In a time of rapid technological change, innovation is a critical component for growth—even survival.
But what does it mean to be "innovative?" Feeling ideas flow and challenging the status-quo come to mind. In fact, at the root of all innovation is one important component: curiosity. And building a culture of curiosity at your company will, I believe, drive innovation for years to come.
In my upcoming book "Cracking the Curiosity Code," I set out to learn how leaders at some of the most innovative companies create a culture of curiosity. After completing nearly one thousand interviews with leaders across the country, I found that every company had three qualities in common:
1) They Think Outside the Box
Companies with a strong culture of curiosity are constantly thinking beyond the confines of how things have been done in the past.
One of my favorite examples of thinking outside the box is that of a physician at England's Great Ormond Street Hospital. After the hospital experienced a number of casualties during patient transfers, the doctor brought in a Formula One racing team to evaluate the hospital's processes, asking them to make observations based on their own methods. The process recommended by the racing team (a three-step approach to triage) reduced the hospital's errors by more than 50 percent. This was only possible because the hospital was open to trying something new.
To encourage your employees to find new solutions to old problems, consider hosting a hack-a-thon that focuses on solving a longstanding problem in a new way. Or put new hires through a rotational program—where they spend a set amount of time in finance, marketing and sales—that will expose them to a variety of different perspectives and approaches to the problems your company is working to solve every day.
2) They Embrace New Ideas
A key part of being curious is feeling safe enough to ask questions and try new things without fear of repercussion. If you want your employees to feel comfortable doing either of these things, you must foster a culture that embraces new ideas.
Part of building a culture where employees feel safe to suggest new ideas is communicating the fact that questions and proposals are valued. In order to achieve this, find out what has inhibited employees to suggest new ideas in the past. You can give employees a curiosity assessment that will identify which aspects of company culture need to be improved to make them feel safer. Once you have the results, create action plans with employees to help them incorporate curiosity into their day-to-day.
3) They Build Curiosity Into Development
Enforce the importance of curiosity by making curiosity development part of the yearly performance review. Evaluate the extent to which your workers think outside the box to solve problems, ask key questions and experiment without fear. And, to help them learn how to be curious, qualities that contribute to developing curiosity like improving emotional intelligence and engagement should be incorporated into your organization's cultural development process. Leaders can schedule monthly or quarterly meetings to assess progress in these areas.
Creating a culture of curiosity depends on leaders who can create an atmosphere where questions and ideas are embraced. When that occurs, you'll create a path to a more engaged, innovative and productive organization.
Photo: Creative Commons