Curiosity drives innovation and in this world of digital transformation and ever-increasing complexity, you either innovate or stagnate as an organization. For this reason, Dr. Diane Hamilton’s guests in this episode embarked on an amazing collaboration that led to The Curious Advantage, a book that explores the increasing importance of curiosity for thriving in the digital age. Co-authors Simon Brown, CLO at Novartis, and Garrick Jones and Paul Ashcroft, co-founders and partners at Ludic, tell the story of how their passion for learning and curiosity in their respective organizations led them to embark on this partnership. Simon, Garrick and Paul also host The Curious Advantage Podcast, where they explore the same themes they have in the book. In this episode, they unravel the different aspects of curiosity in corporate organizations and talk about the 7Cs, investing in learning and creating a culture of curiosity.
I’m glad you joined us because we have Simon Brown, Garrick Jones, and Paul Ashcroft. They are all the coauthors of The Curious Advantage. Are you curious?
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The Power Trio Behind The Curious Advantage With Simon Brown Of Novartis, Garrick Jones, And Paul Ashcroft Of Ludic
I am here with Simon Brown, who is the Chief Learning Officer at Novartis. Garrick Jones and Paul Ashcroft, who are the Cofounders and Partners at Ludic. They are all coauthors of The Curious Advantage. They also have The Curious Advantage Podcast. It’s nice to have you all here.
Thank you, Diane.
I’ve worked with Simon at Novartis and all the work you’re doing with curiosity is definitely something I want to talk about since that’s my passion. I want to go through a little bit of your background on each of you first so people have an idea of what got you interested in curiosity and what you do for a living. I’m going to start with Simon. Tell me about what you do, why you’re interested in curiosity, and what you’re doing at Novartis?
I’m the Chief Learning Officer at Novartis. I have been here for many years. My background is in learning in various different guises with lots of different companies, either in-house or on the consulting side or on the supply side with the learning company that founded many years ago. I’m learning through and through. The link with curiosity was many years ago within Novartis, curiosity became part of our culture. That prompted us to focus beyond learning more broadly into curiosity and that then led to the book as well.
I want to get a background on you, Paul. Can you tell me about what you did before this?
I’m with Garrick. I’m one of the Cofounders of a company called the Ludic Group. We are working with companies all around the world helping them make a shift to digital. Whether that’s implementing their strategy or improving their learning. One of the companies we’re working with is Novartis with Simon and we’ve become more curious about curiosity, how people learn and how they use curiosity in the way they shift their organizations. That’s something that we’ve been drawn to for quite a few years.
Paul and I were working for a number of years on decision-making. We’d been very involved in state-of-the-art decision-making environments and collaborative decision-making for many years. We spoke many years ago, about what would it take to stop flying people all over the world to do this? We were bringing 150 people at that time. We thought this is not a sustainable business model and it costs a lot of money. We said, “Is it possible to achieve the same quality of results that we get by bringing people together online?” That started a journey for us and many years down the line, they say, “You might be an overnight success,” but we’ve worked with them for a long-time. We’ve cracked about 85% of that. A very large part of decision-making is being open, scanning, and researching widely so that you can focus on new ideas and innovative stimulus. That of led us into curiosity and what does it enable us to do?
I have a lot of people who always ask me how do I define curiosity and why is it important. When I first started talking about it, I was thinking about it. I want people to explore and to learn. To me, it goes far beyond that and getting out of status-quo thinking, getting out of just the same old things, and not thinking in any new ways. That’s where companies need it the most. Novartis does a lot with learning, as Simon had said. I want you to talk about the 100 hours, what you do with your little mini TED Talks and all the stuff that you do because people need to know what major companies are doing.
We made the decision to go big on learning and focus on how we can offer the best learning and development opportunities for all Novartis associates. We did that for two reasons. One, was to attract and retain the best talent which we need to be able to discover the medicines that will impact patients all around the world and to deliver against the strategy that we have. We need new capabilities, we need new skills and those skills are constantly changing, and therefore we need to get greater learning. At the beginning of 2019, we went to the executive committee and made the case for why we wanted to go big on learning that unlocked significant investment, which has allowed us to offer new learning opportunities. What we also asked for was the time for people to be able to learn. We quantified that as 5% of people’s time or 100 hours a year for people to be able to spend on their own learning.
