Parents are encouraged to nurture their children’s curiosity. Those who are naturally inquisitive tend to know more, and take an active interest in the people around them. The incurious, however, happily plod along, content that they know enough to get by.
Companies subscribe to the logic that curiosity increases the chance of success. But whether through school or the workplace, our desire to question is normally suppressed. People who ask too many questions at school stifle the class’s progress, while the same people at work are disruptors who overcomplicate matters. Hal Gregersen states: ‘Answers are more valued than inquisitive thought, and curiosity is trained out of us.’
We often hear that companies value curiosity. New ideas require those in the company to question whether things can be improved, and inquisitive minds to introduce new product concepts. While most organizations have people capable of this in their ranks, they too can be intimidated to put their ideas forward. This is a major problem. According to a survey by Merck KGaA, 65% of participants felt unable to ask questions or suggest new ideas to management.
There was a major contradiction in the survey. A strong proportion of participants felt that management did encourage their subordinates to ask questions, despite, as mentioned above, 65% not feeling able to make their voice heard . This implies that the problem is deeper. Either companies claim to value curiosity, but in practice do the opposite, or employees don’t have the confidence to put their ideas forward.
The second proposition is inherently linked to failure. What did Apple do to the team which came up with the Apple Newton PDA? How did Sony treat the group responsible for the ‘Betamax’? Even if they were praised for their creativity, the failure of those products would have affected them, and possibly tainted their careers. And it’s these scenarios which often stop people from being as expressive as possible.
In the Harvard Business Review, Todd B. Kashdan places the blame entirely on the companies shoulders: ‘It seems that organizations are claiming to value curiosity, but still discouraging its expression. They promote innovation, yet punish failure. They cling to legacy structures and systems that emphasize authority over inquiry and routine over resourcefulness.’
If companies do value curiosity they should put a system in place where their employees can contribute without fear of embarrassing themselves. This will allow them to be as innovative as possible.