growing number of companies across industries are supporting their talent’s passion projects, providing space, tools, time and sometimes even funding to help see them toward fruition.
Others are paying for classes in areas that have piqued their talent’s interests, from cartooning and calligraphy to cooking and chess.
Will all of these projects and newly gained skills end up directly benefitting the sponsoring organizations? Not necessarily. But those rekindled sparks of learning and curiosity most certainly will.
Be curious about clients’ businesses.
I tell colleagues all the time that we must know everything about our clients’ businesses.
Every night when we go to bed, we should know their stock prices, where they’re headed and why.
We should know the mechanics of their businesses. And we should have a deeper understanding than they do of the cultural currents that will affect them this year and in five years. That’s how we get back to being business stewards rather than merely brand stewards. That’s how we get back to being the vital creative business partners that agencies used to be.
Be curious about the outside world.
Our New York agencies have just come off a nearly three-week Post-it War with our neighbors.
It all started with a simple “HI” made out of sticky notes in an office window, followed by a response from across the street: “SUP.”
Next thing you know, all creative hell broke loose, involving hundreds of people, thousands of sticky notes and a global audience in the millions. All brought about because someone became curious about who sat behind the windows of the office building across the way.
We all need to take our focus off our immediate surroundings and get curious about people, about trends taking hold, about other cultures and points of view. About anything and everything beyond our too often insular worlds.
Be curious about “if.”
Whether in business or in life, jumping into the unknown is scary. So it’s understandable that so many business leaders—even in creative industries—are risk averse.
We need to get better about responding to “what if?” with “let’s find out” rather than “let’s wait till someone else tries it.”
We should all be playing in emerging spaces and with new tools such as virtual reality (VR). We should all be finding reasons to get excited about being the first rather than scrambling to catch up with the pioneers.
The best way to do this is by letting our collective curiosity win out over the voices ushering us back into the wings. Irish Novelist James Stephens captured this dynamic perfectly: “Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.”
And that’s the point: A culture of curiosity inspires courage. The courage to challenge all those assumptions and hesitations that for too long have held us back.