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Curiouser and curiouser


This week on the blog we wonder whether being curious is an underrated and undervalued quality in a manager or leader.

I’m beginning to think that I might be a little bit... odd.  Don’t get me wrong - I’m not unhappy with my oddness; in fact, I’m very pleased with it.  It’s just that I’ve become more conscious of my oddity over the last few weeks.

Let’s get the obvious question out of the way first.  Yes, I am probably odd in a number of ways: for a start, I do a job which involves public speaking, a task which normally rates alongside snakes, spiders and a grisly death in most lists of the general public’s top fears.  By definition, as a trainer, I’m odd.  But it’s a little more than that.

In the CIPD’s Outlook 2011 survey, I was struck by their use of a particular word to describe the qualities needed by HR leaders in the coming year: “a particular area for future attention within the profession is the degree to which ‘curiosity’ is displayed and developed.”  Jackie Orme, Chief Executive of the CIPD said, “As the profession moves forward, it needs to become an increasingly inquisitive and curious function – we need to increase our capacity to look up and out to develop and deliver real insight to sustain our organisations in a changing world and uncertain times.

Did you spot it?  When I was growing up, my dad always used to tell me “if you’re qualified to be a brain surgeon, you can be a road sweeper if you want.  If all you’re qualified to be is a road sweeper, you don’t have a whole lot of options.”  As most teenagers do, I completely disregarded this advice, but it did leave me with a love of knowledge, with the idea of learning for its own sake and with the sense that maybe there are things that a brain surgeon could bring to road sweeping - a sort of, dare I say it, synergy that that kind of cross-pollination brings.

But, to be honest with you, I don’t see a whole lot of curiosity in a lot of groups that I work with.  When I talk to them about what they do to improve their abilities, what they do to sharpen their saw, I don’t get much of a reply.  Most groups aren’t curious about what other people are doing in other industries; they’re not curious about what’s happening elsewhere in the business world and what they can learn from it.  They don’t read, they don’t research, they don’t network - they don’t, in other words, expose themselves to any influences outside of their narrow job-role.  I think that’s a worrying attitude for any individual or organisation.

I love the idea that business can learn from architecture or art or science or design.  I love the idea that concepts and ideas from one discipline can be used to shed light on another; that problems resolved in one field can show other fields a new perspective on their problems.  I think I’ve always been curious - and I’m starting to think that makes me odd.

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