Do you need a boost of courage to overcome your fears? Dr. Diane Hamilton’s guest today, Ken D. Foster, the host of the Syndicated Radio Show, discusses why you need to have courage and how you can get more of it. Ken explains that we use courage in all areas of our life because it is the soul’s fuel. Courage bridges the gap from failure to success, from depression to joy, and from lack of business revenue to a profitable business. If you want to know practical tips on growing your courage, this episode is for you. Join in the conversation and discover how knowing yourself and sharpening your connection to your intuition are key factors for you to have more courage.
I’m so glad you joined us because we have Ken D. Foster here. Ken is a keynote speaker, syndicated radio host of the Voices of Courage, and the author of The Courage to Change Everything. We’re going to talk about courage and how it ties into curiosity and perception. It’s going to be a fascinating show.
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Having Courage And Stepping Into The Unknown With Ken D. Foster
I am here with Ken D. Foster, who is a keynote speaker, business strategist, and syndicated radio host. His show Voices of Courage is heard in more than 170 countries. He’s a best-selling author of seven books including, The Courage to Change Everything. It’s so nice to have you here, Ken.
I’m so excited to be on the show.
I’m looking forward to this because it’s always fun to have somebody else who’s done a radio show and an author. We have a lot in common in that respect. It would be helpful to those people even though you are heard in 170 countries and well known for that, if they haven’t heard of you, it’s always nice to get a backstory on my guest of what led you to where you are now.
Absolutely. I started out my career as an entrepreneur. I started with waterbed stores way back when. That dates me but that’s where I started. From there, I went into finance. I became a stockbroker security principal arbitrator for the NASD at the time and ended up running a couple of $100 million organizations until I decided, “That’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to work in corporate America. I want to be an entrepreneur.” It took a couple of years off and went into coaching. I became a coach. A life coach at first and then went back to my roots as a business strategist. That’s where I started.
It’s interesting that a lot of us have so many different things that we’ve done through the years that have led to our interest in writing books, having shows, and all the things that we do. I noticed you wrote about courage and I wrote about curiosity. Those are two words you hear so much that sometimes people go, “What do you mean by that?” I noticed you have a new definition of courage. I want to get your idea of how you define that.Speak your heart. Click To Tweet
I had written six books prior to this. I was sitting around wondering, “What is next?” I feel something deep inside of me and I didn’t know what that was. I was meditating one day and all of a sudden, it came up, “Courage.” I thought, “Courage. Let me think about that. Let me look up the definition.” I did and there was a Latin word, which was ￼cor. It means to speak one’s heart. I thought, “Yes, speak one’s heart. Let me go deeper than that. What does that mean?” I thought, “Interesting.” It means to tap into the higher realms of consciousness that are within us to be able to speak the truth, wisdom, and understanding. That was the foundation of this book. I thought, “This is what I want to write about.”
Courage, I found over the research that I did, is that a lot of people have courage. We all have courage because we’re born with it, but a lot of people have undeveloped courage. Their thoughts of courage are basically jumping off a bungee cord or running into a burning building. That’s what they say courage is, but courage is a lot deeper than that. Courage is something we use in all areas of our life. It is the fuel of the soul that bridges the gap from failure to success, from depression to joy, from lack of business revenue to a profitable business. It is a bridge and when we learn how to use courage, we all of a sudden have more energy, more will, more power, and more passion, because courage is not the word courage is a feeling that we have. Just like fear is a feeling. You feel it. Courage is a feeling in your body. You feel that too. That’s why I started with it and I went from there.
That’s interesting because it ties into the research I did for curiosity, that one of the things that keep people from being curious, is fear. If we can develop curiosity in people, we can overcome so many things that companies are trying to have in terms of innovation, engagement, you name it. I love that you defined it in your unique way. I did the same thing with curiosity because to me it’s about getting out of status quo thinking. It’s about more than just getting to the next level of Candy Crush or whatever you want to think of curiosity. It’s good to think about that. I think that you’re dealing with change, I guess there’s never been a time to deal with courage and change more than right now. When did you start writing this and how did COVID change what you were writing?
I’m glad you asked me about that. It took me about six years to write this book. My other books did not take that long but this one, I really wanted to do the research on courage. I wanted to go deep into it. I started to look for the most courageous people on our planet. My work is a lot around mindset, what people believe, and what makes them tick. What makes them get out of bed with passion and power and others can’t even get out of bed, or they want to go back to bed. I started there but I want to say that courage and curiosity go hand in hand. I think curiosity comes first. We become curious about what it is that we’d like to change in our business. What would we like to change in our life? Get curious about that. What’s working and what’s not working with all that’s changed now.
Once we’re in that place of a curious place, and I love that because Einstein said, “Imagination is everything.” Once we get curious, then what? A lot of people get curious, but they stop. That’s where courage comes in. That’s where we tap in and we ask questions like, “If I was courageous today to pursue what I just learned, what I was curious about, what are the three steps I take around it?” We start tapping into that power that bridges the gap from curiosity into bringing whatever that is into the world.
