Have you ever stopped and thought about how important curiosity is to your life and your organization? Do you know that curiosity results in more creative solutions, greater leadership outcomes, and better engagement? Dr. Shannon Minifie, the CEO at Box of Crayons, explains why curiosity-led organizations are more resilient and successful than those who are advice-driven. The key is to slow down the rush of action and stay curious longer. If you feel a sense of stagnation and complacency within yourself and your organization, then this episode is for you. Tune in and be curious about why you think the way you do!
I’m glad you joined us because we have Dr. Shannon Minifie. She is the CEO at Box of Crayons. She helps companies become more curiosity-led. I’m going to love this.
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Curiosity Results In Greater Leadership Outcomes With Shannon Minifie
I am here with Dr. Shannon Minifie, who is the CEO of Box of Crayons. Box of Crayons helps organizations transform from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I’m excited to have her here. Welcome, Shannon.
Thank you so much, Diane. It’s nice to meet you.
It’s nice to meet you. I have had other people from your organization. Michael Bungay Stanier was on and he was incredible. We’re both on the Thinkers50 group out of London when I met him. It was fun to have them talk about curiosity on the show because that’s my focus. I love that you guys focused on that. I want to get a backstory on you because some people might not know what you work on there and know how you got to this level of success. If you wouldn’t mind, could you share your backstory?Push yourself beyond where you think you can go. Click To Tweet
Michael’s reputation precedes him and mine does not. He’s a hard act to follow in several ways. I have been working in learning and development for years. I’m relatively new to corporate learning but I spent a long time in school before I got to Box of Crayons. There was an overlap because I was still studying while I first started at Box of Crayons. My path into the space was through book publicity. I came onto Box of Crayons to help with a little book you might have heard of The Coaching Habit. Probably, that’s what the book that Michael came on your show to talk about. Maybe it was one of his others. That was launching.
I was writing my dissertation and I was teaching adjunct. I was working part-time at a small literary publishing house here in Toronto, where I’m based. I was working at the bar one night a week at a little place in my neighborhood. I met Michael because that is also Michael’s neighborhood. I met Michael and Marcella Bungay Stanier, the Owners of Box of Crayons, over the bar, somewhere between comparing notes on literature and wine. I picked up a third part-time job while wrapping up graduate school and that was in 2015. It was a different company then. The success of The Coaching Habit book changed the company.
In the years that followed, we transformed from being a solopreneurship with a handful of contract staff supporting Michael at a thought leader at the center to a company of about twenty full-time employees and about two dozen contract facilitators who deliver programs globally. This is a huge five-year period of transformation. Within the first year, I moved from publicity into becoming the first salesperson in our newly forming internal sales organization. That was a funny shift in itself because when I first joined the company, I was still on track. I’m going to be a literature professor and I’m doing this as a part-time job. This is 5 or 10 hours a week.
At the outset, I was like, “I don’t know anything about sales.” Michael is amazing at pushing people beyond where they think they can go. He was like, “You’re good. This is heavy stuff. These are great conversations. You can have great conversations.” He pushed me into it. I discovered pretty quickly that talking about coaching and curiosity to Allan D leaders was a lot easier than talking to nineteen-year-olds about Faulkner, as an example. It was different and the same because you’re selling people on an idea and you’re finding why they’re going to care about that idea and getting them engaged. It was an interesting transfer of skills there. I moved into sales within the first year. In July of 2019, Michael stepped away from running the business and started up MBS.works, his new venture. I replaced him as CEO at Box of Crayons.
I asked him but I can’t remember his answer why he called it Box of Crayons.
The story of Box of Crayons is that the original name for the company was made Maida Coaching and Consulting. Maida was Michael’s grandmother. That’s when Michael first moved to Toronto from Boston where he was based at the time. It was right after 9/11. A series of events, including the terrorist attacks, led him and his wife who’s Canadian to decide to settle in Toronto. When he came here, he stuck out a single shingle consulting, “I can do innovation. I can do brand stuff.” The joke he makes is if you had a wallet and a pulse, “I think you could hire me.”
