Curiosity Does Not Kill the Cat

Getting curious at work is an effective habit

silhouette photography of person

I easily recall the adage that curiosity killed the cat.  It never really made all that much sense.  Was it meant to be cautionary?  Was I getting an ill-conceived message to accept the status quo?  Maybe, the message was about not getting too involved in the inner workings or decisions of a situation.  Layer that with a favorite children’s book character, Curious George.  The monkey who seemed to always find himself in a sticky situation – due to his curiosity – and invariably rescued by the Man in the Yellow Hat.  

I think we have been approaching it all wrong and sending the wrong message to children and adults of all ages.  For me, curiosity is vital to challenging conventional thinking, developing new ideas, or innovating.  At a very core level, curiosity is about discovery.  I hope never to lose the sense of curiosity and the pleasure of learning or seeing something new.  I still get the child-like giddiness when it all comes together, and I can both the big picture and all the details.  There are plenty of ways to incorporate curiosity into our professional environments.

➤ Self-Reflection is a Good Thing

Curiosity is at the heart of truly understanding our personal vision or purpose.  We often think of these as the “big questions” or guiding principles.  No matter how many times you ponder the questions, the answer will likely change based on your circumstances.  What is important to you?  What motivates you?  What do you want to accomplish?  My clients regularly realize that they are holding onto old ideas of who they are and to previous answers to the questions.

➤ I Need More Expertise

If I had a dollar for every time a client questioned their qualifications I might be retired.  I have found this more prominent with women in male-populated industries.  There remains a sense of having to do more, meeting and exceeding every metric, making sure everything is perfect before self-advocating.  I challenge their thinking.  What skills do you bring to the table?  Which of them are objectively true?  What has made you successful in the past?  They often realize that they are over-qualified, and a little curiosity can help them see it for themselves.

➤ Ask the Right Questions for Growth

As a manager or supervisor, you may be tasked with giving feedback.  We know that feedback is really a two-way street.  So, feedback and asking good questions is relevant to everyone in your organization.  In a collective context, we can use curiosity to generate awareness.  What does success look like (for a project, for a team, for an individual)?  What support do you/we need to achieve that success?  

There is another important element which is: challenge someone’s thinking without being challenging.  Be curious with generosity and for the benefit of the other person.  Be clear about your motives.  Help get clarity by asking good questions, even if the answers take some time to develop.