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Cultivating Curiosity in Yourself and Your Team

By: Keara Mascareñaz on November 15th, 2018

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Cultivating Curiosity in Yourself and Your Team

Organizational Leadership & Change Management

Why curiosity matters


Curiosity has driven some of the most important innovations in our world. Albert Einstein famously boasted, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”

Curiosity is an attribute we actively work to develop in our teams at EE (one of our core values is Never Stop Learning) and in the leaders we support (our Innovative School Leaders Competencies include Learn Constantly and Cultivate Curiosity is one of the Coaching Competencies we’ll release later this month). I see curiosity as so critically important to shaping individual practices and organizational culture, I’ve included Constant Curiosity as one of the five key ingredients in my culture of innovation framework.

Harvard researcher Francesca Gino has shown that curiosity has an enormous benefit to individuals, teams, and organizations. In her studies she’s found that curiosity leads to fewer decision-making errors, more innovation, more open communication, better performance, and less group conflict. And yet Gino discovered that even though most organizations value curiosity and creativity, their systems and practices often “seek efficiency to the detriment of exploration.” Gino interviewed 250 new hires at the start of their job and six months in. She found after six months “everyone’s curiosity had dropped, with the average decline exceeding 20%. Because people were under pressure to complete their work quickly, they had little time to ask questions about broad processes or overall goals.”

When curiosity stops 


Across my team I have noticed that the curiosity levels vary greatly. I could have the exact same conversation with 5 different people- 2 might have a spark that drives them to write, explore, and produce something; 1 might ask a follow up question during the conversation; and 2 might take in the ideas passively and never ask a question or explore the topic. I’ve realized one thing I can do as a leader is better model and promote curiosity so that all 5 people start thinking in questions and possibilities. I’ve recently taken inspiration from Greg Dyke, former Director General of the BBC. Dyke routinely asked his staff two simple, but powerful questions: “What is the one thing I should do to make things better for you? What is the one thing I should do to make things better for our viewers and listeners?” Listening is a powerful driver for creating a culture of curiosity.

Curiosity also directly drives creativity, which has been listed as one of the top skills employers seek. The group Figure Thinking, who created the visual below, thinks about curiosity as the necessary context for all creative action.

Curiosity and creativity

Figure Thinking Curiosity Framework
Image courtesy of Figure Thinking


Cultivate curiosity


If you want to cultivate curiosity in yourself and others try these actions:

  1. For you: start each day with a question you hope to explore and answer. It should be broad and open. For example, my question today is “How can I empower others to pursue their passions at work”?

  2. For your team: Set goals for learning. Instead of focusing just on metrics for completion set a quantitative goal for lessons learned. At the end of a project, event, or meeting don’t just ask “What did we accomplish?” Ask “What did we learn?”

  3. For your org: If curiosity really matters to you ensure it is represented in your core values. At EE we have a core value of Learn Constantly and give weekly shout outs during our company status meetings, trophies during on-boarding, and annual company awards for the people who model this value.

Join me in conversation anytime at @kearaduggan.

For leadership development and more hands-on learning, join us at the New School Rules Leadership this December. Apply below!

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About Keara Mascareñaz

Keara is a Managing Partner at Education Elements who focuses on how to build and scale a culture of innovation in large systems, how to create national communities of collaboration, and how to keep laughing when pursuing daunting, large-scale changes. She was lucky to collaborate with co-authors Alexis Gonzales-Black and Anthony Kim to design the website and toolkit for The NEW School Rules: 6 Practices for Responsive and Thriving Schools.