I often hear people claim they want an innovative culture in their organizations. But in order to be innovative, we must have a tendency to ask and learn about things by asking questions, investigating, or exploring – the very definition of curiosity!
I had the good fortune to hear Charles Fishman speak recently about his recent research into curiosity, and its disruptive, wonderful power. Give people the freedom to ask questions, and we support democracy – asking questions can lead to challenging authority. That can be in a good way – is the way we’ve always done this still the best way? He called curiosity the “antidote to complacency” – and given the pace of change, none of us can afford to be complacent.
Did you know the brain gives us a reward for being curious? We get a burst of dopamine. Charles thinks that might be the source of all human progress. I will be buying his book, A Curious Mind (http://amzn.to/1zPRWWB), the moment it is out in April 2015. I’m curious what more I might learn!
All children and cats are curious. They want to look at, and if possible touch, every new and interesting object that comes within reach, especially if it is moving. Can we touch an idea? No, but we can encourage people to look beyond their usual activities and interests. Matthew Thomas of Prospect Madison (http://prospectmadison.com/) calls it “going broad”. At least once a week, go to an event entirely outside your normal interests. Have a real conversation with someone outside your network, profession or neighbourhood. Read widely. Learn a new sport.
We never know when something we have learned will suddenly help us understand or relate to something completely different. In fact, it seems to me that shortly after I read about something I knew little or nothing about, that knowledge suddenly becomes useful! Our neurons make a new connection in our minds. Synapses fire. New paths form in our mind, and a vista of new possibilities opens up.
It’s so clear now to me how this leads to innovation! We have new ideas AND new energy, and a mind that feels free.
Wikipedia defines innovation as “a new idea, device or process. Innovation can be viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements or existing market needs. The term innovation can be defined as something original and more effective and, as a consequence, new, that “breaks into” the market or society.” Elsewhere, I’ve heard it described as applied creativity, or creativity unleashed within defined boundaries.
Innovation is what will help us deal with climate change. With disease. With unequal access to knowledge. With those interdependent, complex issues that hold back the human potential of everyone in our communities. Ideas are powerful if we – or maybe the next person – can show others how to apply them for a better future.
So I didn’t write this to persuade you that innovation is good. You already knew that. But now you might agree that curiosity is a prerequisite, and worth encouraging in itself. I challenge you to look differently at your organization and see how you could foster more curiosity all around you.