We did that not because 100 hours is a scientific exact but that’s the ultimate amount of time. We wanted to use that as a signal and a symbol from the company that we wanted people to spend time learning. That’s because the feedback we’ve been getting from people was, “I don’t have time to learn,” or “My managers don’t support me in my learning,” and “I don’t have time to translate as there are more things that are a higher priority that fills up my time and learning is too far down the priority list that I don’t find time for it.” We set this aspiration of 5% of the time and if you encouraged and giving people the space to be able to invest in their own learning. We talk about learning very broadly. It might be learning from a colleague, reading an article, or listen to a podcast and as well as all of the formal structured learning. That then drives curiosity which helps us in delivering what the business needs.
It’s important to open up avenues for people. A lot of people don’t have that in their work, having people support them in learning new things. Sometimes everything’s tunnel vision. You’d worry about silos and about not getting outside your cubicle or even your company. I talked about on your show that some of the case studies that I’ve seen with the hospitals in London, going into race car teams to get and help them think outside the box. You guys are doing a lot of important things with your podcast and the book together, combining them to get the message out. What led to your interest, Paul, with this podcast? Is it strictly focused on curiosity? What are you hoping to achieve with it?
With the podcast, like the book is an exploration of what is curiosity and how is curiosity being used by different people around the world in different contexts. We’ve been speaking with scientists, with social entrepreneurs, sportspeople, artists, and a whole range of people. It’s amazing to not just learn from them, how they’re applying curiosity, but how it’s fundamental universally to anybody who is successful in pushing the boundaries, going that little bit further and learning was they’re doing in their role in their work.
Garrick, I’m curious about the shows that you’ve done. What stood out to you as the most inspirational thing that companies or individuals have done, or is there something from your show that you think everybody needs to know that you’ve learned?
There are three things that come to mind. One is Josh Bersin and Learning in the Flow of Work and how can we set up an infrastructure so that learning is flowing into every second that we do things and assisting us. On the business side, Gordon Fuller from IBM is wonderful to talk to because they have set up the AI and the technical infrastructure that allows them to create a curious environment in which everybody in their organization is learning, but also facilitating curiosity, it’s going broad and wide. They are doing that with technology and there are loads to learn there. One of the standout ones is the musician Jacob Collier’s mother.
Jacob is this young, amazing guy who’s had this YouTube phenomenon. He got picked up by Quincy Jones. He’s an astonishing young musician that came through the digital world. He was talking about how his mother and when he was a child would ask him what he felt a particular tone was and he’s got a perfect pitch in that. I thought, “I want to talk with Jacob’s mother.” We had her on the show. She’s a musician too, a violinist with the Royal Academy of Music and one of the orchestras. Here is an inspiring person who knows how to get the best out of young people and the way she talks about being sensitive to the environment and about language and how that can enable curiosity and a sense of wonder, which is one of our definitions.
I have to also mention my other favorite is investigative journalism because we spoke with these amazing investigative journalists who’d done hardcore work on some of the big stories that we know about all of us globally. They live in the world of curiosity, but they also have to deal with things like ethics, getting emotionally involved with stuff, and remaining critically distant from the people they’re working with and the things they’re learning so that they can evaluate and be able to report. They have wonderful skillsets that they know as an everyday part of their practice.
You bring up the environment and we’ve talked about my research, finding what keeps people from being curious or can help you be curious. The environment is a big part of it. It was fear, assumptions, technology, and environment are the factors that keep people from being curious. My mom likes to often say that she taught me to read when I was two. She showed me flashcards, like elephant baby and she said in anything that I’ve done, “I taught you to read when you were two.” You don’t know how much of that had an impact on what happens with you.
What interests me is that the stories and the research behind this, and when I started to write my book, which is very similar in content of some of the things you were researching, I was stunned by how few studies there were on the impact of curiosity on innovation, the impact of curiosity on productivity, all the things that ROI, that Simon’s reporting, “This is doing to this CEO.” You’ve got to go, “Look at what we’re doing.” Did you find that challenging, Simon, trying to find how to prove that this was going to help your company?
It was a balance between trying to find what’s out there. There’s this research that looks at the link between curiosity and innovation, but it’s when you get into it fairly small samples and things that they look at. There’s also an element of where can we look at this ourselves and using our own experience within Novartis as well to make some of these linkages. One of our associates is doing some deep research that you’re involved with as well. To look at the link of curiosity through, onto the performance.
