Forget Being Smart, Just be Curious!

I recently led a workshop in which we talked about the power of questions when coaching people in the workplace. So many of us seem to go through life thinking we need to be smart and know all the answers.  I have been contemplating the impact of shifting the paradigm from being smart to being curious.

“Smart” is good when solving complex problems. “Smart” is helpful when you are interested in being valedictorian. “Smart” is not necessarily helpful when you are coaching a team member, colleague or friend who is having trouble with a decision, project, person, or…life in general. Instead, questions – the result of curiosity – are what is needed to help someone find their way.

As leaders, how can curiosity serve you?

Curiosity Broadens Your Perspective – When you face a difficult problem, curiosity can help you see beyond the difficulty to what’s possible. You might ask questions such as:

  • “What if this were simple, what would I do?”
  • “What would I advise someone else to do?”
  • “What happens if/when…?”
  • “What did I learn from the last sticky problem that I had that I could leverage here?”

Curiosity can also come to your aid when faced with a challenging opinion:

  • “Where do we agree?”
  • “What common ground do I have with this person?”
  • “What impact would there be if we agreed to disagree?”
  • “What’s my goal here?”

Curiosity Feeds Creativity – This may go without saying and yet many of us favor concrete facts, rather than the unpredictability of the curiosity/creativity partnership. Many things we use today were created out of curiosity. In fact, in a 2014 Fast Company article about Leonardo de Vinci and the link between curiosity and creativity, it is said that there is no other avenue to cultivating creative work aside from impassioned curiosity. If you were avoiding questions with one acceptable answer, you might ask questions such as:

  • What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
  • What if we had all the money in the world? What if we had no money?
  • What are the possibilities?
  • What if we could?

Curiosity About Others Breeds Confidence – As leaders/coaches/parents/colleagues, one of your best tools to feed someone’s confidence is to be curious about them. Your sincere interest in them – their background, interests, skills, dreams, etc – says to them, “you are interesting and valuable and worthy.” Your questions in this situation might sound like:

  • What would be the coolest thing that could ever happen to you?
  • What’s your favorite memory?
  • What got you to here?
  • Where/when do you feel like you are at your personal best?

Curiosity Expands Your Knowledge and Experiences – When you remain open to and curious about the world around you, whether in formalized learning environments or in day-to-day living, you are destined to learn something new. Just the basic “why?” can lead you on the path to discovery. And discovery inevitably teaches us something. Questions to drive learning include:

  • Tell me more
  • How does it work?
  • What is the meaning here?
  • What if we tried….?

Albert Einstein suggested that The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. Indeed, if we forget about “smart” and remain curious, there are no limits to what we may learn, whom we may impact and what possibilities we may discover.

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