Leadership Library Review: “The Business Case for Curiosity”

November 2018

“The Business Case for Curiosity” by Francesca Gino (Harvard Business Review,September/October 2018)

What are the big take-aways?

Two things struck me in this eye-opening article on the benefits to businesses and their leaders of intentionally fostering curiosity (defined here as “the impulse to seek new information and experiences and explore novel possibilities”).  First, as the author – behavioral scientist Francesca Gino – asserts, “curiosity is much more important to an enterprise’s performance than was previously thought.” Second, Gino notes that “although leaders might say they treasure inquisitive minds, in fact most stifle curiosity, fearing it will increase risk and inefficiency.”

Both of these findings rang true to me on experiential and intuitive levels but I am delighted that they are now beginning to be investigated and even measured scientifically.

Why do I like it?

Gino’s research is modest but compelling.  It demonstrates that:

cultivating [curiosity] at all levels helps leaders and their employees adapt to uncertain market conditions and external pressures: When our curiosity is triggered, we think more deeply and rationally about decisions and come up with more-creative solutions. In addition, curiosity allows leaders to gain more respect from their followers and inspires employees to develop more-trusting and more-collaborative relationships with colleagues.

I like that this is being proven out because, as a leadership development specialist (and as an entrepreneur myself, married to an artist), I can attest anecdotally to the role of curiosity in how organizations effectively engage with complexity and in how generative individuals take constructive risks.

I also like that the article discusses the specific benefits of curiosity (fewer decision-making errors, more innovation, reduced group conflict, and better communication including better team performance) while identifying two primary barriers to curiosity: leaders “have the wrong mindset” about exploration as more costly than it is, and they “seek efficiency to the detriment” of exploration, despite the lip-service they may pay to it.

In what situations would this be useful?

Gino’s research finds something that contains a somewhat counter-intuitive presumption: “when we are curious, we view tough situations more creatively.”  In other words, many of us know from our own life experiences that our curiosity often goes right out the window when we are under stress; the truth of this dynamic is so well- and widely-understood that it is regularly discussed in business periodicals articles like this one in Forbes.

However, there is more to it, according to Gino: i.e., if we can sustain our curiosity through a challenging time, we will be more creative.  What may seem counter-intuitive to many people in this finding is that curiosity can even exist in tough circumstances.  Gino describes a number of practices that leaders can adopt that will help them hire for curiosity, as well as intentionally cultivate it throughout an organization by embracing a learning mindset.  (The learning mindset is also known as the “growth mindset” popularized in recent years by Carol Dweck, whose work is explained elegantly by Maria Popova here in Brain Pickings.)

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

There are two other illuminating articles in the same HBR “package” with Gino’s that are of course, great pairings (“From Curious to Competent” by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, Andrew Roscoe and Kentaro Aramaki; and “The Five Dimensions of Curiosity” by Todd B. Kashdan, David J. Disabato, Fallon R. Goodman and Carl Naughton).

Over the years I have recommended several other resources about curiosity in my Leadership Library blog, including posts reviewing Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, Ad Reinhardt’s abstract painting, A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, and Design Thinking in general.  Speaking of the Leadership Library, I can’t help but reflect on the fact that the primary force that energizes this blog itself and defines my process for choosing resources to review in it is…(tum-ta-da-dum)…curiosity!

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1 Response to Leadership Library Review: “The Business Case for Curiosity”

  1. Pingback: Nature, Human Nature and Leadership | Susan Palmer Consulting, LLC

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