At the time, it was called Maida CC. On his way to give a talk about branding, one of the core ideas in that is being about having to have a name and branding that people either love or hate but it can’t be forgettable in between. He realized that the name of his company committed that sin. By the time he showed up in transit to his talk, he had decided, “Box of Crayons is going to be the name of the company.” It’s playful but it’s not silly. It reflects how many different shades of this can I try? How creative? How different? That diversity of thinking is all part of what you think about when you think about Box of Crayons. It’s childish but the conversations you’ll have about curiosity there are a lot of things we could stay to learn from the way that children show up in the world.
I love the curiosity angle and that’s one of the reasons I had Michael on my show, to begin with. I noticed on your website that you can’t miss the curiosity element when you first get on there. I’ve had Francesca Gino on the show. I also noticed that you quote her about the importance of curiosity in one of your first pictures. What I find hard when I’m talking to companies sometimes is, they want to have real data about how curiosity and be tied in to how can you prove it makes you more innovative? How can you prove it makes you more engaged? Do you guys do a lot with the research data? Where do you get your data? Are you more anecdotal? I’m curious about that aspect.
There are a couple of aspects to it. In terms of the white paper that we put out, which is about showing a review of the literature, it tells us that curiosity weaves together at least seven of the distinct outcomes that we talked about in that paper and organizational results like innovation and resilience. For that white paper, we didn’t conduct our original research as you say to your folks like Francesca Gino and like you, Diane. I read your book and you said all the names too. We did a review of the literature to write that.
The client data that we collect is difficult to collect. A lot of it is anecdotal but we do have some hard data. We’ve done an ROI study with one of our clients, one that I can’t name and one that I can. We work with a big telecom company here in Canada and we did an ROI study on the impact of our coaching program. A program helps people become more coach-like. What we mean by that is slowing down the rush to action and staying curious longer. What they found was that the biggest impact that the programs had on their managers and leaders was what they called strategic piece selection. It’s opting out of the work that has less impact. Asking questions about what is the real challenge? What is the key thing for me to focus on? It resulted according to the study that we did and we engaged Lisa Ann Edwards for this study and she was fantastic. It showed a 996% return in time saved by people opting to focus on what matters.Opt to focus on what really matters. Click To Tweet
Diane, you have an article. One of the biggest challenges the organization faces is starting to solve the challenge before they know what the problem is and they’re spread too thin. That was a key finding with that client. We also have helped build a custom MOOC with Microsoft. Our client there, Andrea Wanerstrand, was the lead instructional designer on that. It was with our IP and with Michael’s talent and our team helping build a MOOC that had the look and feel and playfulness of Box of Crayons. Our simple approach to shifting behavior to become more coach-like and more curious that delivered to all of the global sales and marketing organization as a start. Now, it’s being delivered to all of the managers across Microsoft. About 6,000 folks have gone through it at Microsoft so far. They have hard data.
The beauty of the digital program, as opposed to the live delivery, is that what Andrea did was embed a survey as an entry and an exit mechanism for that program. We got aggregate data and mandatory data on that, which is fantastic. Their historic benchmark was a 70% completion rate. That was the most success they’ve ever had for a MOOC. If you’re somebody who works in a learning platform, that’s an impressive number already. Our program, The Coaching Habit MOOC, has a 91% completion rate so far. It’s blowing that out of the water.
In terms of shifting around behavior, out of the 6,000 or so learners, they’ve seen a 583% increase in perceived confidence to be more coach-like. People who walk out with more confidence so that I know how to be more coach-like, which is about slowing down the rush to action and being curious longer. They have an 87% increase in the sighted frequency of being coach-like, asking questions instead of giving advice. A 54% increase in the managers on the front line agreeing that these new behaviors support business outcomes. One of the hurdles for that was around getting people bought in around, what’s the business case for this? We’ve seen a good increase as well. People are agreeing that being curious and being coach-like helps increase collaboration, accountability, and shared leadership, which are some of the key outcomes they were looking for as a result of training the managers to be more coach-like.
When you say coach-like, are you saying that’s equal to being curious or in addition to being curious? How do you find being coach-like?
