How you can unleash innovation and productivity through CQ

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Cultivate Curiosity: How you can unleash innovation and productivity through CQ. You’ll be familiar with some of the other ‘Q’s – IQ (skills, academic intelligence), EQ (Emotional intelligence towards others) or even PQ (self-awareness) but are you embracing the Curiosity Quotient in your team?

As a child, I was often told off for being too nosy. For asking too many questions, or for ‘playing around’ with ideas too much. Sound familiar? A child’s natural curiosity can often be squashed by parents, or teachers who just need to get through the day, or syllabus, without incessant questions.

But it’s this nosiness that has helped me most in my career, to understand better, to be more engaged in the work that I do, and to create more interesting and relevant work for clients.  

And I’m not the only one. Famous stories of ‘accidental’ invention from Post-It Notes, Gmail, the Slinky Toy to Viagra have all come about from natural curiosity and a desire to think differently. A 2018 study published in the Harvard Business Review found that curiosity reduces decision-making errors, enhances innovation, and improves team performance.

The reasons are pretty simple:

  • Curious employees ask questions, challenge assumptions and come up with new creative solutions. This sparks innovation as they find better ways of doing things.
  • If your team feel they can try something new, that their opinions and ideas are encouraged and celebrated, they become more engaged at work. The more engaged, the more productive.
  • Curious people also keep up with changes in the market, and may even spot trends before they hit the mainstream, keeping you ahead of your competitors.
  • Plus, some of those creative solutions might mean better, shorter, cheaper ways to deliver the same product – or even an improved version. That’s got to be a win-win!

What can you do to build this Curious Dream Team?

  • Ask probing questions – Regularly ask your team open-ended questions that spark imagination rather than give yes or no answers. ‘How could we rethink this?’ or ‘what would happen if we waived a magic wand? What’s stopping that working?’
  • Be a child yourself – demonstrating your own sense of wonder, learning and inquisitiveness gives your team permission to do the same
  • Admit when you don’t know and celebrate failure – nothing new ever comes from repeating the old, and small areas failure is a small price to pay for the benefits they can bring.
  • Embrace ideas – Be receptive to employee ideas and suggestions. Curiosity needs psychological safety, so respond positively even to unconventional concepts.
  • Reward learning – even if it doesn’t have an immediate effect on someone’s role.
  • Encourage collaboration – Cross-functional collaboration exposes people to new ways of thinking. Have teams periodically work together on projects or share knowledge.
  • Don’t micromanage!

The key is giving people time, space and support to explore ideas without judgement.

For example, at Google, employees can spend 20% of their time on passion projects that excite them. Many iconic Google products, like Gmail and AdSense, originated from these curiosity-driven initiatives.

Of course, unbridled curiosity has its downsides. You need to make sure people don’t go down unproductive rabbit holes or lose sight of practical applications. Keeping communication open, and staying excited and curious yourself to what people are doing means that people will share their learnings and you can keep an eye on the balance between exploration and alignment with business goals.

The fruits of curiosity ultimately depend on how it’s channeled. But the simple act of nurturing inquisitiveness creates the spark for magic. The most innovative companies shape cultures where asking “why?” and “what if?” is second nature.

As a Maverick business leader, part of your role is giving employees permission to adopt beginner’s minds. After all, curiosity is what propels growth – for both individuals and organizations. We stop learning when we lose the childlike tendency to marvel at the world.

The future favours the curious, so empower your teams to explore, discover and unleash their untapped potential.