We’re looking at how do you measure curiosity as well within a large organization? What are the metrics? Some of them are fairly easy learning hours. We want to try and get deeper into it and much more sophisticated into it to then be able to correlate it through to performance. We have early signs that we’re able to do there through our own research internally, but it’s going to be one over the next few years to spend more time on and to get more data, to be able to prove that correlation.
There’s no researching out there going on that I’d like to see to the depth that we like to say. I was impressed that Novartis is backing what you’re trying to do. It’s a huge deal. I work with a lot of other companies. Verizon does a lot of things and I know I’ve connected you with people with them. I’ve interviewed Zander Lurie. He is the Head of SurveyMonkey. They take curiosity seriously. They named their street One Curiosity Way. You guys all got together because you found this important. What was your focus on writing the book? I know you came up with the 7C’s and all that. I want to go with Paul on this one. It’s interesting to go through your book to compare it to my book because you talked about the importance of curiosity and about a lot of the things that I write about, but I don’t have the 7C’s and that’s a completely new concept.
In our work, we were particularly interested in the how. We do talk about what is curiosity and why are people not curious when they were as children. You said innovation as a process has been well-defined. Productivity can be defined as a process. If you ask people, “Are you curious?” They go, “I consider myself curious or not.” If you ask them, “How are you curious, and do you have any idea about how to get better at being curious?” Most people have no idea. That’s what we were looking to explore. It’s not a process but is there some kind of map or way that you can guide yourself to become more effective or more successful or be curious, and that was the heart of the 7C’s.
We have a lot of fun coming up with the 7C’s. There was a lot of research that we went very broad and we wanted to be multidimensional. We wanted to look to many different disciplines about curiosity, and what it is doing. Neuroscience, behaviorism, anthropology, and history. We wanted to look at it from the perspective of the individual, but of course, the individual lives within an organization and the individual lives within a cultural society. Those clusters emerged and then our research emerged, and we used a very fuzzy logic approach to our research and to the way that we were writing the book.
We clustered a lot of our research and what happened came out of the clustering was our main chapters, as we went through the, “What is curiosity? How do you do it? How do you make it as pragmatic as possible?” Suddenly, we discovered we had seven clusters, at least five of which began with the letter C, and then we played the game, “Let’s see if we can get them all to begin with the letter C.” We came up with the 7C’s and the best of four suggested itself to us, which is wonderful because curiosity for us is not only about just wondering, it’s about having an attitude of wonder, but also a spirit of exploration and explorative metaphor of sailing. The 7C’s came to us after we’d gone through all of this in a fun way.
We need to say the 7C’s in order because everybody’s going, “What are they again?” I have context, community, curation, creativity, construction, criticality and confidence. Where they all equal in your mind and is there an order to it? Where does that fall?
There’s certainly a sequence. If you follow them through and we explained in the book, how you start around understanding your context, you reach out to the community that can help you on that journey. You then end up with a lot of information so you need to curate that down. You then need to apply creativity into that, to come up with your ideas, but creativity in itself of, “I wonder if isn’t enough, you need to put it into action.” That’s where construction comes in. That mix of creativity and construction is what we call the curiosity engine. That’s right at the heart of what we do. You put it into actions, reconstruction, you experiment, you try things out, you then need to apply criticality of what worked, “What biases did I bring and what was the result of this?”
All of that drives through to build your own confidence. There’s a lot of research that linked curiosity straight to confidence. Confidence is at the last one, but it’s arguably also the first one because you need the confidence at the beginning to be able to ask the questions and start off with the curiosity. You end up with a virtuous cycle that by being curious, it aids your confidence, builds your confidence, which allows you to be more curious, be more creative in the solutions and try out more things. It fits together as a flow, but there are elements within there that fit together in the curiosity engine or the start and the end giving you that loop.
