Key takeaways

  • Curiosity helps make connections between disparate pieces of information and is critical for success in a changing world.
  • Companies need to tackle challenges by bringing together cross-functional teams of curious people.
  • Sparking the desire to learn will lead to innovation from the constant wave of technology and information instead of paralysis.

You can teach a child multiplication. You can teach an adult to use new software. You can teach anyone to ride a bike. But can you teach someone to have a genuine desire to know or learn something? Can you teach a person to be curious?

People who are curious tend to seek answers to their questions for the sake of gaining some knowledge; it’s a key ingredient for learning. Perhaps more importantly, curiosity helps us make connections between disparate pieces of information. Psychologists say that curiosity is one of the most basic components of human nature. Think about it: how many times does a child ask you why or what questions during the day?

But when it comes to how we work, that might seem even truer: we work as specialists, well-versed in, say, the ins-and-outs of data or product engineering, the fine points of human resources or customer service or the art of financial analysis. We stay within curiosity silos, solving tax reform questions with our colleagues from finance and tackling product design challenges with those in the confines of the R&D and engineering department.

That’s not fostering curiosity—because no one needs to be curious when they’re working with just a limited set of skills. But, you can take steps to build curiosity.

Recognize
the problem

We are building a world that we have never seen before. It’s not enough to simply learn a skill or technology that’s of-the-moment. After all, even something like design thinking could be replaced tomorrow with something more revolutionary. The pace of change is only getting faster. Technologies and information come at what feels like a million miles an hour, the ability to adapt is what will separate success and failure.

…and the solution. 

The people who will succeed will be curious, agile, and nimble in a constantly changing world. Curiosity and imagination are at the core of what every worker—from the C-suite to the frontline—needs today, regardless of age, degree or professional background. Curiosity is the catalyst for the cycle of continuous learning that’s required to face the digital future.

Start destroying
the traditional

Break the curiosity silos around you and the people that work for you. This isn’t as simple as getting a bunch of people from different departments into one room for a kumbaya session—and everyone goes back to their respective corners afterward. This might build some goodwill and collegiality, but it’s not doing anything to help you survive the future.

…and get intentional.

Companies need to start tackling challenges and looking for solutions for the future in an entirely different, purposeful way. It can’t be done by division or functional skillset. You need to bring together people from across the organization to face challenges, find cross-functional solutions and work together toward that agility and nimbleness of handling anything that comes along like a boss. Think about it: this is often the way startups or the best new ideas are born inside big companies. People with different knowledge and skills are thrown together to make things happen. This can’t be limited to one-off projects any more.

Use the windows
you create 

Now what? You’ve got product, engineering and your data teams working with HR, customer experience and marketing. But, what if John in HR knows very little about how to contextualize data the same way Ben in marketing does—and Jane in data insights probably has an entirely different mindset and way of working with the numbers. But you’ve given them all a window into the others’ worlds. And you’ve set up a work-together culture.

 …to prompt and, yes, teach, curiosity. 

When you provide more knowledge and windows into different rooms, you’re rekindling curiosity through something so innate in our human nature. It’s what psychologist George Lowenstein called the “deprivation that arises from the perception of a gap in knowledge and understanding”.1 Just like hunger, or the smell of something delicious prompts your salivary glands and motivates eating, just a small amount of information is like the waft of fresh-baked cookies. That little bit of information increases curiosity.

Spark
the hunger 

It’s time to start asking questions—lots of them. Cross-industry disruption is rampant. Companies like Amazon are making moves into payments and even shipping. To survive, everyone needs to get outside of their function, department, business unit, and even their own industry to win. Don’t allow yourself to become paralyzed by the wave of new technology and information coming your way. Stop worrying about the fact that you—and your workforce—might not be digital natives. Everyone can learn. Start now by combining people from different perspectives, and ask them to do more. Demand more from their solutions and ideas and they’ll need to know more to rise to the challenge. Spark their desire to learn and succeed .

…and satisfy it. 

Provide everyone with easily consumable, on-the-go learning to quench this hunger for knowledge. We’re doing it at PwC with our Digital Fitness Assessment, evaluating our own workforce, teaming up in new ways, and learning on the go. Start with a baseline knowledge that allows everyone on the team to gain enough expertise to contribute further to the conversation and solutions.

Curiosity prepares your brain for learning. It changes your mindset and opens your eyes to new things. People are simply better at learning something they’ve become curious about.2 You can create situations for people to work and solve problems together. You won’t just change the way people work to thrive in the ever-changing future, you’ll be planting the seeds of curiosity that grow into a continuous cycle of learning.

 

Digital Pulse Tom Puthiyamadam

Contributor

Tom Puthiyamadam

Tom Puthiyamadam is the Global Digital Services Leader with PwC’s Advisory practice.

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