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This Characteristic Is What Every Boss Looks For In An All-Star Employee (According To Science)


A few years ago, an interesting study came out of Harvard Business Review titled, “The Business Case for Curiosity.”

In the study, HBR reported how an increase in employee curiosity led to a dramatic increase in company-wide creativity; how curiosity leads to empathy, which leads to reduced conflict amongst team members; and how “Google identifies naturally curious people through interview questions such as these: ‘Have you ever found yourself unable to stop learning something you’ve never encountered before? Why? What kept you persistent?’”

And then a few weeks ago, I came across a piece on Medium titled, The 2-Word Trick That Makes Small Talk Interesting.

What are the two words?

“I’m curious…” before asking a question.

Whether we realize it or not, curiosity is one of the most appealing qualities… in a friend, an employee, a boss, or a leader.

Curiosity leads to improved problem-solving—in just about every capacity (logistically, emotionally, financially, etc.).

As the HBR study goes on to explain, “To assess curiosity, employers can also ask candidates about their interests outside of work. Reading books unrelated to one’s own field and exploring questions just for the sake of knowing the answers are indications of curiosity.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I was starting my company, originally focused exclusively on female athletes and women’s sports, a number of people told me, “there’s no money in women’s sports.” And the reason I pressed on regardless was because I was curious. “Is that true? If it is true, why? And shouldn’t we change that?” Those questions and my curiosity started the Stanton & Company journey (thank goodness!). And then a few years ago, when I decided I wanted to write a book about femininity, I was curious about my behaviors, feelings and ideas—was I experiencing something unique, or were my feelings and human responses part of a larger societal reality? (The answer turned out to be the latter.)

And looking at my company today, and thinking about some of the team members who have had the biggest impact over the years, they all share one characteristic in common: they’re innately curious. They ask questions to feed their own knowledge. They read and research and explore new ideas just because they want to. 

Which begs the question: if we know the power of curiosity, and can logically understand how valuable it is in both our personal and professional lives, then why aren’t we feeling curious all the time?

The reality is, sometimes we feel we don’t have time for it – maybe we see curiosity as “extra credit.”

Even the HBR study goes on to explain that after surveying 520 Chief Learning Officers and Chief Talent Development Officers, the reason so many leaders “shy away from encouraging curiosity [is] because they believe the company would be harder to manage if people were allowed to explore their own interests.”

This is our dilemma.

On the one hand, organizations say they want more curious, more creative employees, but on the other hand, end up incentivizing and encouraging linear thinking and productivity. We say we want to be more curious in our own lives, but consistently make choices that optimize our familiar and established habits and ways of thinking. This is what makes the act of being curious both so highly valued and so uniquely rare. We know exploring the unknown can lead to new discoveries, but we have a hard time rationalizing how to block off the time to do so if it means losing time that would guarantee progress somewhere else.

One of the strange benefits that has come out of COVID and its impact in the workplace is that, because people’s schedules and routines have been disrupted, there are more spontaneous opportunities to be curious. We find ourselves on calls with people we wouldn’t have made time for in the past. Working from home, we have less (or I should say, “different”) types of distractions, which could lead to more exploratory thinking, reading, and clicking around on the internet. And by not needing to travel to work, or even spending less time going out and socializing, we have more time to ourselves to think, reflect, and contemplate aspects of ourselves and our lives. 

So whether you’re the boss or the employee, whether you’re talking to a co-worker or a friend, whether you’re trying to get out of brain fog or a funk, remain curious in your own life. Curiosity must be practiced and nurtured.

Amy Stanton is the founder and CEO of Stanton & Company and co-author of "The Feminine Revolution."

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