You brought up Einstein and some great people who have inspired me. In fact, I use Carol Dweck’s work on mindset for my research, so I love you brought up mindset. I’m curious, who’s inspired you? Do you have some heroes that you find had the courage to change everything?
There’s plenty. I started out with Tony Robbins. Tony inspired me back in 1999. I think I beat out 500 people, they told me to get the position that I got, which was to run his coaching organization. I remember sitting in Tony’s office one day, and he was late. I thought, “What makes this guy tick? What is going on here?” I looked at his library and there was a group of books up there, he must have plenty at the time. It was from an author by the name of Paramahansa Yogananda and I thought, “Interesting. Who is Paramahansa Yogananda?”
I went on a quest and what I found out is, Yogananda was an Indian sage, a guru, who migrated from India to the United States in the 1920s. His mission was to bridge the gap between East and West to show that the teachings of Krishna and the teachings of Jesus were one and the same, but it was so much more than that. I started to delve deep into this. I was a meditator prior to that, but I started to learn Yogananda’s techniques, he’s inspired me.
My meditation went from about ten minutes a day where I could barely sit in the chair for several years, to within three months, I was able to do an eight-hour meditation. ￼Within three months of learning these techniques. I thought, “This is interesting.” “This is it.” What that did for me is I learned How to let go of living from the habits, the subconscious mind. Get out of the conscious everyday thoughts and go into the superconscious mind and start to tap into those higher realms of consciousness on a continuous basis. I’d say he was the one that inspired the most of me but Tony did. Tony got me there.
I’ve seen Tony speaking, he’s interesting to listen to. You can’t help but feel that energy and as you’re saying that, if you’re spending eight hours, I know this isn’t what you would do every day. I know a lot of people do hours and hours a day as part of what they do. How does that help you get things done if you’re one of those people who spend so much time doing that? Doesn’t that cut into some of what you’re trying to do?
You would actually think that, and I initially thought the same thing. I was like, “What am I going to spend my time on this for?” What I found is that when we develop intuition, and intuition is 100% accurate. We all have it. Everybody calls it gut feeling. Another word for it is common sense. Of course, I always ask, “Why is common sense so uncommon in the world?” It’s because people haven’t developed that intuitive part of themselves.
When you learn to meditate, you learn to go within your own soul, with your own self, you learn to develop this intuition. You make better choices. Personally, I’ve made not only better choices and focused on the right things on a consistent basis, which is incredibly important for an entrepreneur. Also, through meditation, I get inspired, I get downloads, I have more energy, more power, and more passion. I think there’s a point in meditation where we go breathless sometimes. I think it reverses the aging process at some level. I’m not an expert in that. I can just tell you from my self, that I have more power, energy, and passion in my 60s than I did in my 20s. Something’s going on there.
It’s a really hot topic. I had Daniel Goleman on the show and we were talking about it quite a bit. Since I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence, which I know you deal with self-awareness and a lot of that, which falls into the emotional intelligence realm. He got into more mindfulness and some of that later, and some of his research he’s working on now. It was interesting, because I was listening to his book on audio, and sometimes to catch up and get people on the show, I’ll put things on double speed. I’m listening to him talk about the importance of slowing down but I got him on double speed.
Self-awareness is such a huge part of people’s success it ties into some of what you talked about. It is what we tell ourselves and that was another part of what keeps you from being curious. There’re four things, it was fear, assumptions, which is that voice in your head saying what you can and can’t do, technology over and underutilization of it, and our environment, people around us. You talk about, stop playing the, I can’t change game. That ties into what I found, which is assumptions. How do you get past those assumptions?
I would say you just keep going back to meditation. I think one of the things that happens when you learn to still the mind is that the mind all of a sudden starts to open up. Instead of having black and white thinking, it’s this way or that way, you start to see color in your life. Instead of one choice, you have 30 choices. Of course, it takes intuition to make those right choices but when we’re in that place of slowing down to succeed, instead of speeding up to succeed, which most of us try to do.
When we can slow down, we have insights into the direction we need to go, and we also have a new pointed focus. How many entrepreneurs have a challenge of focusing? I think so many people out there. You might be curious, that’s awesome. Get curious, you got to get curious but then, you’re so curious that you don’t focus on anything. If anything, that’s where the meditation comes in because you are focusing on one point in meditation on the spiritual life. That’s it. You learn how to really focus. When you come out of that, that’s the inner game. The outer game of business is what most people are playing. They don’t play the inner game.
They don’t go in and they don’t go into that place where we’re visualizing our future. We’re expecting that to happen before it happens. We’re then in a place of stepping into courage. To take the steps that feel that courageous energy to go into the unknown. In fact, for me, the unknown is everything. You have to get comfortable being uncomfortable in the unknown. In other words, when you get curious, and you find something that you’ve never done before. Now you’ve got to go into the unknown. You got to take the steps towards that. That’s where a lot of people stop and that’s where courage comes in. Start to move into the unknown and start to understand that all the people places, the resources, everything will come to us, if we take the steps into that.
