Mind the Gap: Encouraging Curiosity

Mind the Gap: Encouraging Curiosity

I’m always interested to see how other businesses work. I don’t just mean the nuts and bolts; I’m fascinated by communications and culture in the workplace. (Translation: I’m a nerd!)

I love reading those lists of the best places to work—not so much for the onsite pools and restaurants (although those would certainly be nice!), but for the culture that takes employee care and retention seriously.

So, when a friend sent me  a slide presentation describing the corporate values at Netflix I had to check it out. Amongst all the values one really stood out to me: curiosity. It’s a word that somehow weaves its way into almost all of my own presentations.

Why value curiosity?

Too often, employees are expected to toe the company line; don’t rock the boat, don’t ask too many questions, and definitely don’t question the way things are done around here. (And yes, it is toe not tow the company line!)

You may believe that by requiring employees to go with the flow without question, that you’ll maintain some sort of control.  The truth is, you’re merely maintaining a status quo, and probably a bad one at that.

If there’s a better way to do something, isn’t it worth investigating and encouraging?

Curiosity is simply recognizing that there’s an information gap between what we know and what we don’t know—and then taking the leap to close the gap.

How to value curiosity.

You can’t just hang a motivational poster in the break room touting curiosity and expect your staff to start innovating all over the place! Curiosity is a trait that must be nurtured and modeled.

Many employees have had the curiosity scared out of them by bad experiences in the past. One of my favorite examples of this involves a nursing assistant that told a nurse about a resident that became very unsteady after she took a certain medication. The resident was at high-risk of falling. Instead of being thankful for this valuable piece of information, the nurse responded with, “What are you the doctor?”

The nursing assistant swore she would never suggest anything to that nurse again. Five little words, and a whole lot of attitude, ripped the curiosity right out of her.

The good news is there are ways to encourage more curiosity in the workplace, all of which are supported by the classic research by George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, in his paper “The Psychology of Curiosity.” (Told you I was a nerd!)

Try these in your organization:

Model Curiosity

Start asking questions yourself, and show your staff that it’s not only OK—it’s encouraged. When a problem is brought up, take the time to make sure you’re asking the right question before you go looking for the answer. Find that information gap and close it!

Encourage Cross-Pollination of Ideas

When you can deliberately create opportunities for people from different departments to communicate, you’re fostering curiosity. When I was an administrator and eliminated tray service, every morning the dietary, nursing and housekeeping department would meet for just five minutes. We’d ask, “What went well?” Then, “What could go better tomorrow?” It was the key to our success in implementing such a huge change.

Reward Curiosity, Not Just Innovation

The temptation might be to praise a staff member only when curiosity results in a positive outcome, but it’s actually more important to positively reinforce the act of curiosity itself. When you notice someone demonstrating curiosity, call it out either publicly or privately and let your staff know that it’s appreciated.

I’m curious to know if curiosity is high on your organization’s list of values!


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