Unleashing Curiosity

In my last post, we looked at three levels of curious cultures, from ”anaemic’ to electric’. Now let’s begin to have a look at what it takes to move towards, and sustain, a truly electric culture of curiosity.

I reckon a key tension that people face at work is the tension between the need to deliver and the need to discover. The need to deliver on promises and obligations, and the need to discover new ways of doing things. Both are important, yet they can pull us in opposing directions.leading-curiosity-2x2-002.jpeg

Faced with this dilemma, most people will reduce the tension by choosing to operate at the ‘deliver’ end. That’s where tangible results live, and what you’ll be most recognised and rewarded for.  Meet your KPI’s, and you’ll be OK.  You’ll be safe. And you’ll probably be bored senseless after awhile.

Others like being right down at the ‘discover’ end, where it’s all about ideas and nothing about implementation. You might find these folks in the hallowed halls of academia, or perhaps they’re that frustrating ‘ideas person’ you work with that never seems to deliver on anything.

Usually, we find ourselves somewhere in between. Well, you can only walk a tightrope when there’s some tension in it. So you might as well learn to work with the tension. Let’s have a play with that idea:

First, what if we bent that line ninety degrees? And then threw a few labels in?

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And then, we mapped the essence of the barriers into those boxes?

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In other words:

  • If there’s too much emphasis on deliver, it makes it unsafe to discover
  • If there’s too much focus on discover, people can get unfocused, and less productive than they need to be.
  • If people aren’t delivering OR discovering, it’s a big ‘unknown‘, because we have no idea what they’re capable of.
  • And in the top right, let’s call that unleashed, because when you combine delivery and discovery directed towards productive curiosity, you’re unleashing something mighty powerful.

 

With a map like this, we’d be able to break the challenge down more easily, right? We’d be able to map our people across this matrix. We’d begin to have a better idea of how we could help our people unleash their curiosity.

 

“Fear is always triggered by creativity because creativity asks you to enter into the realms of uncertain outcome.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

What does it take?

I’ve found that organisations with the most electric cultures, where curiosity is truly unleashed, deliberately focus on creating these three conditions:
  1. Permission: people feel they’re able to be openly curious
  2. Progress: people can put their curiosity into action, and see different results
  3. Purpose: people have a sense of why curiosity matters around here.

Just like a fire needs oxygen, heat, and fuel to burn, so too does curiosity need all three of these elements to light up.

If you mapped those three P’s to our matrix, it’d look something like this. Each P drives people towards unleashing their curiosity:

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In essence:

  • When curiosity is unsafe, make it safer for people by giving them explicit permission.
  • When curiosity is unfocused, make it easier for people to apply their curiosity towards productive outcomes by helping them take action on it
  • And at all times with all people, give curiosity purpose by helping people to understand why it’s so important.

A quick self-check:

  • Which parts of the matrix do your people fall into?
  • Which of the three P’s of Permission, Progress and Purpose do you think you’re strongest at as a leader?
  • Which one of the three P’s could you dial up a little more?

In the next post, we’ll dive into each of the three P’s and look at what you can do to bring them to life.

 

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How Curious is Your Culture?

curious dog

 

In my last post, we looked at the barriers to curiosity thriving at work. Now, let’s have a look at what a ‘curious culture’ looks, sounds and feels like.

When I look around and find organisations that have what I reckon are curious cultures, the one thing I notice is the energy in the place. You can absolutely feel it. It might not be written down in company policy, but it’s definitely in the air.

One successful tech company I work with has got it in spades. Whenever I visit them, if I just sit and observe for a while, this is what I’ll notice people doing:

  • Debating ideas in the hallway
  • Asking plenty of questions
  • Sharing what they’ve learned from the last project, or from a conference they’ve been to
  • Taking new ideas and testing them out there and then
  • Working beyond ‘finish time’ because they’re onto something.

What I don’t see is people:

  • Sitting submissively in meetings while the leader holds the talking stick
  • Bandying around new ideas at the coffee machine, but no-where else
  • Holding back on sharing new learning and ideas
  • Clocking 9 to 5.