Coach-like curiosity is one of the frames we’re using to look at that curiosity as a particular behavior. What we’re all about at Box of Crayons is how do you harness curiosity for different capacities and outcomes? Our pillar of programs, the ones in which we’re most well-known, teach specifically coach-like curiosity. At its most pared-down level, it’s about slowing down the rush to action and staying curious longer. We know that one enemy of curiosity is this habit of advice-giving. If Michael was on your show, he was probably talking about giving advice. This desire to give advice moves large. It comes with tons of rewards like looking smart, feeling competent, and adding value.
With coach-like curiosity, we’re trying to build in our learner’s humility, self-awareness, and self-management that builds an introspective intelligence around how they relate to the folks that they lead. How can they use that showing up more humble and more curious instead of jumping in and assuming you know the answers to push responsibility to the level that it belongs? Curiosity and coach-like aren’t synonyms but it’s one way of thinking about curiosity in its application.
In your note, you wrote many nice things about reading my book and knowing my doctoral dissertation. I’m like, “That was nice.” Most people don’t know all that. I wrote about emotional intelligence. I love the connections you made. I took a lot of what you were talking about for my work with perception as well. I looked at the importance of curiosity to perception. Perception is a combination of IQ, EQ, Emotional Quotient, CQ for Curiosity Quotient, and CQ for Cultural Quotient combined. This is important in workplace too nowadays, look at things from other perceptions other than our own. You need a lot of curiosity to do that. You have to build that empathy, that emotional intelligence component. You have to ask a lot of questions. I love that you touched on all these things. I created a MOOC for a future learn for curiosity, which was a lot of fun to work with. Is that one for Microsoft? Can you take that one?
That one is a custom-made MOOC for Microsoft. Microsoft owns that product. We have been working on our own that we are looking to beta test with a group of clients who are interested in a digital solution as well. In the spring and early summer is when we’ll be doing a beta test of that. We are going to be looking to be selling a version that is more off the shelf with some customizable aspects. Microsoft shot the videos and the production. Not everyone is up for that or has the resource or the team for that approach. We want to have a version that is more accessible to organizations that aren’t set up to do that thing or that investment.
I loved what you said about perception and the connections between curiosity and empathy. Our programs on coach-like curiosity, I don’t think they preclude touching on empathy. It’s about framing that curiosity around how do you develop your people and create accountability in those conversations. What we are thinking about is we look to build out more pillars of programs under this umbrella on how you unleash curiosity. Our program is more ringed around the nuance of curiosity that’s not about posing questions to others but about asking questions of ourselves and being curious about why we think the way we do. To your point, its’s about thinking about other people’s perspective and other points of view as well. That has a good practical outcome around conflict resolution, inclusion, connection, and all of that stuff. It’s not there in the coach-like. It’s not how we’re framing the key takeaways for the learner but it’s where we know we need to go next.
I’m curious if you’re addressing some of the things like you mentioned with FATE. In my research the Fear, Assumptions, Technology, and Environment were the four things I found that inhibited curiosity. How are you working on the things that keep people from being curious?
There are two levels to it. In our programs, the key behavior that we’re trying to have people shift is around jumping in to give advice. If you present people with, “The things you need to do is be more coach-like or be more curious,” it feels too big. It’s too big of a task.Slow down the rush to action and stay curious longer. Click To Tweet
How do you know how to do it?
You need to whittle it down to a more manageable size. The key behavior is this advice monster, this desire to jump in and give advice. What we focus on in the programs around that barrier is what are the rewards to giving advice? What are the prizes and the punishments around jumping and giving advice? Part of that is building a what’s-in-it-for-me case for individuals to see that being more coach-like is going to serve them as well as their people. That’s part of how we tackle the individual barrier around that. We’ve got an approach to helping them build a habit that includes Judson Brewer’s thinking around mindfulness and being curious when you fail to change in those moments.
More broadly, there are at least three other barriers that we saw to curiosity taking off in organizations. One of them is complacency, which is when companies get successful and comfortable and they stop being curious about their customers and the market. We saw what we’ve called delusion. This is something that Gino writes about a lot in the research she pulled together, this idea that there’s a discrepancy between the senior leaders in an organization who think they have a culture that supports being curious but they don’t. They don’t think they have anything to work on. We’ve got several clients who have a senior team when they’ve gone through assessment has come out the other side of that delusional about how the organization sees itself.
