Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Working Smarter: Encourage Curiosity and Engage Employees

I was sitting at my desk trying to get inspiration for an edition of a newsletter I write when grandson Tory, who hangs out with me occasionally said, 'What's this Pop?' He'd been progressively going through the top drawer of my desk and it was about the 10th time I'd answered. It got me thinking about curiosity and how uncluttered minds remember ... the "blank slate".

When we are three like Tory we are very curious about our physical world and the cornucopia of gadgets and animate beings that fill it. It's a period of rapid intellectual development, excitement at every turn, and discovery. My young companion constantly amazes me how he can recall days later, names he has heard once when I can't remember where I left my cordless phone half hour beforehand!

I encourage (and reward) Tory's curiosity by taking time out to demonstrate or discuss the things about which he is curious. For example, when he asked me what a staple puller was, I demonstrated by placing a staple in a sheet of paper and then pulled it out with the staple puller. He may not yet know why we use staples to hold sheets of paper together, but he sure knows that one process places the staple and another removes it.

As the years pass, we become more selective in what we remember and our curiosity diminishes to varying degrees. Imagine what we could do as managers if we could inculcate a sense of curiosity in our employees/learners.

Marketers often use devices to arouse curiosity in their readers. And they work. The question is, what devices can we use in our workplaces to develop curiosity in our people? An example that comes to mind is to implement a suggestion box.

I recall an excellent example of how useful suggestion boxes can be from my service in the Royal Australian Air Force during the Vietnam War era. While some of our bombs were fitted with devices to make them explode above ground level, it was a hit and miss approach ... some exploded at the right altitude and others didn't. My boss, an electrical engineer, was curious why this was happening and after looking at the triggering mechanism, 'suggested' how it could be improved. His suggestion was adopted and worked. The RAAF sent him a cheque for $3,000 (quite a lot in 1968).

Rather than having a truck load of suggestion boxes placed here and there within our organizations and hoping someone will place a worthwhile suggestion, I like the idea of circulating a list of 'challenges' that need resolving and asking staff to come up with options.

If we peak curiosity, imagination and creativity will follow. Rather than having people 'Turn off their brains when they come to work', we want them to 'Turn on their creativity and imagination' and hopefully solve some of our challenges.

How creative are the people with whom you work? Do they actively resolve organisational challenges?



  1. Your grandson Tory sounds just like mine ... wants to know the ins and outs of everything.

    Thanks for an interesting article.

  2. Hi Debra

    Thanks for your feedback. Keep in touch.


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