When you talk about stepping into things, one of it is to change that sense of overwhelm. To me, it was interesting because my last book was on perception. Perception is a big part of what may be overwhelming to me, may seem perfectly reasonable to somebody else. To me, perception is a combination of IQ, EQ for Emotional Quotient, CQ for Curiosity Quotient, and CQ for Cultural Quotient of what builds us into what we are. How do you recognize that it’s your perception or that’s what’s causing our overwhelm? What advice do you give to get out of being overwhelmed?
I love that question because I believe that when we’re in overwhelm, we feel stressed, let’s call stress just a sense of pain, or there’s a challenge. There’s some tightness in us. The body and the mind start to contract, the breath gets a little faster when we’re in stress. When we’re in that place, we’re not thinking clearly, usually. That pain of stress is the opportunity to realize that there’s something off. That there’s something going on. Pain is a great motivator for all of us to change, but a lot of times people escape from pain. They move away from it.
If they are in a partnership relationship, something gets a little angry, they get anxious with a conversation, they move away from it, or they go out and have a drink, or go shopping. They’ll do some habit that takes them out of the pain but that’s the exact place we don’t want to go. We’ve got to feel the pain to make the change. If we feel it, we start to ask ourselves, “What is this pain talking to me about? What is it that I need to do now?” That’s the quest. When we can do that on a daily basis. Every day, I personally ask myself, “What’s working, what’s not working, and what can I change or improve today?”
What’s not working is usually those pain points. They’re the partner that doesn’t work for me, or the body that’s not feeling 100%, those types of things. That’s where I go and that’s where I encourage my clients to go to start looking at the point pain points, not as something to avoid or move past, but to move towards and start to talk to that pain and that pain will talk back. It’ll tell you what the next steps are. You may not want to take them but you will get an insight into what you need to do.
You bring up some instinctual things, too. They were so important. I love that line in a Star Trek movie, where Spock was thinking he was going to die or whatever, and he’s being afraid. The doctor said, “Our fear is what keeps us alive,” and it does from an instinctual thing. You don’t want to feel certain things because you’re trying to survive but you talk and write about some of the things that I find interesting in terms of what we have within and what we can tap into, and you talk about our inner genius. I’m curious about what you think of is our inner genius.
I believe we all have the inner genius, and I believe it’s past the intellect. I, in fact, have experienced that. As you were saying earlier, the intellect, we all have certain perceptions and certain beliefs that we have running our mind or certain habits that are running our lives, and we run on habit. If you have habits that aren’t working, then you have to go back down to the belief of what is that belief that I am not buying into that’s creating that habit.
From my point of view, the mind is over our willpower, the will is over our emotions and energy, the energy is over the actions, actions over results, and results are over destiny. It all starts at that level of mind. The mind is the cause of our bondage, the mind is the cause of our liberation. We started them at the mind. If you’re starting at that place, you’re starting to visualize what it is that you really want to have in your life. Sometimes what you don’t want to have is good too. Visualize what you want in your life and start to focus on that.
That’s the quest that a lot of people have to go through, at least I’ve had to go through. It’s learning how to use the mind to not only set up my goals, set up what I want but also be willing to have the courage to step into the tough times or challenges that it’s going to take to overcome some of those beliefs that I have within me. I don’t even know what they are a lot of times. We don’t know what they are, that’s keeping us stuck but we know that we’re stuck, so we have to go, “Here’s where I’m going to go and I’m willing to take that question no matter what and allow my mind to be able to go into places where you’re like, ‘Now I understand.’”Be comfortable with the unknown. Click To Tweet
I’ll give you an example. I grew up in a wonderful family. My dad was an LAPD for 48 years and concurrently was worked in the army as a police officer. The Central Intelligence Division of the army. He was a great guy, but he had grown up in the depression, in poverty. Bless his heart, he would loan me money, and then he would expect me to pay him back. That sounds good on the surface while you’re teaching your kid about finances. He was pretty lax about me paying him back and I was always in debt. I was always in debt, perhaps in debt for him for like twenty years. It taught me to be in debt. That’s what I got out of it. Somebody else would have maybe got something different, but that’s what I got.
I woke up one day consistently going, “I’m in debt. Why am I in debt? What’s going on here?” I had to go under the surface and realize, “This is where this started. This was the cause.” For me, when I know the cause, I have the cure. Here’s the cause, now I can go, “Okay, let me let this go. What’s a better belief that instills in the mind and starts to focus on?” Which I did. That’s how I use the mind and that’s how I teach my clients to use their minds. It’s to realize what’s not working and then to focus on the opposite. Sometimes we get to the understanding as I did of, where it came from. Sometimes we don’t, doesn’t matter, you can reprogram your mind for where you want to go, no matter where you are.
What you said was what inspired me to create the assessments. If you can’t figure out what’s stopping you, it’s hard to move forward. I try to quantify things by creating assessments because once I focus on what it is that is the problem, then I think most people need to recognize those things. Nobody goes to that step. They just go, “I need to be more of this,” but then they don’t know why they’re not more of that.
I love life coaching around that when I first learned life coaching. The first thing they did was they asked you, “On a scale of 1 to 10. How’s your health?” “On a scale of 1 to 10, how are your finances?” “On a scale of 1 to 10, how are your relationships?” We started with an evaluation. We all need to start with evaluating our lives. I love the fact that you do those assessments. That’s awesome.