Fear had the same thing. You can fear it, but then it makes it better. It’s a circle and everything can co-exist. It’s probably the most interesting thing I ever studied because I studied emotional intelligence for my doctoral dissertation. I started to look at how emotional intelligence tied in and I talked to all these experts on my show. It didn’t matter who I talked to, whether they were creativity experts or emotional intelligence experts, you ask them what comes first. They all say curiosity comes first before motivation, before drive, before innovation, before anything. I often liken it to baking a cake. You’re mixing the ingredients, put it in the oven, hope for a cake, but if you don’t turn the oven, you don’t get cake. In the workplace, we fix the ingredients.If you allow people to invest in their own learning, it drives curiosity in them, which helps us in delivering what the business needs. Click To Tweet
We hope for productivity and money but no one’s turning on the oven with this issue of not exploring curiosity. How do you look at this beyond saying that you need to learn, to study, to research, to look outside of your realm and whatever it is that’s going to develop? How do you get people beyond the status quo, doing things the way they always did? That’s what we need to talk about with curiosity. How do we deal with this in this new digital reality? I will give you that thought. We’re talking about what’s this new digital reality and you referenced this in your book. How are we going to develop curiosity, get out of the status quo, thinking in this new digital reality and what do you consider a new digital reality?
We have a world that’s so full of the information that we’re connected to everybody and anything that you could possibly want to find out. In one way, the world’s your oyster. You can be as curious as you like, and as fast as you like. On the other hand, what to do with all that information? How to create and bring it into focus so you can do something useful with it? Curiosity is rolled in all that. It is helping you navigate through. You’re not a toolbox. It’s a skill that we can all develop, like a muscle that you work out in the gym and get fitter at or stronger with as you get better at being curious. If you know this works and this doesn’t work, you try something else. You then can explore all of that information. All of those connections in a more effective way, because the other thing digital is doing is changing roles and companies. If we don’t keep being curious, then we run the risk of making ourselves redundant or not keeping up with where organizations are going.
If we go back many years, there was a recognized best way of doing things. Particularly, as we go back to the industrial age, there were processes and machines and production lines. You wanted people who came in and they did something over again. Whereas in the digital world and it is also in the Corona world where we see ourselves in now, it’s completely unknown. There’s so much opportunity and different ways and things can go. Therefore, if you have curiosity within your people, your organization, you’re constantly questioning, “What’s the better way of doing this. What if we try this? What if we do this?” That helps to navigate through this uncertainty, ambiguity, and the million possible options that you could try. That’s why we’re seeing such an interest in curiosity because if you have that as a skill, you can navigate whatever is happening around you because you’re constantly testing, questioning, and exploring as to where to go next.
The other change is that we were often taught that it was the boss who had the answer and everybody would try to please the boss. You had this pyramid of command and control and that’s being turned completely on its head in as much as everybody is connected in this cloud of relationships. That idea that all the information is at the top and then that trickles down no longer holds true at all. As Simon was saying, with all the different scenarios and the different outcomes that could possibly answer a particular challenge, you have to explore together. The role of the boss in this new connected cloud of relationships is to facilitate, guide, and to nudge, but not to provide necessarily the answer because the answer can be found within all of us.
We talk about how to develop it and how to encourage it. My research was on how to discover what’s stopping it. It’s hard to go forward without knowing what is inhibiting you. How do you make this be about more than, “I’m going to reward you for learning. Here are your 100 hours and I’m going to mark off my box I’ve read this week?” How do you get it to the next level? How do you get it to, “We know that we embrace curiosity in this company, but what I was trying to do is get to the next level and say, ‘This is why you’re not interested in reading or only checking off the box because you only are focusing on what you already like or what you already want to study?’” How do you get them to be a more broadly embracing person? People don’t know what they don’t know or what they might not like. Simon, you’re doing a lot with Novartis. Do you talk about making it be about how it ties into innovation and not just about checking off the box to learn 100 hours?
The 100 piece is a step on the journey towards a curious culture. It is one of many aspects that will move towards a curious culture. The goal is a culture where people can be truly curious that they can experiment, asking questions, and exploring. That’s where we’re trying to get to and that involves many differences. One of the big influences on Garrick’s point is the role of managers or leaders to create that culture. That’s where then psychological safety comes in, setting the right environment, making it okay where people can experiment and fail. That’s an acceptable part of it. We did some research where we looked at the differences in engagement across many dimensions. One of which was learning and curiosity for people who had a manager that they saw as favorable and a manager that they saw as unfavorable.