The other one we’re talking about is the environment as well. For us, this is the discrepancy between a say-do and thinking edge shine and work here. It’s tension or discrepancy between what the organization says about itself and how it behaves and how things get done, the habits of the organization are the culture of the organization, no matter what the words are that are written on the walls. When there’s that stark contrast between what the organization says it wants to be and how it shows up, there’s the environmental barrier. If you have a few dozen of people who’ve gone through a program trying to embed these new behaviors and they’re met with resistance or opposition or their leaders aren’t showing up as more curious, it’s going to stunt the ability for that to take off more culturally right away.
As you’re talking about some of these, complacency and all that, it’s interesting. To me, that ties into my assumptions part. You can become complacent and you go, “I don’t need to work hard at this because it’s working.” You tell yourself certain things. It was fascinating to look at the things that keep people from being curious. I started out putting a thread out on LinkedIn before I did my research. What keeps you from being curious? I was writing a book about it. When I first started writing, I didn’t think I was going to try and fix the problem. I thought I was going to write about curiosity. I started to think back to my research with emotional intelligence and I thought, “Where’s the assessment that tells you what keeps you from being curious so you can fix it?” I realized all the assessments that told you how high or low your level was. I thought, “If it’s low, what do you do?”
It was interesting to me to put the thread out to ask people. Trying to name some of these things of what it was that were holding people back these different aspects was fascinating. What led to my research is to find out what it is. A lot of this is what we tell ourselves, “This worked in the past. I don’t need to do this. If I do this, they’re going to do that.” You get this dialog in your head and you start to think and how do you break out of that thinking unless you somehow assess for it? You don’t know what you don’t know is what I’m trying to say.
On the one hand, there are the stories. It’s like, “The story I’m telling myself is.” That can inhibit me. What George Floyd’s murder has taught or at least made part of national and international consciousness is there’s a bit of tension or critique of the idea that’s entirely within each of our power to change the story. You write about something at length in your book, which is the opportunity for organizations is to recognize curiosity as a state rather than a trait. It’s not like, “I need to go hire curious people or, I even might say, have had the luxury of being able to be curious.”
If you foster an environment in which curiosity feels safe as a way to show up, you’ll have people be more curious. There are a lot of people for a lot of different reasons who are not psychologically safe. Partly, it’s about the individuals changing our internal monologues in our own story but it’s also the work of the rest of the organization and society to invite those stories to be told and those questions to be asked and to make it safer to do so. There are people for whom it doesn’t feel safe to speak up.
Act of fear.
That’s your fear point.
Sometimes they overlap because your experience from your environment leads to the voice in your head, which leads to fear. They all overlap. The word curiosity was what I started with. It was interesting because I put out a Google notification when anything was written about it. I started to get a lot of Mars Curiosity rover stuff. I took out that. I’m surprised by how little was being written about curiosity when I first started doing this. Now you get a lot more. For me, it’s such a broad term. When people ask me how I define it, I look at it as getting out of status-quo thinking to avoid everything the way it always was done because it worked in the past way and to question things. It’s not like, “Let’s get to the bottom of Candy Crush and see what’s on the next level.” For people, they go, “What do you mean by that?” Do you get that a lot?
We anticipate that people think that curiosity is maybe a bit whimsical. It’s like, “I want to get to the next version of Candy Crush inconsequential.” We’re trying to find a way to have people remember this distinction. We talk about that curiosity as troublemaker curiosity.
How they’re going to get off track.
I have a four-year-old. He tends to get into stuff. It’s like, “Don’t touch that.” “I’m going to touch that.” Part of what sparks the interest is prohibition and it’s a little bit of mischief. We anticipated that people might think, “Be curious.” That’s not going to have any efficacy on anything that I’m trying to do in my organization. What we’ve been calling as an alternative or how we’ve been defining curiosity is what we call changemaker curiosity. That is more specifically about embracing the unknown and embarking on the hard work of giving up control. There’s that coach-like curiosity.
