We all know them: the people who spend a lot of time and energy trying to tell you how much they know. Self-declared experts with the typical communication style that leads with “I’m so awesome. Have I told you how awesome I am?” Translation: “I know everything and I’ve done it all.”
But what if we all considered leading with curiosity? Instead of setting out to prove what we know, accept the likelihood that there is probably a lot more that we do not know: facts, context, other ideas or ways of doing things, etc.
Even with our advanced degrees or years of experience, we cannot know everything.
But why are we all so intent on trying to hide that?
“I don’t know” creates the opportunity to learn and grow
How can we put curiosity into action? By asking questions of everyone at every level and valuing those responses equally.
- Why do we do it this way?
- How does that work?
- How would you approach this problem?
- What are the risks of your solution and how would you address them?
- How can we address this differently and more efficiently?
- Are there new technologies that might enable the same result?
One of the tips I share with students that I mentor as they enter the workforce:
Pretend you are a journalist trying to “break” a major story. Act with a sense of urgency. Ask thoughtful questions that are open-ended enough to allow discovery to happen. Pretend you know less than you know, and if you know nothing, even better! Continuously refine your understanding through interaction so that when you try to explain it to your grandma, you can do it in a way that your grandma understand.
In addition, by modeling the behavior of admitting what you don’t know, you are empowering others to do the same, ensuring that you get more accurate and unvarnished information in the first place. Combine this transparent team dynamic with the opportunity to learn the unknown together and you have a recipe for exceptional performance.
But curiosity is more than just expanding understanding. What is the “long game” related to being curious? The development of a more well-rounded understanding and critical transferable skill sets.
These transferable skill sets have to come from somewhere. Usually, it is exposure to new areas and ideas, responsibility for different functions, and the ability to issue spot effectively by asking the right questions of the right people. All of these start from a place of not knowing and a comfort with inexperience. However, once the new talents are in place, you will be better prepared for that coveted executive job.