What we saw between an average manager and a favorable manager, there was only a three-point increase around engagement. When we looked at specifically, at curiosity, we saw the difference between a favorable manager and an unfavorable manager was 22 points around curiosity. It was the biggest difference of anything. If I have a manager that I consider as favorable, I feel I can be curious, can experiment, can try things, can fail and I’m okay with that. As soon as I have a manager who’s unfavorable, it stops me from asking questions, from sharing ideas, from trying things out and it’s those things that drive innovation. Part of creating that culture of curiosity is making sure managers and leaders are creating the safety and the space that people can feel that they can question, explore, and try things out.
We’ve been talking to some companies through the podcast like IBM and others who actively reward people who try and fail. At the end of a project, they’ll celebrate the successes of that project, but they’ll pick out the people or the things that were tried, that didn’t work out and they will applaud to celebrate and reward as much those failures as they did the success. Executives are saying, “The manager provides the support, but it’s putting your money where your mouth is and rewarding people for taking that chance, the risk, and getting it wrong.”
We know the Google’s of the world and all these companies get a lot of attention for having a certain amount of time for pet projects. What you are talking about celebrating reminds me of Ben & Jerry’s situation where they would have a successful flavor, but it was no longer successful. “Instead of doing the status quo, let’s try and shove this flavor down to everybody’s throat.” We say, “It’s no longer a good thing.” We celebrate it on our website. We give it a gravestone, a burial and we say, “This no longer works. We move on.” I don’t know how much speaking all of you do. I know Simon has to do quite a bit and I know that it’s hard.
When you get in front of a group, they want to hear hard and fast stories of companies like IBM, Google, SurveyMonkey, or Verizon. They want to hear that you are doing these certain visions of merch and whatever. All do this stuff. Francesca Gino’s HBR article was huge for the fact that it’s a business case for curiosity. She gets some data there that everybody out there thinks that they’re encouraging curiosity, all these leaders are thinking, “I do that.” When you ask their employees, they go, “They don’t do that.” What do you say to the leaders out there who think that they’re developing a culture of curiosity?
How can you recognize if you’re are or if you’re not? Do you have any case studies or company studies other than IBM and some of the ones we’ve already talked about that was part of what you studied for your book that you think, “I could give you some with monopoly and other things where they researched and found out 50% of people cheated on a game of monopoly?” They came out with cheater’s edition and their curiosity made them come up with this great idea. It was the second-best launch of all their products since the initial launch of the monopoly. Have you had these great stories of companies and success that we could share with other leaders to show them that, “Maybe you’re not doing enough?”
I can certainly give you some thoughts within Novartis and maybe others can think of some examples elsewhere. We were looking at it from, “How do we measure the perception of curiosity to know that article that you referenced? Is it real or is it our perception of it?” We measured it through a question in our quarterly engagement survey where we ask people, “Do they have opportunities to learn and to grow?” There’s also another question in there around the ability to speak up, which also drives that. For the learn and grow one, we were behind the benchmark. We had a score of 68 versus the industry benchmark of 70. We saw that increase in early 2020 where we pass benchmarks at 72 and we reached 74. That was a significant swing around people’s own perceptions, 70,000 people responding to show that that increased.
We also see this question around the ability to speak up or feeling comfortable to speak up. We still have half a way to go. That’s one of the things that we need to be working on is to do that, but that’s giving us an indication that we are seeing that swing and it is real. It’s across 75,000 people out of 108,000 people that is not a view that we think it’s changing, but it’s different on the ground. We also need to recognize that it differs across the organization as well. There are pockets where it’s high. There are also pockets where it’s lower and as part of creating a consistent culture, is to be able to get to the point where that’s consistent everywhere. There’s still work that we need to do.
If you’re looking for cases, they keep piling up. For example, Microsoft, that’s a very good case. We know the curiosity is specifically on the agenda. It specifically helped turn the perception of that brand around as well, the experience of the employees in it. The other good examples are there’s a bank called Bankinter. It is a Spanish bank that regularly wins the most individual bank in Europe. There’s a Think Tank, not just as part of their foundation, but every six months Think Tank has the world’s best people, 40 of them focused on a particular topic, whether it’s a technology topic like web 3.0 or the Internet of Things, or a technical thing like nanotechnology or geopolitical things. The serious Think Tanks would create lots of research and knowledge, which they disseminate widely.
The other thing they do is they make sure that the Think Tank is streamed directly to the desktops of all their employees. Everybody is permitted to not only watch it live but also, they can go into those databases and get those up. What they’re constantly trying to do is flush the system with new information and information that keeps their entire system focused on a much broader set of ideas. As a result, you’ve got a lot of contexts, very rich discussion, and curious people who try to make things. They were the first bank to launch a bank inside a game engine and in Webex. They invented new currencies. They think that giving people access continuously to new knowledge is important.
