No Image Available


Read more from TrainingZone

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Parkin Space: The Curious Skill That We Must Develop


I coordinate an online discussion forum that can be listless or vigorous, depending on the topics that members raise. Recently someone asked: “If you had to choose only one, what skill would you teach that would significantly improve the performance of organisations?” A trivial question, at first glance, but it has generated more discussion than I have seen in quite a while.

Everyone knows that an organisation needs access to a wide variety of skills in order to perform at all, and of course not all employees need the same skill set. But if you could crank up the volume on only one skill, across all your employees, which one would you pick?

Faced with this question, American trainers seem to favour literacy, analytical thinking, or listening. But it’s interesting how personal attributes want to pop into focus more than what we normally think of as skills. Motivation, passion, diligence, openness, professionalism will all help to shift the organisational gears. But these are not skills - or are they? And if they are skills, why are they not typically within the remit of the training department?

We will train managers to motivate staff, but we don’t train staff in self-motivation. We advocate attributes like professionalism and openness, and we may put processes in place to support these attributes, but we don’t teach people how to develop them as skills. Most trainers would probably deny that they are skills, and would contest the notion that they can be taught. I might once have agreed, but now I am not so sure.

My answer, to the question of what skill would improve organisational performance if taught across the board, is “curiosity”. Is curiosity a skill, and can you teach it? Well, you can certainly learn it. And you can certainly teach people not to be curious, so why not the reverse?

I am convinced that at today’s accelerating pace of change, the organisations most willing and able to adapt rapidly will out-perform others. In fact, they will be able to create the changes that keep their competitors reeling. Rapid adaptation requires an ability to understand, anticipate, and embrace change, and the only way to do that is to build an organization of people who are continuously curious. That allows micro-refinements and mini-innovations throughout the organisation, and collectively facilitates bigger changes in organizational direction or nature. I don’t think the notion of “the learning organisation” quite covers it, nor does the doctrine of continuous improvement. Their focus is on process, not on the human beings who define and drive those processes.

Curiosity is what makes us learn from early childhood – a fascination with everything new, and its potential impact on us, makes us who we are. We ask questions, we experiment, we try to understand, we push our boundaries, we operate in “what if” and “yes, and” mode. We are constantly trying to look over the horizon. But as we grow up, the more organigram-defined and cube-farm-constrained we become, and the more complacent we get. Like battery chickens, our major focus is on producing the eggs that keep us being fed. We are taught, or conditioned, not to question the status quo or to step beyond the bounds of our defined jobs. What innate curiosity we have is focused outside the work environment.

There is little point in developing analytical thinking or listening skills in people if we do not simultaneously teach them to develop the curiosity to ask questions and to want to know the answers. Curiosity is a survival skill, for organisations and for individuals, so why don’t we foster it? Is there another skill that would have more impact on an organisation’s performance?

* Read all of Godfrey Parkin's columns at his TrainingZONEParkin Space.


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.

Thank you!