Have you ever worked in a place where it’s more of the latter and less of the former? Not particularly live-giving, right? One of my earliest jobs was when I worked in a bakery during the school holidays. My job was simply and solely to cook up massive quantities of pie meat. I wanted to learn how they made all the different pastries and cakes, but I was told in no uncertain terms that my job was to stay in my corner and do what I was told. Curiosity smothered, I kept my head down and counted the hours. The bakery was a well-oiled production machine. If everyone did their jobs, it was a good day’s work.

I call workplace cultures like this ‘anaemic‘. The dictionary defines this as “lacking in colour, spirit or vitality.” That’s certainly what it felt like. Anaemic cultures are not necessarily bad, but they’re no place for curiosity to thrive. In an ever-changing world, well-oiled machines aren’t enough to enable adaptation and innovation. We need room for curiosity to emerge and breathe.

“You can’t see the whole sky through a bamboo tube”

Japanese proverb

 

One of the most common questions I hear from leaders is “How do I get my people to be more innovative?” Most leaders end up with teams that have pockets of innovation, but the overall centre of gravity is still weighted towards maintaining the status quo. They end up with islands of brilliance in a sea of ‘meh’.

Here, curiosity is erratic. It struggles to get a permanent toehold. Ideas surface, and that’s what they stay: just ideas, unexplored, unapplied and often abandoned. People tell stories about when ‘so and so’ did ‘such and such’ and changed the game. But these stories are told because they’re the exceptions, not the rule. The primary reason is due to the barriers to curiosity we’ve looked at before.

Rather than isolated islands of brilliance, you want a whole archipelago, joined up with bridges. Here, with every employee’s curiosity engaged, you get a culture that shines brightly. It’s electric. It’s the feeling of the static in the air just before a thunderstorm. Humming, buzzing, charged.

In electric cultures, ideas don’t just emerge, they’re actively applied. People and teams engage in a constant cycle of ideation, testing, learning, and sharing. The difference between erratic and electric cultures is this: electric cultures have curiosity and learning at their core.

Here’s a map that tracks the three stages of curious cultures:Leading Curiosity Value Model.001

Where does your team or organisation sit on this curve?

The critical shift is to help your people move from a ‘reactive‘ mindset to a ‘creative‘ one. A reactive mindset focuses on maintaining the status quo. Anything that upsets stability is a problem to deal with, and make go away, so we can get back to ‘normal’. Curiosity has no room to breathe here.

On the other hand, a creative mindset focuses not on making problems go away, but on creating outcomes rooted in a sense of higher vision and purpose. To do that, curiosity has to take front and centre stage.

When you’re past the tipping point on this journey, you’re on a virtuous cycle. Research shows that people (and by extension, cultures) with higher levels of curiosity:

  • learn more, and learn better
  • innovate faster
  • continue to invest in learning (driving more curiosity)
  • are more ‘distress tolerant’ i.e. they’re more tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty

No wonder more and more companies are hiring for curiosity. Check out Bank of New Zealand’s career’s video. Want to play? Better bring your best curiosity game.

Wherever you sit on the curve, it’s likely that there’s an opportunity to shift your culture further towards the right. What might it take to make this shift?

In my next post, I’ll share some ideas for making that happen.

 

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Cultivating Curiosity

 

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How do you cultivate more curiosity at work?