Another great one is Lego, which used to be very moribund and was failing and wanted to launch a court case against people who are hacking some of their tools, stepped back, and said, “These are some of our super users.” Identify all the user groups. They’ve got hundreds of young people, some as young as 3 and 4 years of age, who helped them develop the products for that age group and they’re constantly asking the question, “What can we learn from our markets? What can we learn from our consumers?” They have great methodology on how you can be curious, specifically with a marketing framework in mind.
Those are all great examples. I’ve done some videos with Verizon and they would feed it out to their different stores of little clips, because people like bits and pieces of content, they don’t want to watch an hour-long thing. I gave a little bit of stories about how you can get out of the status quo thinking. It was a thought experiment and I have got a cute story about that. They would talk about somebody in the company. They’d give an example, “Look at this employee and what she’s been able to do with her curiosity and development.”
They showcase that employee and they broadcast even in their stores and all throughout the world. That’s great. I was proud to be the first person that they put on this because they saw curiosity is critical. We do a lot of that and trying to get this message through. What I thought was great at Novartis with Simon is doing these mini TED Talks. I’ve been talking to companies about doing these like TEDx salon type of thing. I know you had employees being speakers. Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re doing with that?
It was people from across the company that volunteered to be involved. We had a huge number of people that wants to be and we then selected a series of people across interesting topics to do a full TEDx event across the whole company. We have a further iteration of it in 2020 or early 2021. It was bringing in short video clips where we train people up to present in the style that we will know of a TED event to share amazing ideas across the company and it seems to be a huge success. It has gone down incredibly well and there’s been a real buzz around it. We had some fantastic speakers from what I hear. I’m looking forward to going through those.
You also have your curiosity month, book club, and I have all these things that you do at Novartis. You’re way ahead of the pack. There are a lot of leaders out there who don’t get some of the other benefits. They want to quantify everything and they don’t sometimes see the overall benefit. When you’re studying what you were studying for the book, what benefits did you see? Health benefits or other benefits for your life did you think was interesting in your research outside of work maybe, or in general, that you found fascinating for your book.
One of the things that jumped out for me at least was that how curiosity superpowers your learning. Particularly, through lockdown, I’ve been trying to get my kids to buy into this idea that even if they don’t want to do any more learning anymore. If you apply curiosity or come with a curious mind to the way you learn something, no matter what it is. Whether it’s a new language, something for work, a fitness theory. If you make yourself curious about it, the research shows that you will learn it better. You retain more information because you’re activating those parts of the brain that are laying down the new pathways and reinforcing the knowledge so that you’re becoming a more effective learner. That’s one thing that jumped out from there on how curiosity makes you a super learner.
The thing that gets me excited as well is about the neurological and the neuroscience impacts of curiosity. We know that dopamine is released when we met what if. We know that alpha brainwaves and gamma brainwaves have an impact on our focus and our learning. The research shows that the happy hormones get released when we are learning and when we’re discovering new things, but that follows the fight or flight initially. We go into a new context and we suddenly get anxious and that’s a hormonal release that is designed to protect us because we don’t know whether it’s going to be safe for someone. As you learn confidence, as Simon was talking about the seven 7C’s, you feel more confident to move into the difficult places, the things that make you feel uncomfortable and that’s where the real learning takes place.
Once you started to lay down those pathways and you have a neurological flush performance that genuinely makes you happy and raises your endorphin levels. There’s also some research to suggest that being open and connected to new knowledge and new ideas is good for us in long-term health benefits, such as Alzheimer’s. People with Alzheimer’s who are connected and learning new things can stave off the sedentary components about Alzheimer’s. There’s some research which suggests that being curious is good for your health in the long-term.
People hear dopamine and that is the feel-good neurotransmitter that makes us have this sense of confidence and happiness. It’s tied to so many aspects. The word is commonly used that people aren’t going, “I’m curious.” They don’t think of it. The more I studied it, the more I realized that you’ve got to tie it into status quo thinking a lot when you’re talking to leaders, because you’re going to hear the thing like, “I don’t want them asking too many questions,” or “I talked to product managers.” Project managers will say, “I’ve got to have my deliverables. I’ve got to be on time.” What do you tell the leader who says, “I don’t want going down a rabbit hole? We don’t want to play in Candy Crush all day because they want to see the next level.” How do you keep them curious without having them drive you crazy?