It’s fun to learn to get into it when I was researching emotional intelligence for my dissertation because then I started to take some of these personality assessments, and I started to think about assessing in general. I thought, “This is really critical. If you want to get better, you have to assess where you are, to know where to go forward.” You say you want people to go forward. You encourage them to do what they love now, not later. How do you do that? Why is that important?
Let me tell you a quick story. I’m at a party, and I meet this fellow. He’s the ambassador to the United States to Indonesia. We get to talking about meditation. He tells me, “I meditate 1 or 2 hours a day.” At the time, I was meditating for maybe 30 minutes. I thought, “That’s incredible.” I said, “Tell me about your life.” He says, “I own several businesses. I’m the ambassador of the United States to Sri Lanka. I’m doing conferences all over.” I’m thinking to myself, “How does this guy get two hours of meditation time every day?” He says, “Let me introduce you to a friend of mine.” We’re talking about meditation and I’m wondering, “How does he do this?”
He brings me over to the friend and the friend is a business guy. This guy owns half the hotels in Southern India, and he owns banks, and he owns all kinds of stuff. The ambassador says, “Ask him how many hours he meditates a day.” I did and he says, “I meditate three hours a day, every single day.” Here’s this guy running ￼multi businesses and the light bulb went on for me. I thought, “Interesting.” This guy’s tapping into realms of consciousness that are much higher than what I am at the time. I can guarantee that and I didn’t have the techniques to go that deep. That was my goal. I thought, “Slow down to succeed.”
I’ve been trying to run and go as fast as I can, writing books and putting on seminars and webinars. “I’m going to reverse that. I’m going to start to slow down and see if I become more successful, more productive, have more balance in my life, have more productivity, and so forth.” What happened as a result of that, is I found time. It’s like my life expanded. I found time to start to train for triathletes, for triathlons. I ended up in 2017 going to the World Triathlon event in Penticton, British Columbia, where 3,500 athletes competed in the largest athletic event of its kind ever. I ended up getting top 10 in the world in my category. I got put on the cover of triathlon magazines.
How did all that happen? It happened because I slowed down. My business expanded exponentially. In fact, I started three businesses. Everything started to come out of this still point, this zero point, this point where every day, I thought I’m starting from that place. For me, it worked incredibly well. Maybe for others, if you’ve got a mind that’s firing on all 50 points every day, maybe it’s great but for me, I needed to slow down and I needed to focus. I played on the creative plane for many years. I’ve got so many ideas. I didn’t know which ones to take that would create success now, I do.
Did you ever watch Modern Family? Phil Dunphy would always say something funny like, “Smooth is slow, slow is fast,” or something about getting them out of the house during a fire drill scene. It’s what came to mind when you said that. He’s great. This has been fun to talk to you about your work, Ken and I think this book sounds amazing. A lot of people are going to want to find you or find your book. I was wondering if there’s a link or something you wanted to share for everyone?
You can go to CourageToChange.us to get the book and find out a little bit more about me.
I hope everybody takes some time to explore your site to reach out to you. This is so much fun. Thank you so much for being on the show, Ken.
Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
This is going to be a little bit different and I’m excited about it because I’m going to be talking about curiosity. I talk on a lot of other people’s shows about what I work on, but I want to talk to you about the value of building curiosity within your organization. I’m my guest on this episode. In addition to hosting this show, I am also the creator of the Curiosity Code Index. I wrote the book Cracking the Curiosity Code. I give a lot of presentations where I talk about the importance of improving curiosity and getting out of status quo thinking. It sometimes helps if I share a story that you might find fascinating.
A lot of organizations are held back by a culture that doesn’t embrace curiosity. They go along with the way things have always been. I like to talk about an experiment that I share on stage about a hidden camera experiment where they looked at how quickly people go along with the group. This woman went into a doctor’s office thinking she’s getting an eye exam, but not known to her, everybody in the waiting room wasn’t patients, they were actors. Every so often an experiment was going on where they would have a bell ring. Every time that bell would ring, all the actors around her, which she thought were patients, would stand up and sit down with no explanation.
After three times hearing the bell ring, and without knowing why she was doing it, the woman stood up and sat down conforming with the group. They thought, “This is interesting. She’s going along with what everybody else is doing. Let’s see what happens if we take everybody out of the room.” They call everybody back as if they were patients one at a time, eventually, she’s alone in the room. The bell rings and what does she do? She stood up and sat down. She doesn’t know why she’s doing it. She’s going along with what everybody else had done.
They thought, “This is fascinating. Let’s add some people to the room who are patients, see how she responds to the bell ringing, and see how they respond.” The bell goes off, she stands up and sits down. The gentleman next to her looks at her and says, “Why did you do that?” She said, “Everybody else was doing it. I thought I was supposed to.” The next time the bell rings, what do you think he does? He gets up and sits down with her.
Slowly but surely what was a random rule for one woman is now the social rule for everybody in that waiting room. It’s an internalized behavior that we call social learning. We see what other people do and we think, “That’s what I want to do because everybody else is doing it.” We reward ourselves because we don’t want to be excluded. It’s the part of how conformity can be comfortable, but going along with it, you get bad habits, you stunt growth, or you get the status quo thinking. That can be the downfall of organizations.
