Innovation is the result of curiosity—and history is evidence of that. But what if Mozart hadn’t been curious about composition, Leonardo da Vinci had ignored the human form or Louis Pasteur never explored medicine? The world would be bereft of music, art and even health as we know it. Curiosity serves as a trigger for invention—for creative thinking.
Often hailed as the father of modern management, Peter Drucker put it like this: “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” Yet, in a professional setting, it is not uncommon to hear that “that’s just the way things are done around here” when curiosity enters the room.
Some consider it an annoying trait and label those who question things as intrusive, obstinate—even naysayers. The truth is, innovation is key in the evolving business world, and without curiosity, there is no innovation.
Let’s get this straight: Curiosity did not kill the cat. As the proverbial cat can attest, curiosity can land you in hot water at times, sure. But without risk, rewards tend to be greatly stunted. The number of times curiosity and a questioning attitude has led companies to gigantic success and propelled them out of tough times vastly overshadows any disadvantages.
When you’re one of the leaders in a business, you’re not only expected to question everything, but also to answer for just about anything. And promoting this culture within your business is the key to success. As risk-taker and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson puts it, “You shouldn’t blindly accept a leader’s advice. You’ve got to question leaders on occasion.”
Being curious doesn’t end with an ability to ask all the right questions when a problem arises. Leaders have to show interest in everything under their influence. This calls for the other side of curiosity: listening. An incredibly powerful tool to use with your workforce, listening fosters the ability to question everything the right way. Effectively curious leaders don’t presume to know all the questions and all the answers—they also appreciate and reflect on the inquiries and knowledge of their staff.
Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler, gets to the heart of the matter in his book Where Have All the Leaders Gone? when he says that a leader “has to show curiosity. He has to listen to people outside of the ‘yes, sir’ crowd in his inner circle. The inability to listen is a form of arrogance. It means either you think you already know it all, or you just don’t care.”
Challenging orthodoxy is the final aim of curiosity in modern business. Old-school strategies are no longer effective and need to evolve, which is possible only when a culture of listening and questioning is prevalent within a company. This leads to a team that is cognizant of potential conflicts, issues and threats, resulting in the development of proactive strategies.
Curiosity might have killed the cat at one point, but satisfaction brought it back.