How do you give up control so you can make the space bigger for other people and their accountability? It’s about being open to new and different perspectives. There’s that empathic and emotionally intelligent aspect of curiosity. It’s also about learning, adapting, and being willing to fail along the way. It’s getting curious about what happened there. We know that if you approach something from the perspective of curiosity, you’re less likely to be anxious about failure or place blame than if you come to things with that openness. Ashcroft and Brown, I heard you on their show, The Curious Advantage. I’ve been writing a lot about that particular angle.
Simon Brown does a lot at Novartis. I don’t know if you do a lot of work with them. They have curiosity month every September. They brought in 118 speakers and I was one of them. They wrote a book about curiosity. They have a podcast about curiosity. The company itself rewards its employees for doing 100 hours of extra learning. Every year, they do these little mini TED Talks where the employees speak. What are some of the cool companies that you’ve seen that are like that? Novartis or Verizon, I work with them and different ones. What are you seeing people doing that’s unique to inspire curiosity?
Novartis is on a bit of a cutting edge around that and also Microsoft for that matter. It’s like, “We’re going to shift from being a know-it-all culture to a learn-it-all culture.” What does that mean? At Novartis, that means we don’t say we want you to learn. We pay for it and we make you take the time to go and learn. We framed on learning. They have an open catalog of courses that they’re constantly encouraging people to take.
A lot of organizations, not necessarily a lot of the ones that we work with, I see a lot of the delusion aspect here or a lot of the environment aspect here, which is like, “We want people to learn and we embrace learning.” That means you also embrace risk-taking and you embrace failure without consequence. I’m not saying that people screw up and get to move on to the organization. People are allowed to be able to learn. You have to support them in being able to learn, try, and potentially fail. There’s a tension between we’re a learning organization and we care about performance more than that.
One of our core values at Box of Crayons, we say process even over outcomes. We’ve stolen the even over tension double modal from Aaron Dignan of The Ready and the author of Brave New Work. I love that because those are both good outcomes, learning cultures, and high-performance cultures. They’re going to come into tension with each other. For us, process even over outcomes is about what is most important. Is it most important that we stick the landing every time? Is it most important that we are learning rigorously along the way? That’s going to have one slight leg up on performance or outcomes. A lot of organizations struggle with that. Novartis seems to be doing a good job of allowing curiosity or learning even over performance. There’s a tension there.Be more humble and more curious instead of jumping in and assuming the answers. Click To Tweet
They’ve done some interesting research with engagement. They measured before and after they had implemented this curiosity goal. They found that they did move the needle quite a bit of employee engagement. I’m like, “Finally, I’m hearing some data.” I was glad to get more and more data. With Verizon, what they did was interesting. I was in New York before they shut everything down doing little videos. They had me talk about curiosity. They brought in individuals within the company who had used curiosity and become successful within the company because of it.
We did these little five-minute things that they would play in their onboarding. They’d play in their stores. They’d play an internet type of thing within the company and outside as well. It was something that I thought was a cool way to say, “This is why it’s important.” I would say that and then someone else would show, “Here’s how we’ve manifested it here.” You talked about Francesca Gino. In her research, she found that leaders thought that they encourage curiosity but maybe it wasn’t felt so much by the employees. This is one way of having employees show, “This is how I’ve been rewarded for it.” That’s important. Are you seeing the same thing Francesca saw that the employees don’t feel the same way as leaders?
We don’t survey our clients to see if that discrepancy exists. That example you used of people getting up and saying curiosity works for them reminds me of two things. We worked a bit in healthcare. We’ve got a client in healthcare who understood the importance of a role model. What does this look like when I’m being curious about the job? I’m going to make myself vulnerable. The president of one of the hospitals that we work within the States walked into an all-hands meeting in front of the whole hospital and put down one of the coaching cards from our program and said, “This is going to be weird. I’m used to jumping in and giving advice and telling people what to do. It’s going to feel rigid. We’re going to run this whole meeting asking questions. We’re going to ask these questions and we’re going to try to sit in curiosity for as long as possible.”
