Start with Curiosity

August 2013, by So-Young Kang, video illustration by Samantha Hoong

Curiosity. Children question everything. Favorite question…why? Why do I have to eat my cake after dinner? Why is the sky blue? Why do stars only come out at night? Why do people die? Why? Why? Why? All of these why questions stem for deep curiosity and desire to know.

What if being more curious could address things you care about on a day-to-day basis?

1) Improving productivity.

This is about the curiosity to explore and question why you are doing what you are doing. What if we asked or encouraged our staff to ask more ‘Why’ questions instead of just saying, “Be more productive”? For example, when you have a lot of new people join your organization, they are often the triggers that catalyze change and innovation in the way that you work, and they are often open to asking more of the ‘Why’ questions. Sometimes, your more entrenched employees will stop asking why because they are used to things the way they are.

Imagine putting on the mindset of that new person and ask why. Why do we do this? Why do things have to be done this way? I think this can actually lead to more productivity.

2) Driving innovation.

This one is probably the most obvious linkage to curiosity. Curiosity is at the root of all innovation—all innovation starts with asking questions that stem from a curiosity about what could be better. It starts with curious minds and curious people who believe there could be a better way. One way to define innovation is that it comes from a mix of curious heart and mind + belief in something better + passion to drive it forward. I’m using the word ‘curiosity’ here instead of what some may call ‘divergent thinking’ or ‘willingness to think outside the box’ but at the end of the day, don’t these all start with curiosity?

If you were to start with a business problem, instead of asking what incentives or marketing to drive sales, what if you started with a different question—Why do customers behave a certain way? What is it that they really want? What do they care about? What motivates them?  If we started with these types of questions, I wonder if our solutions would be very different from starting with the ‘what’ questions?

3) Improving human relationships.

We see people through our own lens and own perspectives. But what if we took a step back and when someone annoyed us, instead of focusing on the things that annoy us, what if we started with questions of curiosity—I wonder what kind of day they had before they met me today? I wonder why they’re behaving the way they’re behaving? I wonder why they’re so snappy? I wonder why they’re so negative? I wonder what experiences they’ve had in life?

When you start with genuine curiosity for the other person as a human being instead of someone who happens to be annoying you or frustrating you at the moment, I wonder if that would then be the start of the building of true, authentic relationships? You can call it “care” or “empathy,” I’m calling it “curiosity” because it starts with a question.

What would our lives, organizations, businesses, and relationships look like if we were to apply a bit more curiosity?