Years ago, I asked one of my mentors what his top trait was when looking for a new team member. He answered immediately – “curiosity.” At the time (24-years-old and working in the ski industry) I had no idea of the real meaning and impact behind his words. He was the best leader I’d ever had (still is, hands down) and so I took it to heart and have thought a lot about it since. It seemed a weird answer at the time. I was expecting “teamwork” or “commitment to the job” or “creativity.” But curiosity?
Weren’t the best team members supposed to be those who knew everything and came with mad built-in skills? Those who could hit the ground running and show their contributions on day one. I’ve come to see that the exact opposite is just the case.
Curiosity is the true superpower.
My good friends joke with me about the standard question I ask of every Uber or Lyft driver, or servers in restaurants – “So how’s your day going?” I get insights into life that would have just passed me by without my unexpected question. I’ve been graced with connections I wouldn’t otherwise have made. And in some cases, my day has been made better simply by seeing the impact my legitimately curious question has had on someone’s life. They open up. Feel heard, like they matter. They do. And they have opened my eyes to things I missed before.
The January-February 2019 edition of Harvard Business Review includes a great interview with Zander Lurie, the found of SurveyMonkey, who knows a thing or two about curiosity. He offers a list of simple behaviors that define curiosity. They are the fuel of this superpower that can truly be cultivated by anyone who takes a moment to simply notice.
- Ask great questions and then listen deeply
- Be open-minded
- Value new experiences
- Challenge the status quo
- Stay keenly aware that no one has all the answers
For those in senior leadership positions, developing your curiosity superpower gives you permission to not be the one with all the answers. It avoids lapsing into routine and complacency. For those just starting out in a new role or industry, developing your curiosity superpower makes you valuable on day one, not because of what you know, but because of the thoughtful “how might we” questions you ask.
For all of us, our life and our connections with each other are made more meaningful by the questions we ask, not just by the answers we seek. Try it!