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Curiosity: It’s the new black

5 min read


Are you looking for a skill that’s always in style, goes with anything and makes a bold statement wherever it goes? Look no further; simply consider curiosity.

Depending upon whom you ask, curiosity is defined as a competency, skill, quality, or emotion. It’s the capacity to demonstrate keen interest, an inquisitiveness spirit, an eager drive to understand, and an appetite for experimentation.

No matter how you define it, there’s a growing agreement that curiosity is a vital (and too frequently missing) ingredient in today’s workplace. There’s also agreement that it’s gaining attention and a prominent seat at the leadership table.

Where did it go?

“Children are born scientists. From the first ball they send flying to the ant they watch carry a crumb, children use science’s tools—enthusiasm, hypotheses, tests, conclusions—to uncover the world’s mysteries. But somehow students seem to lose what once came naturally.” Dr. Carlo Parvanno

Research indicates that. on average. curiosity increases beginning at about 12 years old and continues until college age. But by age 30, curiosity drops off. And it’s understandable. There are considerable factors that make it challenging to lead with curiosity. Which of the following get in your way?

  • Demonstrating curiosity requires conscious effort, attention and time, all of which are in short supply for busy professionals.
  • Leading with curiosity can be uncomfortable because it means constantly entertaining and operating in the realm of the unknown.
  • A solid self-image and a deep sense of confidence are based upon what people know, not drawing attention to what they don’t know.
  • A leader’s value lies in sharing knowledge.
  • Demonstrating curiosity and asking questions may be perceived as a lack of expertise or competence.
  • Adopting a spirit of curiosity and genuinely being open to new possibilities demands being willing to let go of what has contributed to one’s success to date.
  • Curiosity feels like a threat to being right, looking good and the ego.
  • A genuine commitment to curiosity demands a willingness to change based upon new information/insights/learnings — and change is one of the most challenging things around.

For any number of reasons, as many professionals progress through their careers, they find that curiosity becomes a smaller image in their rearview mirrors.

Profound benefits

Yet, research suggests that keeping curiosity close throughout one’s life can yield tremendous benefits including greater health (Swan and Carmelli), enhanced meaning and purpose in life (Kashdan et al), stronger social relationships (Brdar and Kashdan), and greater levels of happiness (Rodrigue, Olsen and Markley).

Curiosity also contributes to business success. Today’s landscape is complex, volatile and unpredictable. Surviving and thriving demands approaching each day and each opportunity with fresh eyes and an inquisitive spirit. Critical business imperatives such as creativity, innovation and continuous improvement require the prerequisite of curiosity. In fact, every workplace skill, including coaching and change management, is enhanced when it’s performed in the presence of curiosity.

That’s why curiosity is the new black. It literally goes with everything in business, providing a complement that doesn’t pull focus but rather amplifies and expands whatever ensemble it’s brought into.

Cultivating curiosity

Since it operates as a behavioral “neutral” — going with, supporting and turbocharging any number of workplace skills — leaders will likely find a substantial return on investments made in cultivating curiosity. Four strategies allow you to begin inviting in greater levels of curiosity today.

  1. Watch your airtime ratio. How much talking you’re doing is always a good barometer. Questions are the currency of curiosity. Putting greater emphasis on asking means that those around you will do more of the talking. Take a few moments to prepare for conversations by identifying a few curious questions. They’ll likely start a dialogue that will spark other follow-up questions, allowing you to dig deeper, clarify or build on what’s been shared.
  2. Seek outside data. Curiosity is not a spectator sport. Information will not find you; you must develop a plan for finding out what you need to know. Do an online search. Explore external resources. Collect best practices. Find data to establish benchmarks. Scan the business landscape for trends and changes. Actively and curiously interact with the resources at your disposal and extract the data, perspectives and insights required for you to excel in your role.
  3. Monitor your internal dialogue for curiosity killers. As a result of beliefs, time pressures and conditioning, most leaders have developed a host of mental processes that smother curiosity. Many want to control where the discussion is going; others want to jump efficiently (and prematurely) to solving problems. Neither can co-exist with curiosity. Also, be on the look out for assumptions, judgments and biases.
  4. Incorporate curious phrases into your vocabulary and interactions. The words you use can telegraph your sincere interest in learning and exploring while also building new habits for yourself. Consider such expressions as:
    • What if …

    • I’d really like to understand more about …

    • How would it work if …

    • What’s your experience of …

    • How would you …

Try these strategies and you’ll find that you learn more, your relationships are stronger, you’ll gain a clearer understanding of the business and its drivers, and you’ll better recognize and exploit the opportunities around you. And just like black, these outcomes are always in style.

What about you? What role does curiosity play in your work life? How has your appreciation for curiosity changed since you were a child? How do you bring greater curiosity to your work?

Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog at