I have to admit, between being a parent and being a business leader, sometimes coming to work feels like the “easy job.” Don’t get me wrong, of course I love my kids. But kids are mentally exhausting. As a parent, I feel like I have to plug my brain in at night to recharge. Maybe it’s because kids are so great at asking questions. Why? Because they are curious.
The sad truth is, as adults, most of us are “too busy” to be curious. We’re running from one meeting, plane, dinner, or conference to another. There is no time to think, let alone find time for curiosity. Huge mistake!
A wise man once said, “Curiosity didn’t kill the cat – it’s the reason those things have the longest life-expectancy of any household pet!” Ok, so it wasn’t a wise man, it was me. But seriously, as leaders, our number one priority is long-term, sustainable growth. We have a responsibility to generate new ideas that create opportunity for our customers, our firm, our employees, and our team. We need to be as curious as the cat and our kids if we want to achieve our long-term goals…maybe even more so.
How to get curious
I believe there are 6 fundamental principles that enable limitless curiosity.
- Keep your eyes and ears open. Look at the world around you. What do you see? What do you hear? Taking the blinders off can enlighten even the most clouded vision.
- Don’t worry about “sounding stupid.” That is always a bigger concern to you than anyone else. If you are interested in something or you do not understand, just ask, and do it without hesitation.
- Listen with an open mind. Truly hear the response with the interest of learning something new, rather than trying to prove you are right.
- Commit to the question and be persistent. Do not stop asking the question until you get an answer. If you still don’t understand, then do more work or research. Attack it from another angle.
- Seek multiple inputs. Ask more than one person the same question. See what impact different perspectives may have on your learning.
- Test the answer. See if it fits. Try out the new knowledge; it may lead to better and deeper questions.
Don’t stop asking
Another wise man once said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” That one was Albert Einstein. A true innovator and pioneer, he never stopped asking questions. Curiosity is important to us as business leaders. When we stop asking questions, we stop growing personally and professionally. We become stagnant and our business loses relevance – the kiss of death in this day and age. We risk losing ground to those who are more curious, more willing to keep asking why..
Have an inquiring mind
Voltaire said, “Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers.” With that in mind, I have a challenge for you. At your next leadership meeting, try something different. Start by asking some questions. Tell your team that there are no wrong answers – you are very curious about their opinions; after all, they are the ones in the field every day. Then sit back and just “listen.” Here are some questions to get you started:
- Why do our customers buy from us versus someone else?
- What makes us truly different?
- Who are our competitors?
- Which competitor is the most successful – and more importantly, why?
- If we were a start-up in our industry today, how would we build our business; what would we sell, and who would we sell to?
- If you were a prospect of our company, would you buy from us? Why or why not? (Remember to encourage candor)
- Looking beyond our industry, what are the most important innovations in society today and how do they impact our business? How do they impact you personally? (Remember a different or personal angle can often bring great new perspective to the business world.)
I am sure you can come up with many more. I would love to see them in the comments below (and I might even use them with my own team). There is no mistake in asking too many questions; the mistake occurs when we stop asking. Find the courage to start and constantly continue the conversation. Ask that burning question and see what you learn. You just may be surprised.