By her doing that, she demonstrated, like, “We’re all in on trying to do this.” What they saw at that hospital was also an increase in engagement because they surveyed for that. To the point about how are you curious, what are the ways that you are being curious on the job? There are all these moments in the day in a hospital setting where you have this quick huddle. We have all these safety stand-up and you have all of these quick interactions that have serious consequences also. They made asking questions on how they run those stand-up meetings. They were finding that it started a dialogue across different parts of the hospital that ordinarily wouldn’t have started. It allowed people to break through the hierarchy. Physicians are the team leader.
Atul Gawande writes about this a lot, the hierarchical tension that can exist. Making that like, “This is what we’re all doing,” opened up doors for people to ask questions as it were. It helps them to identify and solve problems at the moment. They say that they wouldn’t have gotten to the bottom of it if they didn’t have people jumping in and asking questions. It’s cool that it became part of how they do there every day.
As you’re saying that, all about asking questions, it reminds me of improv and yes, and. Everything is a question. You could make some playful and fun activities to get people constantly thinking in that way because a lot of people have gotten out of that. I interviewed Zander Lurie on the show, who’s the CEO of SurveyMonkey. They’re so curious that they change their address to 1 Curiosity Way, which I love. You work with a company like that. They get it. They ask a lot of questions. They do skip-level meetings.
They do send in your best curious question and they answer it at the all-hands.
Things like that are important. I’m curious about activities. Are you seeing any unusual activities like that one that you’ve seen have been good at getting people out? I love the one example you gave about the questions at the meetings. Are there any other examples that come to mind?
I’ll tell you what we do. We’re a tiny company. We’re trying to eat our own dog food as it were as well. We try to have curiosity. First of all, it’s like an ongoing comedy. Anytime anyone asks a question, it’s like, “What else? What’s the real challenge?” We all know where those questions came from. There are several different things that we do that are about allowing people to be curious, whether that is in the form of asking a question. I see that gap in my knowledge or in what I might do and I want to try to go and fill that gap and learn something, which is also part of chasing curiosity.
We do a few things. We hold monthly town halls. A lot of companies hold monthly town halls but we do a thing which I full disclosure stole from Lurie, which is that I send out an email and I ask, “Can I send another email a couple of weeks ahead of time?” I ask people what their burning questions are. I’ll choose 1 or 2 and I’ll answer them. We do that in our town halls. We do ask anything regularly. Once a week, we do ask anything. We rotate to host them. It’s not necessarily that you throw every question at the host that day. The host chaired the meeting and people can ask anything of anyone that shows up about any part of the business.
We also fully share all of our financials across the company too, people’s sense of curiosity around that. We are transparent. We use OKRs as our form of goal setting, which might be like, “What does that have to do with curiosity?” For me, it has to do with asking questions about how and having the autonomy to decide in this team. All of our team leaders go back to their teams and say, “These are the org-wide key results for the year.” We get to decide how we take part in that, what work we do against that. We all align. A part of how we need and fight over which OKRs are most important is through a commitment to being curious. Interrogating, inquiring, and our even over statement around that is great questions even over good answers. We have to show up with a lot of positive intent because those can get heated when you show up and you start having those discussions about which work is most important.
Once a quarter, we do our quarterly business review process which has every team writing a memo. We stole that one from Jeff Bezos, of course. Every team writes a 2-page to a 3-page memo on what got done. The form of how they write their memo is about curiosity. We say, “What worked well? What didn’t work well? What tensions or frictions arose? What questions do you have for the whole company?” Those are the four questions that each team writes a shared memo about at the end of the quarter. We share them. Everyone goes away and does the reading for about a week. We do it on Slack because we found that doing it over Zoom was too exhausting. We use Slack to have a running dialogue that lasts about two weeks where people ask questions of each other and then people go in and answer.
To get into what you do differently, that tends to be one of the popular. One of the questions I get asked a lot, especially by project managers, is if you allow many questions, people are going to get off-topic or might get out. They’re going to suggest too many things and we’re not going to get to our deliverables on time. How do you get people on track in meetings if you’re asking so much? What do you tell people when they ask you that?
