Accelerate Your Development

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’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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You’re More Resourceful Than You Think

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You’re more resourceful than you think.

In my younger days, I was sent to work in Leeds in the UK by the global accounting firm I worked for. Coming from sunny Perth in Australia, it was quite the cultural and climate contrast! Never one to turn down an opportunity to explore a new environment, I set about learning as much as I could about this strange new land in the North of England.

To make it interesting, a mate and I hatched a plan. Every Friday after work, we’d take a backpack to the Leeds train station and jump on a random train, not knowing where it was heading to. Our goal was to have fate decide where we’d end up, and our challenge was to spend the weekend not paying for accommodation wherever we landed.

Over the weeks, fate took us to Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, York, Sheffield and a bunch of other less-heard-of places. Upon arriving, we’d head to a likely looking pub, and rely on our charm and Aussie accents to get to know a few of the locals, and hope that one thing would lead to another. Without fail, it did. We had some amazing experiences and made a whole heap of new friends, some of whom I’m still in contact with to this day.

Whenever I’ve told this story, I’ve noticed that many people respond by saying ‘I could never do that’. As the author, Richard Bach says “argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.”

You’re more resourceful than you think.

I reckon there are two types of resourcefulness. Planned resourcefulness, and discovered resourcefulness.

Planned resourcefulness is where you write the script beforehand. You create the itinerary, you know what’s going to happen and when. It’s the safer option, but there’s less potential for growth, and it ends up being kind of boring after a while.

Discovered resourcefulness is where you put yourself in unfamiliar situations and discover what you are capable of. It’s the scarier option, it requires initiative, and it shows you what you’re capable of, which is usually a lot more than you think.

In this day and age, scripts are useful but they’re not enough. We need less of the scripted-at-the-desk approach and more of the sculpted-on-the-fly approach. We need less tourists and more explorers. We’re increasingly faced with situations where the old way doesn’t work like it used to. When things get complex and keep evolving in front of our eyes, we need the ability to adapt in real time.

More than 2000 years ago, the Stoic writer Epictetus wrote “How laughable it is to say ‘tell me what to do’! What advice could I possibly give? No, a far better request is ‘train my mind to adapt to any circumstance’…in this way, if circumstances take you off script…you won’t be desperate for a new prompting.” In other words, a trained mind is better than any script.

To train your mind to be better prepared to go off script, here are a few tips:

  1. Decide on the thing you most want to happen.
  2. Strip it back to first principles.
  3. Take the first step.

Decide on the thing you most want to happen.

On our jaunts around the North of England, we decided that the thing we most wanted to happen was that we could come back and stay ‘well, that was an adventure!’ That guided our actions and put things in perspective for us. So, when you’re preparing to give that next big presentation, first ask “what do I most want to have happen as a result of this presentation?” For example, it might be that you want the audience to leave saying ‘that was really interesting and it got me thinking’.

Strip it back to first principles.

First principles are those concepts that you can easily remember and draw on time and time again. Whenever I teach a new skill, I aim to help people deeply understand the first principles rather than the tool or script that might go with it. For example, when I teach coaching to managers, I’ll help them understand the principle of ‘meet their people where they’re at’ if they want to have any chance of a successful conversation. When you rely on first principles rather than detailed scripts, there’s less to remember and more room to move.

Take the first step.

No change happens without action. The poet David Whyte suggests we focus on just taking the first step, not the second or the third. As a result, movement happens, and we’re on our way.

You’re more resourceful than you think. What can you do today to prove that to yourself?

 

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How To Own Your Strengths

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Last week I was working with a group of leaders in a session where they were practicing giving real-time feedback to each other. And not just any feedback: they were focused on giving feedback on the perceived strengths of the other person.

In debriefing the activity, I was surprised how many people in the group, both men and women, found it uncomfortable to receive that type of feedback. “I find it much easier to hear the things that I could improve” was a common comment. It appeared that these people didn’t want to know how good they were. Someone even said, “I’m afraid my head will get too big if I take all of that good stuff on board”.

I challenged them to think differently. After all, there’s a plethora of research out there that shows the most effective leaders own, and play to, their strengths. I created a virtual spectrum on the floor in the middle of the group. I called one end ‘Arrogance’ and the other ‘Ignorance’.