As curiosity trends toward becoming a highly valued commodity, I’ve been curious about what it takes to be more than a word on a wall in the organisational values chart. So, with my curious hat on, I set about seeking some answers:

  • A few weeks ago, I polled my brains trust (aka my LinkedIn network) and asked them “what do you think the main barriers are to curiosity at work?”
  • A couple of weeks ago, I ran a workshop on leading curiosity with about 50 leaders from a diverse range of organisations where we explored what it takes to create more curious cultures.
  • And of course, I read my brains out trying to get a sense of what it takes to make curiosity happen at work, and why it matters.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Curiosity is the driving force behind creativity and innovation. If we want learning, and if we want to create change, we need to start by cultivating a sense of curiosity about a possible different and better future. That’s why it matters. The Merck Group has done some really useful research into what happens when you cultivate curiosity. In essence, the more curiosity, the more ideas, and the more chance of breakthroughs happening.
  2. Curiosity is what happens when there’s a perceived gap between what we think we know and what we think we could know. As humans, we naturally want to fill that gap. So to grow curiosity, we need to create that gap in the first place. In other words, pique interest, then encourage exploration.
  3. There are some big barriers to making curiosity happen.  Let’s have a look at what my crew on LinkedIn said. I’ve summarised the comments into four categories:

 

Barriers to Curiosity v2

 

Quite the list, right? Plenty of barriers to kill curiosity in its tracks.

Research by the Right Question Institute suggests that curiosity peaks in early childhood and then declines as we enter the formal school system. A young child asks 300 questions a day. By adulthood, the number is down to virtually none.

With this list, you can see why. If your organisation’s current culture has any of these elements in spades, you’ll be hard-pressed to cultivate a thriving culture of curiosity anytime soon.

So, how to cultivate curiosity? What does it take? I’ve dug up and shaped up a few ideas that will help answer those questions. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be exploring what it takes to cultivate a culture of curiosity, and sharing my thoughts here.

Interest piqued? Curious about what else people said? You can check out the LinkedIn conversation here. Feel free to add your thoughts!

 

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What Are Your Daily Anchors?

I broke my arm recently (making it near impossible to write), so I’m creating a series of videos on how to stay resilient when adversity strikes.

My first video explains how I plan to stay resilient

 

A week on, check out how I’m tracking and what I’m learning along the way

 

This week I’ve discovered my top 3 daily anchors

 

Download my Daily Anchors Checklist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This weeks learning is all about building distress tolerance to help ensure learning and curiosity thrive.

 

My latest insight is noticing the power in single-tasking over multitasking

 

Since getting my cast off I’ve realised how rules & limits can hold you back

 

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What’s Your Word For The Year?

Word Cloud for Word of the Year

One day over lunch this summer, I got to talking with some friends about our intentions for the year ahead. Our conversation turned to the idea of having a word for the year: something that would reflect a theme we chose to have running through each of our lives over the next 12 months.

We went around the table and asked each other what our word for the year would be. Responses were wide and varied, and each prompted deeper conversation and refection.

I love the idea of having a word for the year. Mine is ‘consolidation’. Yep, it’s not sexy, but it’s meaningful to me. That’s because I’m a person who loves the next bright, shiny thing, and I’m notorious for starting things and not finishing them. That’s a constant source of frustration for me, and as I reflected on what I wanted this coming year to be about for me, that word kept coming up. So I grabbed it, and it’s stuck with me.

Criteria

I reckon there are two simple criteria for a word for the year to be effective:

  1. Meaningful: it’s got to mean something to you. Meaningful things can promise to take away pain or to give you gain. See above for my example. If it’s meaningful, you’re also likely to remember it.
  2. Focusing: when you’re faced with a decision, your word should help you focus on what’s most important. For example, if I’m tempted to explore a brand new market for my business this year, I’m less likely to say ‘yes’ to that because this year is about consolidating my work in my existing markets. Focus is essential for getting what we want (check out Daniel Goleman’s work on this).

Process

How do you come up with your own word for the year? I suspect, deep down, most of us have an inkling of what it is. It might be that as you’ve been reading this, it’s already popped out. If so, grab it and own it. If it’s not there yet, I suggest you reflect on these questions and write some notes as you do so.

  • If I could have, do or be one thing this year, what would that be?
  • What would it look like if I got out of my own way a bit more? What will it take to do that?
  • What do I keep telling myself I need more of to be successful?

Your answers to these questions will most likely point to your word for the year. You might end up with a few. I had ‘spaciousness’, ‘simplicity’ and ‘magnification’ as close contenders. If you’ve come up with more than one, leave it for a day or two and notice which word keeps rising to the surface. That’s your word.