When we do things because they’ve always been done a certain way, we don’t progress. We don’t look for other ways to find solutions. I want to go beyond that. I want to know why we’re doing things. Why is it important? What are we trying to accomplish? That’s what I talk to companies about because they need to look at how and where are they modeling thought and fostering curiosity? What action plans do they have in place to avoid status quo thinking? Do they have all the answers? How can they take what they learn from different events and utilize that to make some changes?
It’s important because curiosity has been the foundation behind the Model T to self-driving cars. We know leaders believe they encourage curiosity and exploration but I’ve had Francesca Gino on the show. She’s done a lot of great research in this area. We know that most of the employees don’t feel rewarded for it if they explore their curiosity. If we want organizations to generate innovative ideas, we have to help them through leaders developing that desire to explore.
My job is to be curious. I ask questions and get information for a living. I do that through the show, teaching, speaking, and everything I do. It’s something I want to share with other people because it’s such a huge part of what makes companies successful. I look at curiosity as the spark that ignites the process that everybody’s trying to achieve. Think of it as baking a cake. If your goal is to bake a cake, you’ve got all these ingredients. You have eggs, milk, and flour, whatever it is you take to bake the cake and you mix it together, you put it in the pan, and you put it in the oven. What happens? If you didn’t turn on the oven, you get goo. Nothing happens.
That’s a huge problem that organizations are trying to get. Instead of cake, they’re trying to get productivity, we’re trying to make money. They know the ingredients. They know they want motivation, drive, engagement, creativity, communication, and all the soft skills, all that stuff. They’re mixing those ingredients, what they’re not doing is turning on the oven. In the oven, the spark is curiosity. If you don’t turn on the oven, no one gets cake. That’s what I’m trying to talk to companies about.
We know that kids are naturally curious. I love a picture from the San Francisco Museum of Art from Life magazine in 1963. They have these two little girls who are just adorable looking through this grate on the ground of the wall that they can see behind the air conditioning vent kind of thing. They’re supposed to be looking at all the artwork on the walls because it’s the San Francisco Museum of Art, but what do kids do? They want to see what’s behind the vent.
We were all that way. Three-year-olds ask their parents about 100 questions a day. At that age, you’re just curious. You want to find out how everything works. There’s some time that we eventually lose some of that. Think about it, when did you stop wanting to look behind the event? Did somebody actually say, “Stop that? Get up, you’re getting dirty. Don’t look behind there.” We get that. That’s what our parents do, you have to behave.
We’ve seen a big decline in curiosity and creativity. There are some great TED talks about the creativity aspect which ties in similarly to curiosity and what we see. It peaks around age five, and then it takes as soon as you go through school and about the age of 18 through 31, we’re seeing low levels. Sir Ken Robinson has a great talk about how we educate people out of our creativity and competencies. George Land also has a great talk about his work with NASA. He looked at kids, he followed them at age five and found that 98% of children were creative geniuses. By the time they were 31, only 2% were and it was a huge difference.
George Land says we have convergent and divergent thinking. He talks about it in terms of, we put on the gas and try to come up with all these great ideas, but at the same time, we over criticize them and we put on the brake. Anybody who drives a car knows if you put the brake on at the same time you put on the gas, you don’t go far. That’s what’s happening to our curiosity and our creativity. I thought, “This is interesting because curiosity can translate into serious business results.” CEOs get that, but a lot of them are not investing in the culture of curiosity.
Some of them are doing some amazing things. I want to talk about what the cost is of lost curiosity. There are so many aspects of what costs companies. We know that they’re losing $16.8 billion due to emotional intelligence if you asked the Consortium for EI or if you look at Gallup’s numbers, they’re losing $500 billion a year lost due to poor engagement. I’ve seen everything. Holmes has it at $37 billion, Epstein, much higher. It depends on where you look.
We’re talking 10s to 100s of billions for each of these issues, emotional intelligence, communication, and engagement. It’s a huge problem out there. Companies know that they’re losing money but they don’t recognize the value of curiosity. When we would talk about curiosity, there’s a big innovation factor because we want to be more innovative, but we’re worried about job loss. We’re worried about jobs being automated, but we know that we’re not innovative, the majority of the Fortune 500 companies from 1995 are gone.
No one wants to be Kodak. Nobody wants to be Blockbuster. We know that Netflix ate Blockbuster’s lunch. A lot of the reason those companies are not here is because they looked at things from the status quo way that they’ve always done things. They didn’t want to cannibalize their product or whatever that they had the success they had. If you do that, the world keeps moving and you get stuck. That’s a huge problem.
It was interesting to me to study curiosity. There’s a lot of research on curiosity but they’re not the great statistics I’d like to see. There’s a State of Curiosity Report that Merck did in 2018 and it showed that curiosity was higher in larger companies than smaller ones. It was 37% versus 20%. Millennials were more curious than Gen Z and Boomers. The US had a higher level of curiosity compared to China, but maybe they weren’t as high as Germany. That’s one report. I’d like to see a lot more research done.