I said that I reckon too many people are so afraid of being seen to be up at the ‘Arrogance’ end that they rush to the other end instead, and don’t want to know about the gifts they possess. And I reckon that’s a wasted opportunity.

Then I went and stood in the middle. I called that place ‘Curious Confidence’. That place where you own your good stuff, and at the same time you’re always curious about how you can be improving. It’s a healthy self-esteem blended with a clear understanding that you can always improve.

Arrogance Ignorance Curious Confidence2 (1)

We discussed how to be more in the middle, more of the time. Here’s what we came up with:

  1. Say thank you. When someone gives you a compliment, you don’t need to defend against it and try to be in Ignorance. Just respond with a simple “thank you”. Try it, and notice the shift in your inner state towards a Curious Confidence.
  2. Ask for specifics. Whenever someone gives me a compliment about the work I’ve been doing with them, I’ll try to understand more about what led them to say it. I’ll often ask “what was it about what I did that you liked?” or “what difference do you think that made?”. The more I understand the specifics, the more I have to work with and perhaps use in the future.
  3. Write it down. We’re more likely to remember things when we write them down. And it helps us process them further. So rather than let a compliment drift off into the ether, keep a journal that you can refer back to from time to time. You’ll notice patterns emerge from the tapestry of compliments you receive over time.

One thing not to do. Don’t feel the need to immediately respond with a compliment. Unless it’s genuine and relevant, it’ll land flat. Act like it’s your birthday. It’s your time in the light. Accept the gift you’re being given graciously. Soon enough, it’ll be their ‘birthday’ and you can reciprocate.

I’ve noticed that as I’ve learned to be more in a state of ‘Curious Confidence’, I’m more grounded. I get less fazed by new and challenging situations because I’ve built a base of self-confidence that I can draw on. I’m burning less energy and time on self-doubt and rumination. And life is better for it. Do I have the ‘Arrogance Monster’ whispering in my ear from time to time? You bet. And that’s a good thing. But I’ve learned to stay in the healthy middle and avoid the run towards Ignorance.

So, next time you are given a compliment, how will you respond?

 

Picture: From ‘The Red Tree’ by Shaun Tan


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What’s Your Breathing Space?

 

How often do you get your own ‘breathing space’? Here are some brief thoughts on the importance of going against the mainstream and finding your own space.

 

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No Is Not Enough

Want to get more traction with less friction? Here’s an idea that could be useful.

Let’s start with a couple of pretty common scenarios:

In a workshop this week, participants were discussing the challenge of making their next career move happen. I asked one of the participants what she thought she wanted in her next role. She automatically rattled off the things she didn’t want: a boss she didn’t connect with, a toxic culture, too many deliverables, messy politics, and having to deal with lawyers. When I pressed her on what she did want, she struggled for a coherent answer.

I’ve been working with an organisation that has what I’d call a ‘fire-fighting’ culture. The managers I dealt with seem to burn most of their energy on making short-term problems go away, rather than creating long-term, sustainable solutions. While they got a great adrenaline fix from being the ‘fixers’, they were generally exhausted (perhaps from the adrenaline addiction?) and reported that each year seemed more like last. Meanwhile, the organisation’s agenda was stalling.

In both situations, the people gave their attention to the stuff that is easiest to focus on (the problems) but the most distracting to making real change happen. In essence, they focused more on making problems go away, and less on creating what they truly wanted.

If we don’t like our job, we can rant and rave, blame the boss, and say “No, I don’t like the conditions, the stress, or the pay.” But it won’t get us anywhere in the long run.

If we don’t like the direction our organisation is heading in, we can rant and rave, blame the senior leadership, and say “No, that’s a crazy direction to be going in!” But it won’t get us anywhere in the long run.

If we don’t like things about the community we’re living in, we can rant and rave, blame the council, and say “No, that’s not what I want here. It should be better than this! Lift your game!” But, nope, it won’t get us anywhere in the long run.

In any of the above scenarios, you might feel better for a short while, but are you moving any closer to what you really want?