Finally, write it big and bold and stick it somewhere you’ll see it every day.

 

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Don’t Wait. Design Next Year Now.

In January, I posted Your Year By Design. The idea of deliberately designing how you’ll spend your time over the next 12 months. It’s something that really works for me because it gives me a sense that I’m creating the life I want, rather than life simply happening to me.

As I reflect on my year, it’s been a good one. And it’s also tinged with a sense of intentions-not-quite-realised. There were a few things on my list that I definitely intended to do (like finish my book, for example) but I got busy doing lots of other stuff I’d committed to instead. How did that happen?

Here’s what I learned: January is too late to design your year.

Design It Now.

Now’s time of year when, in the southern hemisphere at least, we’re looking forward to a summer break. For many, December is about cramming. Trying to get work deadlines met, going to end-of-year celebration parties, rushing to get the Christmas shopping done. Most people just want to ‘get to the finish line’ and then collapse in a heap!

January then becomes an ‘unhook and recover’ period. The usual pattern is to get to the end of the year, take a break, and then sometime in late January, start to lift your head up and think about the year ahead. By that time, the year is already moving, and before long, you’re halfway through and wondering where the time’s gone.

As the end of this year approached, I got a sense that next year was already beginning to be filled with commitments that I’d agreed to. My calendar was free, so, sure, why not? But I’d said ‘yes’ to stuff before I’d done the thinking about what I wanted my year to be about. If I kept on with that and waited until January to design my year, I’d be trying to fit the important stuff in around the existing stuff. That’s not going to work!

So, I pressed pause and did my year by design early. Here’s how it’s shaping up.

2018-digby.jpeg

As I head into the summer break, I’m feeling good about next year because I’ve already decided what it’s going to look like. I’ve deliberately given myself lots of time out to do the things that are most important to me. And now I know that I can respond with confidence to new opportunities that come up,  because I’ve already booked in the most important stuff.

Design your year now:

  1. Download the 2018 calendar
  2. Follow the steps in Your Year By Design
  3. Go into the break knowing you’re set up for a great year ahead 🙂

 

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Make Change Easier With A Stakeholder Map.

Want to make change happen with less effort and more impact? Do a stakeg map. Here’s how:

Step 1. Map Who. 

To start with, you’ll need an idea of the change you want to make happen. With this in mind, work out who your most important stakeholders are. Who are the ones who have something at stake and need to be involved in making the change happen? Put their names down on a piece of paper in ‘mind map’ style, along with yourself in the middle.

Put a star next to the ‘critical few’. These are the ones who really matter. The ones you know that if you don’t get them across the line, your plans are dead in the water.

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Step 2. Map Your Connections

Draw lines between you and each person. Think about the quality of relationship (trust, openness of communication) you have with each of them. Give that relationship a rating between 1-10, with 10 being the highest.

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Step 3. Map Their Relationships

Think about what you know about the relationship each of your stakeholders has with the others. Where you know there is a relationship, draw a line between those people. Based on your best estimate, give each of those relationships a rating on a scale of 1-10.

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Step 4. Find The Leverage Points

When you find leverage points in a system, you can make changes happen much more easily. In the case of a stakeholder map, leverage points are certain people, or groups of people.

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In our example, Andy is a strong leverage point. I’ve identified Kelvin and Jane as critical stakeholders. While I have a pretty good relationship with Jane, I don’t have a strong relationship with Kelvin. But I have a strong relationship with Andy, who also happens to have a pretty strong relationship with Kelvin. So, I’m thinking that I could leverage this dynamic to get Andy to influence Kelvin. And given the relatively strong relationships between Andy, Jane and Kelvin, there’s further opportunity to leverage that too.

 

Does this all sound a little Machiavellian? Perhaps. And we know that relationships are the currency of change. So when you map out the dynamics at play, you can use them to your advantage. Sounds smart to me.

 

 

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