It’s fun to look at what experts have shared regarding the value of curiosity. Francesca Gino did a great job with an HBR article she wrote. I loved having her on the show. I hope you check out that show because it’s amazing. In that report, she talked about leaders recognizing curiosity is important and they think that they’re encouraging it, but we found that most of the employees don’t believe that. Only 24% feel like they’re curious about their jobs and 70% said they face barriers to staying curious and asking questions.
She’s done some great research, if you get a chance, I would recommend reading that show and also check out that HBR article. I’ve had Daniel Goleman on the show, he was incredible. He talked about how emotional intelligence ties in. He was cute because he said he couldn’t see why I developed a measure of curiosity because I’m curious. He was talking about an article in HBR as well by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz saying that curiosity is one of the most important competencies in the future. That’s a huge plug for curiosity coming from Daniel Goleman. He was talking about younger generations have questioned organizational missions more than older generations. We got into a great discussion about that. I hope you take some time to read to that show.
Another great episode in the show was with Amy Edmondson, who has an incredible TED Talk. She gets into curiosity and how it ties into collaboration. She does a TED talk about teams and teaming. She gets into how the Chilean miner disaster was able to be resolved because a lot of it was because of curiosity. She says you got to look at what are you trying to get done, your goal, what’s in your way, your concerns, your worries, your barriers, and stuff like that. What resources, talents, skills, and experience do you bring? She talks about how they did all that to get those Chilean miners out from under that rock. Definitely worth watching her TED Talk. All of them have TED Talks that are amazing.
A great guest as well on the show was Doug Conant, who is the guy who turned around Campbell’s Soup. He did that by asking questions. He asked employees what motivated them. He then looked at how to build engagement by writing 10 to 20 personal notes six days a week. He counted at 30,000 plus, which is huge. When he took over in 2002, they had 12% engagement. By 2009, they were up to 68%. He did some amazing things by asking questions, writing comments, and giving input. All that stuff comes out of curiosity.
Another great guest of the show was Zander Lurie, who’s the CEO of Survey Monkey. They’re so much into curiosity, they got permission to change their street address to 1 Curiosity Way. I love that. I was asking him some of the things that they do because they have a culture of curiosity there. They asked how can we make our products more productive for our customers? How can we create an environment where people do their best work? He says they do skip-level meetings so that they can find out what works and what doesn’t.
Those are just some examples of people who are on the show. There are other examples that are fascinating, Monopoly, Ben & Jerry’s, VanMoof Bicycles, I’ve looked at some of those companies to see how they use curiosity to go a step further. Monopoly did some research. They always come out with the dog’s version or cat’s version, and they didn’t want to come out with another version. They decided to come out with some research to find out what people did with Monopoly and what they can learn about it. They found out that a lot of people cheat. Over half the people cheat when they play Monopoly, so they came out with the cheater’s edition. That was their second-biggest release since the initial release of Monopoly. It was a cool thing.
Ben & Jerry’s has got some interesting information. What they do in terms of not getting into status quo thinking, they don’t just keep flavors around forever. They do research to find out what’s working. They ask questions. What’s a good flavor? What’s no longer a good flavor? Instead of freaking out that their flavors are no longer successful, they celebrate them and give them a burial. I love that. They even have a headstone or whatever on their website where they show this flavor was live from this year to this year. They celebrate their success and then they move on.
A story that’s interesting is VanMoof. They make these bikes and they would send them in packages in the mail or through UPS or whatever. A lot of them were ending up broken. They kept trying to fix these bikes, but this issue was with the packaging. They didn’t want to spend a lot more money because if you make the package twice the size, you get a lot more expensive. They’re trying to figure out how to do this to make their bikes not break and yet not go over on the spending.
What they’ve looked at was the type of box they were using. They noticed it was similar to a flat screen television box. They looked into how many flat screens broke and they weren’t breaking. The only real difference was the flat screens had a picture of a flat screen on the box. They thought, “Let’s draw a picture of a flat screen. A little bit of extra ink and see what happens.“ It was a dramatic difference in the amount of damaged bicycles. Thinking outside the box.
Sometimes it’s just asking questions. Disney did a lot of that. They did some great questioning to find out what was happening with their turnover. The laundry division of Disney, as glamorous as it sounds, it’s not. They were losing a lot of people that didn’t love working there. They couldn’t figure out why so they put out a questionnaire to their employees, and said, “How can we make your job better?” They didn’t expect to get things back that they could do anything about, but they did. They got back great things. They got back things like put an air vent over my workspace or make my table adjustable for when I’m folding things, it works for my height. Those are things like, “We can fix that,” and they did. Going to the horse’s mouth, the employee, and say, “How can we make this better,” was huge for them.
Sometimes it’s not just employees, sometimes it’s leaders. In the book, Cracking the Curiosity Code, I gave a story about Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. They were having a lot of patients that were dying when they were being transferred from one unit to the other. Some physicians were watching a Formula 1 racecar event one night and were impressed by how quickly that Formula 1 pit crew would take the car apart and put it back together in seven seconds. They’re looking at this going, “They did that with no problems, and we can’t transfer people from here to here.”