The problem with just saying ‘No’ is that we’re pushing away from what we don’t want. We stay stuck in a cyclical limbo pattern, with the problem disappearing for perhaps a little while, but inevitably reappearing some time, in some familiar form, very soon in the future.

There’s a saying in sport that ‘where you focus is where you go’. When I’m riding my mountain bike on a rocky trail, I find that I’m faster, and less likely to crash if I keep my focus on the trail ahead beyond the rocks. I focus on the scary rocks right in front of me, I tend to slow down, bounce over them, and lose my rhythm.

Naomi Klein’s latest book is called No Is Not Enough. It’s all about the rise of Trumpism and how to defeat the new shock politics. I’m not going to get into the themes of the book here, but I do think it’s worth highlighting the idea behind the title. Which is this:  if we want something to change, saying ‘No’ is not enough. We also need something else to say ‘Yes’ to. It’s not enough to know what you don’t want. You also need to know what you do want.

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Unless we’ve defined what we do want, we get no real change. We need to create a compelling, pulling-towards force that leaves us no choice but to move towards it.

Robert Fritz, in his seminal book The Path of Least Resistance, says the hardest question in the world to answer is “what do I want?” It’s easier to say what we don’t want, but it’s a lot harder to decide on, and ask for, what we truly, deeply, desire.

Here’s a little exercise you can try. Think of a situation you’re less-than-satisfied with, and perhaps feeling a bit stuck in. Get a piece of paper and create two columns. On the left-hand side, write down everything you don’t like about it. Go on, make it a big catharsis. Now, on the right-hand side, write down the specifics of what you do actually want to have happen instead.

Now read down each column. Which one gives you more positive energy? My guess is the right-hand side. Choose one or two of those items, and put your efforts into making those happen.

My prediction? You’ll get more traction, less friction, and have a lot more fun in the process.

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What are your Brules?

Railway Lines

Photo: Pexels.com

Rules. We live by them. We need them, actually. Otherwise, we’d be overloaded with decisions. Like having to think about which way to veer when we meet a car coming the other way on the road. Sticking to the left is a useful rule.

Some rules are not so useful. Some rules limit us too much, sometimes to the point where we feel like we have no choice, and we go on autopilot, blindly accepting that ‘that’s just the way things are’, as if we were a train, and the rules were rails.

Like the ‘rule’ that you need to have a permanent job to have a secure income. Like the ‘rule’ that you get four weeks holiday a year. Like the ‘rule’ that Christmas should always be spent with extended family.

All rules are invented. We can uninvent them too. Or rewrite them to suit our needs better.

A few years ago, we broke the Christmas rule. We’d traditionally gone by the ‘rule’ that we had to spend Christmas day with extended family, either hosting Christmas lunch or going to another family member’s place. That’s what you do, right? But in the lead up to the big day, we’d often feel unwanted stress. We’d sometimes look at each other and go “this is turning into a circus. That wasn’t what we wanted!”

One year, we decided to do something quite different. Eleven days before Christmas, we went camping on a remote beach three hours drive away from home with two other families that were good friends of ours. We had the place to ourselves, the sun shone every day, and we were sleeping under the stars. The day before Christmas, we went into the local town, and bought locally caught crayfish, prawns and champagne. Christmas Day was spent just like the preceding eleven days, kicking back on the beach, hanging in the hammock, casually enjoying the fruits of our shopping trip the day before. We were so relaxed we were horizontal.

It was one of the best Christmas Days I’ve ever had (as a grown-up).

The next day, Boxing Day, we packed up. During the morning, the hoardes of holiday makers gradually seeped in and filled the surrounding area that had been completely empty the day before. By lunch, the place was teeming. With a quiet smugness, we drove against the flow of the streaming traffic, back to our ‘normal’ lives, completely revitalised.

Some rules are what Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mindvalley, calls ‘Brules’, or ‘Bullshit Rules’. They’re the belief systems that are too rigid, outmoded, or just plain false. They’re ripe to be tested, rewritten or perhaps thrown out altogether.

We all have them, and so do our organisations.

What are your Brules?

What will you do with them?

Bonus activity: test your Brules with the Nine Dots challenge

 

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