The Whiteboard: Curiosity is main ingredient in creativity, innovation
Have you heard or read the words “innovation” and “creativity” this week?
Of course you have. Stories about innovation and creativity are ubiquitous. You’ve probably heard how important it is to “think outside the box.” But what you may not have heard is that innovation and creativity often don’t work very well in a business setting without curiosity, and curiosity is all about thinking inside the box.
It is one thing to be creative or innovative in the abstract and quite another to apply those capabilities to problems in the real world. I recently heard a speaker say that people in business and technology should think more like artists to be more creative and innovative. I completely agree with that, but remember that art is the expression of the artist, without regard for the viewer’s tastes. Products and services must satisfy or even delight customers. Business processes are measured by their effectiveness in producing customer satisfaction and profits.
Creativity and innovation in business come from asking questions about the current state of things as much as they come from asking questions about the future. Why are we doing it that way? Why does our product have this limitation? Why can’t we have a competitive price? Why is our competitor’s service better than ours? These questions stimulate our thinking and drive us forward.
Thomas Edison said that genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. His inventions — the electric light bulb, the phonograph and the motion picture camera — didn’t erupt from thunderclaps of creativity and innovation. They were born of a long process of asking and answering questions by a man with boundless curiosity.
Truly curious people, unfortunately, seem to be rare, but can be found. They are always asking questions and trying to learn something new. They take classes. They read a lot. They are open to a wide variety of experiences. They ask for opportunities to learn.
You are as likely to find a curious person at an opera or an art gallery as you are at a football game. In a restaurant, they are the people who try something they’ve never had before. They may not like all of these things, but they will try them because they might learn something.
The curious person at work is the one who stays after hours to take tutorials on your business system. It’s the person who asks why the spreadsheet you’ve been using forever takes so long to create and then figures out how to do it in half the time, or how to eliminate it altogether. It’s the person who asks for an assignment in another department so he or she can understand what they do, how they do it and why they do it.
My advice to anyone in business who wants more creativity and innovation is to find more people who are truly curious. I believe that one can be curious without being creative and innovative, but I also believe that one cannot be creative and innovative without being curious. It’s essential.
The good news is that you can figure out who the curious people are in a job interview or a performance review. It’s not hard to think of questions you can ask to test whether person is curious or not. And it isn’t hard to define the kind of work habits you would look for to find a curious person in your organization.
If you are lucky, you will find a few. And if you give them the right assignments and support, you’ll be on your way to more creativity and innovation.