Curiosity: The Key Strength of Successful Entrepreneurs
As an entrepreneur, you are no stranger to curiosity. It’s likely one of the factors that got you here in the first place. Entrepreneurs, by their very nature, are always looking for new ways to do things, creative ways to solve problems and better ways to reach their audience. But curiosity is actually a mental muscle, and just like any muscle in the body, it needs to be exercised regularly to stay strong. When curiosity flags, you become more likely to stagnate, and so does your business.
Unfortunately, the more you try to streamline your business, the more your curiosity atrophies. Why? Because the human brain likes shortcuts – it uses past experience to jump to the most likely conclusion in an effort to be efficient. We do the same thing with the systems and structures we employ to streamline our business. Shortcuts cut down on the number of decisions we make every day, help us stay on time, meet deadlines and create balance. Shortcuts reduce complexity. Unfortunately, shortcuts arise from a mental mindset of “I already know,” and when you already know, you are no longer curious. That’s dangerous. The more shortcuts you employ, the more your curiosity dwindles. The good news? With a little curiosity you can revitalize your business quickly, while still finding effective ways to streamline processes.
Recent studies have linked curiosity to better health, more satisfying and deeper relationships, increased happiness and well-being and a greater sense of meaning. Curiosity is also linked to greater analytic ability, problem-solving skills and is an indicator of overall intelligence. Curiosity is crucial to success because a naturally curious person is more likely to learn from mistakes, try new things, explore new ideas, engage more deeply, be more adaptable, take risks and embrace change. Curious people are more comfortable with uncertainty and more resilient in the face of stress, problems and challenges. Curious business owners connect more effectively with their customers, use curiosity to stay ahead of their competition and are more effective leaders.
Curiosity + Customers
What are your customers saying to others about your product or service? How do your customers feel about their interactions with your organization? What other products or services would your existing customers buy from you if available? What would your existing customers change about your product, service or how you do business if they could?
Staying curious about your customers is crucial to great customer service. When you are curious about what your customer is experiencing, even when they are unhappy, you learn how to more effectively solve customer related problems. You learn how to make your product or service better, what systems are needed to serve your customers more effectively and even new ways to reach your customers. Perhaps most importantly, your customer walks away from the exchange feeling heard. Curiosity makes you a better listener and better listeners keep customers happy. Curiosity also helps to build lasting relationships, trust and loyalty. Without it, you run the risk of becoming cynical or disinterested in your customers.
Staying curious about your customers also helps you stay on top of your customers’ changing needs and desires. If you want to lead the curve in your industry, your customers’ comments are the best place to mine new ideas. They may not know how to verbalize what they want or need, but they can describe their pain points which can yield new ideas for products and services. Your customers can also give you important information about why you succeed or fail in your business endeavors, enabling you to learn from mistakes and not take success for granted.
Curiosity + Competition
How is your competition solving the hard problems in your industry? What makes your competition a leader in your industry? What are they doing better than you? How could they improve? What can you learn from them?
It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of either feeling superior or like you are trailing behind your competition. Instead, seek to learn from your competition. Competition drives excellence. Rather than assuming you already know what makes your competition succeed or fail, use your curiosity to learn from both the successes and mistakes of your competition Curiosity creates an opportunity to improve. Staying curious about your competition, and where your industry is headed, will help you see around corners and avoid pitfalls. It will also help you stay ahead of your competition and drive your success forward.
A word of caution – while it can be tempting to use the knowledge you gain about your competition to copy their products or services, real curiosity will drive you to innovate and create new products and services that outpace your competition.
Curiosity + Culture
What is your leadership style? How does your staff perceive you? What motivates and engages your staff? How can you support your staff better? How can you empower your staff to take more ownership? What inspires loyalty in your staff? How can you cultivate a culture of curiosity?
Your curiosity is contagious. When you model a curious attitude, your staff is more likely to be curious as well, which is good for business and growth. By making curiosity a company practice and challenging your staff to question assumptions, you open the door for creative problem-solving, initiative and innovation. Curiosity in the workplace leads people to take a greater sense of ownership in your business, engendering engagement and commitment. It creates resilient, creative learners who collaborate with others and view feedback as an opportunity for improving rather than as criticism.
But don’t stop there. Being curious about your employees helps create intimacy, loyalty and trust. Just as with customers, asking questions and listening makes your employees feel heard, understood and acknowledged. Don’t be afraid to ask your employees to give you feedback on your leadership style, how you handle stress and challenges and what you could do to improve. Genuine curiosity about how your employees perceive you will help you become a more self-aware and conscientious leader.
Raising Your Curiosity Quotient
Ready for the next step? Here are a few ways to cultivate a curious mind on a daily basis.
According to the Harvard Business Review, “Curiosity is as important as intelligence… and can be developed.”
Ask curious questions. Make a practice of asking questions and listening from a place of curiosity and openness. Stay away from yes/no questions, closed questions, and “why” questions. Don’t know how to start? Use one of these sentence stems:
What is possible when…
How could we…
Go deep. Follow the trail of information like Alice followed the rabbit down the rabbit hole. Don’t be satisfied with surface answers. Ask questions that uncover motivations, illuminate patterns and solve puzzles. Try these sentence stems:I’m curious about…
What is important about…
What would it take for you to…
What holds us back from…
What are the commonalities or differences between…
Master it. Get curious about a new skill or activity and engage so deeply that you want to master it. Get passionate and learn everything you can.
Solve puzzles. Get your critical thinking skills and curiosity sharpened by solving crosswords, brain teasers or playing Sudoku.
Explore. Go to new places, do new things, meet new people, eat new food, experience different cultures, travel. Exploration naturally builds curiosity.
Push your boundaries. Expand your comfort zone by taking risks. You can take small risks in activities, solutions and even with people that yield big rewards. Notice when you feel uncomfortable about something and then simply take one or two steps past that point or stay with it longer than you naturally would.
Play. Play is a natural and fun way to flex your curiosity muscle. Make a game of tasks that seem dull. Playfully engage others. You can even make a game of asking curious questions – try playing that one with a child!