“Why don’t we have these guys come in, this Ferrari team, and they can show us any improvements that we could make?” They did get some great ideas which reduce their errors by more than 50%. We think inside of our cubicle, our silos but sometimes we need to think outside even of our industry because that can be important. Some of the greatest ideas are from that. I gave you some examples but we know we came up with Velcro from a Swiss engineer hunting with his dog and came back with burrs in his fur.
He’s like, “What are these things? Why are they sticking?” What he did was he stuck it under the light to look at it and he saw the way it hooked together. “Why don’t we try this?” In 1998, they made something like $93 million in Velcro and it was sold in 40 countries. It did amazingly well. You have to build a culture of learning. To do that, it’s important to look at some companies that do a great job of it. A top company I work with that does that is Novartis.
Novartis does a great job because they have curiosity as part of their core cultural value. They actually encourage employees to spend 100 hours a year on employer-paid education to broaden their interests. They do everything from paying for them to watch videos to having them perform in mini Ted events and having employees be the actual speakers, things like that. It’s cool how much they do this. They have the whole month of September as their curiosity month. I’m one of the speakers for them. I know how much time and effort they put into this.
If you look at how much everybody talks about how they liked working at the company, 90% of employees surveyed approved the CEO. Think about how often you see that. That’s a huge thing. I know they’re doing some ongoing research with curiosity with me. I’m excited for that. They have one of their employees writing her doctoral dissertation. We’re looking at the curiosity and how it compares to if you intervene and give them some information about things that are holding them back.
I’m anxious to share that information when it comes out because I did a lot of research for a lot of my talks and for my book, Cracking the Curiosity Code. I looked at so much that’s out there. There are some great TED Talks from Daniel Pink, who wrote Drive. A lot of great books. Simon Sinek’s Find Your Why and all the stuff that he’s talking about. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. All those are huge. I started to look at what this is, this curiosity thing.
The Max Planck Institute coined the term curiosity gene because it’s in people, it’s in animals. It creates dopamine, it makes us feel good. If you’re a bird and you’re just flying around a bush and you run out of berries, you’re going to die if you don’t have curiosity to look at another bush. As I was researching for the book, I wanted to write about curiosity, but I’m like, “Where’s the assessment that tells you what stops it?” I’m like, “There isn’t one.” That surprised me because the assessments told you if you’re curious or not. That’s all well and good because you do want to know if somebody is highly curious or not.
Big Five Factors will tell you if you’re open to experience and things like that, but I want to know what stops it. Nobody had studied that, so I did. I wanted to know what holds us back. I found out what it is. It’s FATE. It stands for Fear, Assumptions, Technology, and Environment. I want to talk about these separately because fear is about failure. Fear of embarrassment, loss of control. Nobody wants to feel like they said something stupid in a meeting. We all want to feel like we’re all prepared. We’re all in the meeting and we’re thinking, “I want to ask that but I don’t want to look dumb.” You lean to Joe next to you and go, “Joe, why don’t you ask?” It’s better for Joe to look dumb, you don’t want to look dumb.
That’s a huge problem in companies. You get a lot of yes men and yes women because nobody wants to shake up things or look like they are trying to confront their leaders. Leaders who haven’t modeled the value of curiosity will come across that way. I’ve had leaders look at me and say things. I had one guy and he asked me to do something. I said, “Sure, I’d be happy to do it. I’ve never had to, but how do I do that?” He looked at me with disgust and said, “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.”Get curious and stay focused! Click To Tweet
What does that make you feel? First of all, it tells you you’re an idiot. It tells you that you should know this. You should lie and pretend you know things. I don’t know. We get a lot of leaders who will say don’t come to me with problems unless you have solutions. That sounded good at the beginning because it sounded like we were going to get rid of these whiners and complainers who didn’t have any ideas, but a lot of people don’t know how to solve the problem. If we say that, then we’re saying we don’t want to know about problems. That’s a huge issue.
The assumptions that we make, that’s that voice in our head that tells us we’re not going to be interested or apathetic, it’s unnecessary. The last time I did that, they gave me more work, whatever it is. We all have that voice that talks us out of stuff. Sometimes I’ll hold up a bottle of water at a talk that I’m giving and I’ll ask, “How heavy is this?” They’ll say, “Six ounces,” “Eight ounces,” or whatever. I’ll say, “It doesn’t matter. What matters is how long I hold it.”
If I hold it for a minute, it doesn’t bother me, my arms fine. If I hold it for an hour, I start to get tired, my arm gets tired. After a day, my arm feels paralyzed. That’s how our assumptions are. The voice in our head, if it’s a fleeting thought, then no big deal. We get past it. After an hour, we might hold on to a little more. After a day, it starts to stay with us. We have to recognize that we might be telling ourselves all these things we could maybe be interested in or maybe somebody would help us learn but we talk ourselves out of them. Assumptions are a big thing.