I’ve not experienced that things get off-topic. Strong facilitation can mean that if somebody asks a question that’s a great question but off-topic, that’s a great question. If we can’t answer that question or for that question, we’ve got to do that before we do this work. It can take you off track. I’m suspicious of the idea that if we showed up to complete A. This meeting is about answering X question, which that’s the construct itself. We showed up and we’re going to solve this problem. Someone asked the question and you’re like, “That’s a good question but I want to get this thing done.” Are you focusing on the right thing?
You can pursue a question if that question is going to lead you to a better outcome than it’s worth pursuing. I don’t think there’s such a thing as stupid question. Often, the time for questions is a dedicated question asking time. Show up and ask anything. The point of the outcome of that meeting isn’t to solve a problem but to ask questions and also to create a connection. The point of a meeting might be about the people in that meeting building rapport and building safety.
Sometimes people ask questions and that leads to, “Why don’t we do it this way?” It’s because we’re thinking about a new way, that could extend the time to them in their mind. If that has that potential, you need to ask that question to decide, “Maybe we should be doing it a different way.” It might take longer but what’s the outcome and what’s the ROI? Sometimes, everybody is asking at a time when it’s not set up. You had dedicated time for asking questions. If you’re saying you want a culture of curiosity and if everybody’s asking all the time, you might not finish what you’re trying to do in the meeting. Sometimes, there’s a time to say, “These are great questions. I want to get to those. We’re going to have another time where we talk about this either individually or whatever.” Sometimes you have to table things for another session, don’t you think?
Yeah. Sometimes it’s going to slow things down if we try this another way. I have a good example of that, which is that we collaborated with Microsoft on building that MOOC. For us, that was the first time that we had even seriously considered that our programs would be great and work well digitally. We had this bias, which has gone way out the window in the COVID world, around the experiential aspect of our programs. When we built the MOOC with Microsoft and saw how efficacious that was, we’re like, “This is amazing. The IP is working.” We went away and we started building our version of that.
When you asked me earlier, can I go to that MOOC? Can I see that MOOC? The reason that MOOC doesn’t exist yet is because we’ve been trying to build a digital product for a couple of years as a company that’s never done that before. We’re running into all of the challenges you have when you’re trying to do a brand new thing. We embarked on a first way of doing it that took us about a year and a beta test at the end to get the learnings from that experience to decide that we needed to go about it a different way.
What we did was we had a three-hour after-action review type meeting where we said, “What did we assume at the beginning that got us down all of these roads?” We pieced together the story. “Where did this start? What assumptions do we make? How do we land there? What do we learn now?” I sent an email to the whole company after telling them what we had put on the table as a group of about eight leaders, “What did we realize we assumed? What did that lead to? How did we end up there?” I even said, “How much money it had cost us to learn the hard way in one year?” It was a lot. That’s how much the learning costs. Now, we’re clear on the new way that we’re going to go about this. It can be painful.
It’s like anything, you’re reinventing the wheel sometimes. You don’t know who’s already invented it. You don’t know where to go for some of this. Sometimes, you end up spending a lot the first time you do something but then you have that framework. With my research, I went through a lot to do my curiosity research. When I did perception, it was way easier because you’ve gone through this. How do you all of a sudden have this relationship with Microsoft that they want to build a MOOC with you? That’s quite an accomplishment in itself. How did that come to be?
The product owner of the MOOC at Microsoft is one of their senior managers, a woman called Andrea Wanerstrand. She was on Dave Stachowiak’s podcast, Coaching for Leaders, talking about the work that she does at Microsoft. She had read The Coaching Habit book, which is one of the ways that a lot of senior leaders and organizations find us and get exposed to our approach to coach-like curiosity. They were a couple of years into their overall plan of shifting to learning organization and promoting a growth mindset. She was clear that one of the things they needed was for their frontline managers to be more coach-like. They needed a way that felt natural and was not such a process. It’s like, “I’m going to sit down and do coaching to you.” A natural way to shift behavior is around being more curious as a way of leading and managing. She found us through the book and contacted us and it went from there.
