Allan Karl is a new friend and fellow biker who has far more miles than I’ll ever log as he spent three years riding around the world, making connections and writing about it in his upcoming book (see the end of his guest blog for more information). He’s written the following about one of my favorite topics: curiosity.
Realize More Possibilities By Fostering A Culture of Curiosity
by Allan Karl
Several weeks ago my client, Mike, invited to me participate in a company retreat at a remote location in the Pacific northwest. He picked me up at the airport in his rental car.
“Where’s the retreat?” I asked.
“I don’t know exactly,” he explained, “but I’ve got the address plugged into my GPS.”
Initially this surprised me, but then it occurred to me that too often we are willing to put our blind trust into something or somebody to give us direction or tell us where to go.
As leaders, I find many of us expect the same of our employees—we set goals and objectives and we provide a plan of how to achieve them. Our employees follow that plan and, like Mike and I that evening by following the voice prompts of the GPS, finally get to our destination.
Just ten or twenty years ago leaders learned and practiced principles of management. Today, however, we’re much more evolved. We must focus on strategy, driving change and competing in an ever-increasing global marketplace. We must be agile, more innovative, and be willing to try new things without fear of failure.
We can do this through constructive leadership by creating an organizational culture that recognizes the importance of curiosity and creativity. We must discover hidden talent and creative thinkers within our organizations, and inspire all of our employees to ask more questions. This is the path to finding solutions and visualizing new possibilities.
Five Keys To Creating A Culture of Curiosity
1) Perspective. Turn Off The GPS, Unfold Your Map
Blind trust in turn-by-turn GPS voice prompts may seem like an efficient method to get where we’re going, but as a leader we need to look beyond the boundaries of where we’re going today by looking forward at where the market and our business should be going tomorrow.
With a wider perspective and an expanded worldview we can see more and develop a clearer vision for our business. As Marshall McLuhan famously noted, “Once you can see the boundaries of your environment, they are no longer the boundaries of your environment.” As leaders we must empower our people to see and break through the borders that box and constrain our businesses.
2) Say Yes. Encourage The Explorers
In “Restless Genes,” a fascinating article in the January 2013 issue of National Geographic, David Dobbs references research that found about 20-percent of our population carry a variant of a human gene linked to curiosity and restlessness. Further studies have shown that this gene “makes people more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods…and generally embrace movement, change, and adventure.” However, the value of this gene may depend on the environment, the curious and restless explorer may thrive in a changeable environment, but wither in a stable one.
As leaders we must foster an environment where we can identify and energize the explorers in our organizations. If twenty-percent of our workforce can offer additional value and discover new opportunities, as leaders we must find a way to nurture our workforce and provide an environment where it can thrive.
According to Lorraine Twohill, Google VP of Global Marketing, Google does this by being “curious to identify problems…and then come up with new solutions. We try to foster this in the Google culture.” Twohill says, “It’s too easy to say ‘no’ all the time. It’s too easy to be cautious. Pushing the boundaries of creativity means saying ‘yes,’ taking risks, trying new things, learning, and being surprised.
3) Eliminate Fear. Encourage Failure
If you don’t know how to fail, you have no idea of how to succeed. If you’ve never failed, in your business or personal life, you are not taking enough risks. As leaders, it’s easy to stifle creativity and curiosity by implementing rigid rules, dismissing ideas or questions that might lead to innovation or higher performing teams.
“Rigidity is the energy of progress,” says Devin Wenig, President, eBay Marketplaces in a Forbes magazine interview. Wenig says you must “have an embedded rate of failure or you’re not being ambitious. You have to take some risk and with that comes failures.”
Forward-thinking leaders can leverage and reinvent performance reviews that, in some cases, encourage and reward failure. Discussions surrounding failed initiatives should start with questions that lead to problem-solving and new opportunities.
4) Why? Ask More Questions
In Mark Sanborn’s classic and best-selling book The Fred Factor an affable postal worker gains trust, builds a strong customer relationship and changes deeply rooted perceptions by being curious and asking questions. We need to be open to receiving questions as much as we must champion the notion that our teams must not be afraid to ask more questions.
Leaders can change the dynamic of a meeting by creating an agenda of questions, rather than discussion points or topics. Similarly, customer service personnel can ask customers how they can be served better. Create a crowdsourced marketplace within your organization for new ideas, problem solving or exploring opportunities by openly asking questions of your teams.
5) Perspective. Beginning at the Fork in the Road
The world is changing too quickly. We move too fast and often are forced to make decisions or deal with unexpected change without the proper time to consider the consequences.
This can be scary or exciting. Crossing into new territories, breaking through borders or moving well beyond the boundaries is where we will find the most possibilities.
So when you come to fork in your business or personal life ask questions and be open to the possibilities. You may have to change, take a slightly different route toward the same destination or go down an entirely different path. No matter what you decide or where you go, you’ll find a new beginning where I hope you will let your curiosity and intuition guide you, and not your GPS.
World traveler, adventurer, photographer, author, and inspirational keynote speaker, Allan Karl inspires people to pursue dreams, take chances, overcome challenges, tackle obstacles, embrace change and smile—especially in the face of adversity. Allan is president of WorldRider Productions and is a marketing strategist for clearcloud digital.
Allan’s new book FORKS. A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection. Three Years. Five Continents. One Motorcycle. brings to life his three-year global motorcycle adventure in a unique oversized, full-color, hardcover book—more than 500 color photographs and 40 recipes from all over the world complement Karl’s stories of cultural discovery, adventure and human connection. Preorder at forksthebook.com