The Disruption Lab had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Debra Clary, author, speaker and healthcare executive. In our conversation with Debra, we learned about her passion for developing leaders to increase their impact and contribution. She shared how recently her boss asked her, Can curiosity be learned? Sparking the inquisitive learner in her, Debra set herself on a course to gather and assess the data. In her article below, she shares several highlights from her findings, and insight into the relationship between cultivating a curiosity mindset and a leader’s success in innovation and growth. The Disruption Lab extends our special thanks to Debra for sharing her thought-leadership and artful story-telling with our Members and audiences.
By: Dr. Debra Clary
An Interesting Question
Socrates, the classical Greek philosopher, recognized and used the power of questions to unlock learning and insights. He pondered achievement-focused questions throughout his lifetime, among them: What are the predictors of achievement? Why are some highly accomplished while others are not? The answer to these questions, which has eluded psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists for centuries—may finally have a simple answer: Curiosity.
Curiosity, defined as an insatiable quest to learn new knowledge and make connections in the world, may be the greatest predictor of achievement. And most profound is the fact that curiosity is contagious.
Intelligence and conscientiousness enable curiosity
In addition to Curiosity, researchers at Goldsmith University and later at the University College of London (2012), found evidence of two additional factors that significantly drive achievement: 1) intelligence and, 2), conscientiousness.
Einstein-level genius is not required. The researchers espouse that intelligence need only be in the ‘normal’ range, that nothing is out of reach for the average person. Conscientiousness signals drive and determination—the thirst for wanting more now. We might experience a person with a high need for conscientiousness as someone who is impatient.
“Curiosity may be the single best predictor of an individual’s success because it incorporates intelligence, persistency and a hunger to learn.”
—Sophie Von Stumm, Psychologist, Researcher
Curiosity is a State, not a Trait
Children, on average, ask a question every minute and 56 seconds or 390 questions a day. They are highly inquisitive beings trying to make sense of the new world they find themselves. It’s easy to imagine infants and toddlers in a permanent state of curiosity—either verbally asking a question or merely pointing expecting a response. In a longitudinal study conducted by University of London, it was determined that children that have their questions answered, or attempted to be answered, experienced higher academic achievement, are more emotionally stable and socially connected than those children that did not. Meaning that curiosity is a factor for achievement in young children. Curiosity is a state not a trait and as research suggests, can be fostered and encouraged. As leaders, we can learn a lesson from children on ways to develop an organizational culture of curiosity.
Why do we become Incurious?
If curiosity is so good for us and our organizations, why do we grow less curious as we age? As adults we do not regularly ask 390 questions a day. Incuriousness is made up of several factors: 1) We become experts in our fields and we are rewarded for performing and delivering that expertise, for example as a Medical Specialist, Tax Accountant, or Financial Officer. Even a disruption innovator can become locked into a single mindset. I don’t mean this in a pejorative way, but we become ‘know-it-alls’ versus ‘learn-it-alls’.
2) The other contributing factor of an incurious state is time—or experiencing a lack of it. Reflect on your average workday. We overschedule ourselves with meetings and activities which can lead to telling people what to do versus engaging in a conversation filled with curious questions to finding breakthrough solutions.
A Curious Question
What is the secret elixir to inspiring curiosity? A question. Leaders who want to create and inspire curiosity will lead with questions, meaning, questions that stem from an honest desire to understand and learn something they don’t already know. The key word here is learn. Curious questions begin with, what or how or are open ended to deepen understanding. Curiosity involves asking questions and are an essential superpower for reaching new heights and new places of insight. Just think about great leaders you know, and you’ll likely see this questioning trait.
In summary, curious people will increasingly be in demand and it is a leader’s superpower to inspire a culture of curiosity. The answer to Socrates’ age-old questions of achievement is simply curiosity, which can be learned and is contagious. What do you need to do differently to turn on your superpower?
Dr. Debra Clary, author, speaker and healthcare executive
If you have a question or comment for Dr. Debra Clary, please contact [email protected]