How long is the MOOC? Is it something that they can do in a day or a week? I’m curious about that.
It’s five weeks long. It could be taken over five weeks or it could take longer to do that as well. It can be spread over more time than not or it can be crunched down to those five weeks. Ours is four weeks. Ours is a series of short videos. The idea is that you are anchoring a home base in the digital program but you were sending people away to go and practice curious behaviors. There’s a lot of engagement.If the question is going to lead you to a better outcome, then it's worth pursuing. Click To Tweet
There’s homework. It’s like practice activities.
It’s like, “Go into your next meeting. Your mission is to notice how much your advice monster wants to come out every time you want to give advice. Be curious about that.” That’s part of that Judson Brewer notice what you’re noticing. “What am I doing when I’m doing what I’m doing?” Go and notice that. Go into this next meeting and use these three questions. “What’s on your mind? What’s the real challenge for you? What else?” See how that goes. It’s about sending people on those missions and coming back and debriefing because we know that having that moment of reflection is important to cementing the learning. People don’t learn when they’re told. Even when they do, they learn when they’ve had the chance to do something and then reflect on what worked and what didn’t.
It’s interesting to see how everybody does different things. Since I’ve worked so much with curiosity MOOCs, everything that you’re working on is fascinating to me. I know it’s important to everybody out there. Your white paper is from troublemaker to change-maker and how to harness curiosity to build resilience and innovation, which they can get at BoxOfCrayons.com. I’m curious if there’s any other way you want them to follow you or find you? Is there some kind of site? Is BoxOfCrayons.com your main way to reach you?
That’s it, BoxOfCrayons.com.
This was interesting. I was looking forward to this because you guys are doing exactly what I think I’d like to see everybody work on. It was fun having you on the show, Shannon. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much. It’s fun to speak to someone whose book I’ve read.
I appreciate that. It was nice of you. Your notes were kind. I love the research you did. I love that you’re curious. Thank you so much.
I like to thank Shannon for being my guest. We get many great guests on this show. Of course, I’d love it when we get into curiosity because it’s such an important topic. It comes up in about every conversation now even before I bring it up because it’s tied into innovation, engagement, and everything that companies are trying to accomplish to be more innovative. It’s critical to get some more research out there. That’s why I hope you guys check out their white paper. People like to see data sometimes. I’d love to see more data. If any of you ever do any research on curiosity, please send me your data. You can contact me through my site.
We talked about Francesca Gino and her great research that was in HBR. If you haven’t seen that, that’s The Business Case for Curiosity in HBR. She published that there. It’s wonderful to get some insights as to what companies are doing to instill curiosity. My research was about what inhibits curiosity. For you to move forward and become more curious, you have to figure out what’s stopping you. It was fascinating to learn that Fear, Assumptions, Technology, and Environment, or FATE, you can remember it more easily, are the things that inhibit people. If we can overcome some of those issues, we can increase our curiosity levels.
You can go to CuriosityCode.com to take The Curiosity Code Index. You can also find it on my site at DrDianeHamilton.com. In addition to The Curiosity Code index and the ability to buy Cracking The Curiosity Code book and all the stuff that goes along with it, you can find more information on perception as well, which we touched on lightly. There’s the Perception Power Index, which also incorporates some aspects of curiosity. That was fun to research in the book that I co-authored with Dr. Maja Zelihic called The Power of Perception. All that is available on the site. I hope you take some time to explore. It’s wonderful because they have tweetable moments there. We’d love to have you tweet out some of those moments. We’d love to hear from you. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- Box of Crayons
- Michael Bungay Stanier – Past episode
- The Coaching Habit
- Francesca Gino – Past episode
- Brave New Work
- Zander Lurie – Past episode
- The Business Case for Curiosity
- Cracking The Curiosity Code
- The Power of Perception
- The Curious Advantage
- Andrea Wanerstrand – Coaching for Leaders episode
About Dr. Shannon Minifie
Shannon Minifie, PhD is the CEO at Box of Crayons. Box of Crayons helps organizations transform from advice-driven to curiosity-led. We believe curiosity-driven cultures are more resilient, innovative and successful.
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