If you go all the way back to childhood, it’s the curiosity that drives parents crazy. That’s where we start in inadvertently to dampen down that curiosity when you get there the tenth why in a row from a three-year-old. It takes quite some disciplines to keep from meeting their curiosity and that then travels through to the world of work. The question for me, on executive would be, “Would you rather have employees who are looking for better ways of doing things and questioning, ‘Is there a better way? What if we were to try that?’” versus those who head down and do the same thing over again.If you have curiosity in your organization, it helps you navigate through uncertainty by allowing you to explore a million possible options. Click To Tweet
The companies that are held up as spectacular failures are the ones that are doing the same thing over and over again and missing the dynamics that are going on around them. The weak signals of change, where someone could have said, “What if we were to do that?” or “What’s happening over there?” No, it’s, “We’ve got a proven model. Let’s keep going.” We interviewed Chris Meyer, who’s the Founder of the Monitor Group and a futurologist. He gave the example that sum this up well for me personally, which was he described an anthill and a Big Mac.
He said, if you imagine an anthill full of ants and someone drops a Big Mac near it, they discovered it and they keep going back and they’re taking little tiny pieces of it back to the anthill, and that they’re doing this over again. One day it rains and the Big Mac washes away, do you keep going back to the same place again, which will be a company that is a head-down that curiosity it’s like, “There was food there before, so I’ll keep sending people there,” or do you go off and explore new sources of food which is the curiosity? If you’ve been constantly during that period going off and finding other sources, then when you lose your main source of food, do you know that there’s another source over there to get? He summed it up in quite a nice way at the anthill and the Big Mac as to why we need to be curious.
You don’t want to learn how to pivot once the pivot has taken place. You don’t want the context of change around you. “We need to change. How do we do that?” As Paul talks about the muscle, you want that fitness within your organization. What we say to leaders is, “You need that fitness in place now, so that when radical pivots are required, people are very used to it and it’s business as usual.” We’ve seen that with the Coronavirus. We’ve seen some organizations thrive, some organizations are business as usual. There are no shift and some organizations found it very difficult to make that change.
It’s similar to innovation. If you go back 20, 30, 40 or 50-years, innovation was perhaps something that other companies did. If you’re a big multinational, you knew your product, your service, and your customers, why rock the boat? Let’s keep that flowing and we’re going to keep making money. Probably couldn’t name a single organization. I wouldn’t say that innovation is part of what they have to do. It’s perhaps because now innovations can be studied and established as something that you can, to some extent, put a process around.
The curiosity is not there yet. Curiosity is something that everybody thinks probably they should be doing but don’t know how to do it. Once we can start assigning the seed to start to measure that, demonstrate the impact, but also say, “Here’s something you can get better at.” If you’re a leader, you don’t know what’s going to be the impact of being curious. Talk to another leader that has tried it out and figured it out, build your community, start to curate the people, and the things around you to make you and your organization more curious.
That’s such a good point because that’s what we’re doing at Novartis. You’re looking at measuring levels and there are assessments out there like Cashton’s and the openness to experience from the big five originally. Some of these measured some things to do with how curious you are and they were great because they could tell you, “I’m curious or I’m not.” If you’re not, then what do you do? That’s a huge problem. What we’re doing at Novartis is critical because we’re looking at maybe taking something like Cashton’s and measuring levels, then doing things like what I do with people to help you overcome these things and then measuring again. I’d like to see more companies do that because I don’t think that we’re seeing enough quantifying what we’re doing with all of this. How are you tying it back? I don’t think enough companies are looking at that.
We have great examples of the Velcros of the world that was great. He looked under the microscope to see why these birds were stuck to his dog and this led to Velcro. We know these stories of people being curious. We know Einstein was super curious. We know Warren Buffett and Bill Gates talk all day about being curious, but I wanted to see this and I want to have companies who share, “We had this empty space in our closet at our hotel chain. We partnered with Neiman Marcus to have them put clothes in there.” When people come in, it’s closed, that’s matched to them what they wanted and they left with what they wanted, the bill, they checked out, “I paid for these shirts and shoes.” “That was a cool way. You had this empty space.” Those are the kinds of stories I love to hear. What are you doing to do something different?