What I found interesting was technology was also a big factor. Curiosity is impacted by the over and underutilization of technology. It could either do it for you, you’re not trained in it, or you’re overwhelmed by it. Some people had great experiences in their childhood where they had a lot of foundational learning in technology. Steve Wozniak is one. I loved his book, iWoz. He talks about his dad telling him how to connect gadgets. He would come back with all these wires and get things from work and show them how the electronics should be connected. Why this wire was necessary and how it brought electricity.
A lot of us don’t have that experience. A lot of us might be the greatest mathematicians in the world, but if somebody just threw us a calculator or Siri did it for you, you’re not ever going to have the foundation behind it. There’s got to be times where we have high foundation days where we build without technology and we learn behind it. There’s then got to be days where we take advantage of it and learn how can we use it and not become overwhelmed by it.
The environment is a big one for a lot of people because it’s everybody from your teachers, family, friends, social media, leaders, peers, past leaders, to current leaders. Everybody you’ve ever worked with. We know that curiosity can be influenced by everybody we’re around. The numbers I gave about how it peaks at age five of curiosity and then it tanks after that, a lot of that could be going into school. The teachers don’t have time because they’re teaching to the test. You got so many students in class and you can’t answer why all the time.
Our siblings can be brutal. If you do something that they don’t think is cool then you can take the wrath from that. It’s challenging to look at what has impacted us. That’s one of the reasons why my research was so interesting to me. I looked at these four factors of fear, assumptions, technology, and environment, FATE, and those were the inhibitors for the Curiosity Code Index. They were evenly matched. Assumptions and Environment were higher than technology, maybe, but then you can have an overlap.
You could have fear from technology, for example. It was fascinating to do the research. I studied thousands of people for years to see what inhibited them. I started out by putting a thread in LinkedIn and asking people. I got interested in that. I then hired people to do all these factor analyses. I ended up doing my own research because a lot of the research kept coming back in the same fashion of just trying to find out if you’re curious or not.
I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to find out what inhibits us. It was interesting to look at the difference between men and women. Men were less impacted by fear than women, but they were more impacted by that voice in their heads. They were equal to women in technology, but then maybe more impacted by their environment. These results are what I’ve seen, and I’d like to see more research done. It is interesting to take a look at how these different factors impact us.
What I do is train people. First of all, they take the Curiosity Code Index. I either go do the training at companies myself, I train consultants to give it, or I train HR professionals to give it. If those people get certified, they get five hours of SHRM recertification credit. There’s a lot of different versions of training that I offer. What’s interesting is when the employees are training about this, they get to find out the results from the CCI, and then they get to learn that it’s just like taking a Myers-Briggs, a DISC, or something. It takes ten minutes. You get the big report back in PDF within a few minutes of taking it. It’s simple.
They get to get their results, and then they go through this personal SWOT analysis, which is cool because they look at ways to create SMART goals, measurable goals and those kinds of things to overcome some of these areas that are inhibiting them. Not only do they do that, but we also do a similar thing for the corporation as a whole like how they did at Disney. You go to the horse’s mouth. You go to the employees and say, “How can we fix these things within the company? How can we help you become more curious?”
If there are issues with innovation, engagement, or whatever the company issues are, the training classes are a great starting place to go to the employees and say, “How can we make you more curious so we can have this end product?” “How can we get cake?” You find out and the trainers go back to leaders with this great report. “This is what employees would like to do to help them improve so that we can all improve and make more money.”
It’s important for the future of companies that people have to try it, explore it, poke at it, and question it. It’s a huge thing that you need to ask yourself about, how can I be vulnerable and allow this culture of learning? Maybe I don’t have all the answers. Think about what are you doing to foster curiosity? What action plans do you have? How do you do this in this tumultuous time? Thinking about this, it’s challenging for a lot of people.
I have created a free course. A lot of people can get a lot of value out of it if you’re interested in taking it. If you go to DrDianeHamilton.com and scroll down to the bottom, it offers a free course. If you sign up it, it’s a simple thing, they send it right to you. You can learn a lot more about curiosity and the factors. See a lot of videos from some of the talks I’ve given. Some of the stuff I’ve talked about here is in there. A lot of the chapters from the book are in there. It’s a good foundational way to learn more about curiosity. I wanted to give you that information and I hope you check out DrDianeHamilton.com and CuriosityCode.com.
I’d like to thank Ken for being my guest. We get so many great guests on the show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com, and you can find everything on the site. If you want to read the show instead of listen to it, it’s transcribed on the blog. Take some time to explore that. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.
- The Courage to Change Everything
- Voices of Courage
- Daniel Goleman – Previous episode
- Cracking the Curiosity Code
- Francesca Gino – Previous episode
- Sir Ken Robinson
- HBR article – The Business Case for Curiosity
- Amy Edmondson – Previous episode
- TED Talk – Building a psychologically safe workplace by Amy Edmondson
- Doug Conant – Previous episode
- Zander Lurie – Previous episode
- Find Your Why
About Ken D. Foster
Ken D. Foster is a keynote speaker, business strategist, and syndicated radio host of the “Voices of Courage” show, heard in more than 170 countries. The best-selling author of seven books, he has been featured in hundreds of radio shows, webinars, and TV networks, as well as on the cover of Triathlon Magazine and many other publications. His most recent book is The Courage to Change Everything.
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