I was born curious. So were you. And that’s good, very good. Now the bad news – we lose our curiosity once we are taught – generally by good teachers in good schools, that answers are more important than the questions. I’m not suggesting that schools are at fault. It’s important to know answers. I’m just saying that it’s more important to know how to ask the right questions. And yes, it’s possible for those of us who have been out of formal education for a long time to regain this potentially lost skill of asking great questions. No one needs to practice this more than myself. I’m finding it harder and harder to do, the older I get. It seems that as we’ve aged, we’ve gathered a lot of knowledge making it easier to give answers much faster than it used to be. But if we ascribe to the belief that there’s much more to learn, then giving answers without asking great questions doesn’t work very well. There is hope. Experts say that we can regain our sense of curiosity. We can learn how to ask the right questions.
So what are the right questions? There is actually something called the Institute of Curiosity. It’s not a giant institute of higher learning, but rather it’s a leadership coaching organization and here’s what they and others seem to say:
- Listen without judgment. This is where you put those collaboration skills to work.
- Ask lots of questions. Stay away from those that can be answered with a simple yes or no.
- Embrace the element of surprise. It’s really good for us. While too much can create anxiety; too little creates boredom.
- Embrace the unpredictable and engineer the unexpected. They seem to go hand-in-hand, don’t they?
- Be willing to be wrong and to say I don’t know. It’s the hardest of all for most people, but it’s the only way to learn!
I also believe that curiosity needs to be married with a sense of urgency. It’s like a child sitting in the backseat of the car asking “are we there yet? are we there yet? are we there yet?” Their boredom happened so quickly, because their fresh minds have to be constantly stimulated. Like most things, it is possible to reboot your curiosity. It won’t happen by just saying, “I’m going to be curious now on.” You’ll need to practice and change. Yep, you have to put in the effort to get the reward.
Depending on where and who you spend most of your waking hours with, you may have extra effort to put in. It seems that although leaders might say they treasure inquisitive minds, most in fact stifle curiosity, fearing it will increase risk and inefficiency. Across a wide range of firms and industries, the surveys still show that about 70% of employees feel they face barriers to asking more questions. But fear not, even a little progress is worth the reward.
Try this. For the next 30 to 60 days see how many “What if…?” and “How might we…?” questions you can get into your conversations. Keep track. Do this until you don’t have to think about it. Do it until it becomes automatic like saying “Good morning“ or “Please” and “Thank you”. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll enjoy your new found curiosity and feel rejuvenated. Your friends, family and colleagues will find you more engaging and enjoyable to be around. Heck, it’s like the fountain of youth, without the water! If you’re over 50, think of the rest of your life as the final sequel to a movie series…all the best has to be in there. Operate as if the only time is now and see if you can embrace a mindset that it’s more important to learn something new than it is to look smart!