At the end of 2019’s curiosity months, we had a curiosity town hall that was led by Vasant Narasimhan, our CEO. It was drawing out examples from across the company where curiosity has helped with real concrete examples. It seems like within our manufacturing area, how that applied curiosity into the packaging around the medicines and how could we make it easier to be able to adhere to when you needed to take them through some clever changes in the packaging. Something like that whereas there was nothing driving the need for that, but someone was curious about it and it resulted in a better product that was more helpful for patients at the end of the day. There were examples from many aspects across the business where that curiosity has led to a better outcome. That was a great opportunity to celebrate that.
I know Garrick you might have another example. I’d love to know what it is.
It’s more about corporate delusion. There are a lot of instances where corporates get caught up in the communication and people are focused on the job at hand. Whereas what curiosity is trying to do is interrogate the real world, which is what digital allows us to do in ways, even before. By interrogating the real world, understanding the data, understanding what’s going on in the real world, whether it’s using design thinking, prototyping, wire-framing, or high volume, low impact, failure types of ideas, you’re allowing your organization to be interacting with what’s going on with your market and not delusional one year behind using the rearview mirror to try and figure out where you’re going in the future. Curiosity is a skillset.
You have to question things and not just learn things. I remember an electric bike company having all their bikes breaking as they were shipping them out. They were looking at their box and they were like, “It looks fine. What we’d have to do is spend all this money to double the size of the box or double the packing. How can we have our bikes not break?” Instead, they thought, “Let’s look at other companies that have similar box sizes and what’s happening to their products.” They looked at the flat-screen TVs, all showing up perfect. No problems. They’re not breaking. All they had to do was print a picture of a flat-screen TV on their box and half of their bikes stopped breaking.
I know about a company that had a fashion house. They had a lot of problems with shrinkage and people stealing fashion garments out of their warehouses. They were getting into a situation where prosecution was slowing down, destroying the morale in the company. It was a big problem. Someone came up with the idea of instead of hanging coats all in the same direction, you hang one in one direction and one in the opposite direction which made removing things much more difficult, and it solved about 80% of their shrinkage problem.
Sometimes it’s the little thing and it’s questioning it and not saying, “Don’t come to me with problems unless you have solutions,” because sometimes you want to get problems and the person may not be qualified to give you the solutions. We were told that a lot and it sounded good at the time because you’re going to get people to not just whine, but then they don’t tell you anything and that’s bad. Hopefully, we got to the bottom of some of this curiosity issue because you guys have been inspired by everything you do with your show, with your book, with your companies. I wanted to thank all of you for sharing these wonderful stories. Is there something you’d like to share? A website or how to follow you or how to get your book? I want to make sure we cover everything?
The website is CuriousAdvantage.com and from there you can access the book, all our events, our podcast and more of our research.
I’ve been impressed with everything that you guys are working on and I enjoyed being on your podcast. I hope everybody checks out your podcast because you’re doing some amazing things and the book is incredible. Thank you for being my guests.
Thank you, Diane.
It was great talking to Simon, Paul, and Garrick. They touch on all the most important things that I try to talk about with curiosity in my speeches, in my books, and what I write about and all that. There needs to be more focus on developing research to touch on the things that we talked about in terms of improved innovation, engagement, motivation drive, and emotional intelligence. It’s because the more we ask questions, the better we can be at our empathy and everything else. I love to have them on the show. I hope you take some time to check out their book and their podcast. I hope you enjoyed the episode. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- The Curious Advantage
- The Curious Advantage Podcast
- Zander Lurie – Past episode
About Simon Brown
Simon Brown is the Chief Learning Officer at Novartis. Simon, Garrick, and Paul are the co-authors of The Curious Advantage. They also have The Curious Advantage Podcast.
About Garrick Jones
Garrick Jones and Paul Ashcroft are the Co-Founders and Partners at Ludic. Simon, Garrick, and Paul are the co-authors of The Curious Advantage. They also have The Curious Advantage Podcast.
About Paul Ashcroft
Garrick Jones and Paul Ashcroft are the Co-Founders and Partners at Ludic. Simon, Garrick, and Paul are the co-authors of The Curious Advantage. They also have The Curious Advantage Podcast.
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