Curiosity in the Workplace & How to Cultivate It

importance of curiosity in business

We live and work in unprecedented times.

The term VUCA – an acronym developed by the US military to describe the state of affairs post cold war, sums it up well. VUCA – which stands for, Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – is as true today as it was then.

And more than ever in this VUCA world, we need our people to be curious, to solve problems, to look for new and different ways of working, to open their minds and eyes to what’s possible. You could say we’ve moved to VUCA squared, perhaps even VUCA cubed.

We need curiosity as business owners to develop products and services. We need our managers to develop a culture of curiosity with their remote team members. We need our customer facing people to be passionately curious about customers and to understand what they really want from us.

The importance of curiosity

In a fascinating article by Elizabeth Smith, ‘Curiosity – the super power we might have overlooked’  ( ) published as the world went into lockdown, Liz makes the point that curiosity is both a behaviour and an emotion. And that when we are curious, we have a strong and genuine intention in our endeavours. The more curious we are, about our customers and colleagues, the closer we become and the better we can support and serve one another.

No one person is responsible for creating a culture, but we’re all responsible for our behaviour. If we want more curiosity, we must put it centre stage in what we do as business owners and leaders.

One of the five practices of exemplary leaders identified in the pioneering book The Leadership Challenge™ by Kouzes and Posner is ‘model the way’.

Great leaders, they found, are role models, they practise what they preach, lead by example, do what they say they will do. They challenge others, look for new and different ways of working and recognise that in order to make progress we have to fail but that great leaders use those opportunities to learn. People need to see curiosity in action, every day.

Stimulating curiosity in your business

As with any great strategy, it’s not just in the planning – we can all agree that curiosity is a noble thing and we should have lots of it – it’s in the implementation. Look at your organisation – what are you doing to make curiosity part of you and your people’s daily habits and practises?

We can create opportunities for curiosity by encouraging working across teams and functions. But people won’t feel brave enough to be curious and try out new ideas, if it feels unsafe.

We need to be prepared to take the time to ask more questions, listen more intently and genuinely seek to understand. If we’re in a constant ‘busy off’ state of Zoom calls and back to back meetings, we don’t have time to be curious or encourage it in others.

Ask why things are done a certain way. As children we had no inhibition asking ‘why’. Get people from different teams and work areas to look at what their colleagues in other departments do and ask why.

Encourage experimentation. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes yet in organisations there is, too often, an unrealistic expectation that we have to get things right, first time. There is an old Japanese saying, fall down seven times, get up eight.

Do your processes allow for curiosity? Perhaps set up sprint projects, ideation, cross functional modelling and forecasting teams, prototypes for ideas that can be modelled, tried out and that can fail fast.

Reaping the benefits of curiosity

Encourage a culture of design thinking – curious about what the problem really is – looking for new angles to solve it. Bring people from different functions together to solve problems that matter now. Unleash that curiosity in reality and if you want more of it, recognise and reward people when you see it.

Encouraging curiosity and greater understanding is the first step in creating more diverse and inclusive cultures. Curiosity and asking questions are what coaching is all about – helping people to work out, for themselves, what they could or should do, what they can do more of or what they can do differently. Teach your managers to be coaches and mentors.Natural Business Development book

Show your sellers and customer facing people what they can do to be more curious with customers. I focus my coaching around two aspects –

  • Results – the metrics or KPIs (key performance indicators) that a customer is measured on and,
  • Wins – the things that matter to them personally.

A prospect or customer may be looking to reduce costs using your products or services, but they also want to look good and build their own reputation internally.

Understanding both a person’s ‘results’ and their ‘wins’ makes us better able to support and serve them. Being more curious about our customers and what’s bleeping on their radar allows us to demonstrate more value and greater relevance – both leading to repeat sales and referrals.

Steve Chang, Co-Founder, Chairman and former CEO of Trend Micro (listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange) encourages his people to “Love your customers’ problems, not your solutions.”

And to love them, you have to be curious about them in the first place.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Isobel Rimmer, founder of training and development consultancy Masterclass Training and author of the new book Natural Business Development: Unleash your people’s potential to spot opportunities, develop new business and grow revenue

More help from ByteStart

ByteStart is packed with help on all aspects of employing people, some other popular guides include;

Motivating your team

Employee health

Employing staff


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