A Culture of Learning and Curiosity

Over the past six years, I have been on an extended journey of learning and self-discovery. Throughout, I committed to following my interests and curiosities to better understand the following questions: who am I; why do I do what I do, and in many instances, why do WE do what we do; what is the right thing to do; and how can I add value and contribute to my family, my circle of influence, and society as a whole? All questions I will be discussing in future posts. My journey was naturally informed by personal and professional experiences, but in many instances, I simply followed an awakened and reinvigorated sense of curiosity, and maybe even more important, an abiding need to feel and express creativity.  These two ideas, curiosity, and creativity are the central themes of this leadership post.

If you are a leader searching for new ways to engage team members and generate positive outcomes, let’s fast forward to the solution section.

  1. Make curiosity and learning a central feature of your organizational culture
  2. Establish curiosity and learning as expectations
  3. Reward and model curiosity
  4. Allow team members to learn on their own terms
  5. And always, get out of the way

For those of you willing to stick around for a few minutes, let’s examine curiosity and learning (C&L). I typically think about C&L as interconnected phenomena, but I acknowledge some folks would put forth a compelling counter argument, suggesting they are completely independent. In the context of leadership and organizational development, I’m not so sure it matters. However, I suggest curiosity can be a powerful motivational force leading to creativity and a host of other beneficial outcomes, providing it is acknowledged, encouraged, and nurtured. Just know, organizational curiosity and learning are more than just asking questions and teaching job competency skills, it’s about the freedom to think, reason, and explore ideas.

Consider the following:

  1. Culture consists of beliefs, norms, rituals, traditions, and shared language (not to be confused with jargon and acronyms); therefore, it requires intentionality, dedication, and time.
  2. Curiosity and learning should be discussed at team meetings, stakeholder gatherings, townhall discussions, during interviews, and when analyzing all organizational outcomes. As an aside, the quickest way to stifle team member C&L is to criticize and illuminate shortcomings. And do not punish a perceived lack of C&L during performance reviews. These kinds of interactions are opportunities to encourage and nurture C&L rather than bemoan deficiencies.
  3. What is the next great idea worth to your organization? What is the next terrible idea worth to you? Both outcomes have value and are opportunities to learn. Reward for C&L!
  4. Although this may be difficult for some of you to understand, some folks are incurious. This doesn’t mean incurious team members have limited value; it means you need to guide them a little bit.
  5. If you only take away one thing from this post…allow team members to learn on their own terms. This is likely the most profound lesson I learned from all my years as a leader. People want to learn, but they don’t want to be forced to do so. When I saw my team leaders struggling and suffering from burnout some years back, I tried everything under the sun (at least that’s how it felt at the time) to provide some sort of relief. Eventually, I landed on the idea of establishing a culture of learning, defying organizational norms (sadly, our organization was not enthusiastic about team member and leadership learning). Although my efforts were appreciated, my leaders made it clear, they just didn’t have time to take on one more work assignment, including learning. So, after receiving a bunch of wonderful feedback, I changed course and began to provide resources for personal growth and development, rather than prescriptive workplace learning solutions. I paid for tuitions, bought books, funded workshops, distributed every penny of my team member development budget, made myself available to kick around ideas, and granted all time-off requests. Although some team leaders wanted to learn new job skills, especially in cases when they were contemplating a career change, most used the resources I provided for personal growth. You may not be surprised with these findings, but I was amazed. My team leaders were happier, more productive (yes, I measured the results), working fewer hours, fully engaged with their team members, much more communicative, and eager to share their learning experiences. If you have additional questions about self-directed learning solutions, DM me, I’d love to discuss this idea with you.
  6. Operating with the assumption that all leaders support this idea, it is critical to remove the impediments and barriers to learning. It’s critical to remove barriers in general, but you need to ask the question: what gets in the way of curiosity and learning?
  7. Make the time to think and learn. Pay your team members to think and learn. Some organizations have published results on these kinds of initiatives, which may help your efforts if you need to sell this idea to the c-suite or a board of directors. I’m confident in stating, the results will speak for themselves.
  8. Stop talking about mistakes! A mistake is only real if you don’t learn from it. Please, just get rid of this idea that mistakes are the ultimate evil once and for all; it’s absolute rubbish. Moments of reflection when things haven’t gone to plan are excellent opportunities to refine and improve.
  9. Don’t punish leaders and team members for missteps. Instead, evaluate and learn from ALL outcomes, both the unfortunate and beneficial ones. This is super important, and the first step to establishing a culture of curiosity and learning.
  10. Identify the reasons why your leaders and team members are fearful and struggling with feelings of uncertainty, then commit to resolving those issues. If you want positive organizational outcomes, give your leaders and team members a sense of psychological safety. (This is a huge concept, so I will tackle it in the future)

Something I rediscovered during my six-year journey is that curiosity and learning is central to who I am as a person. When I look back at moments in my life when I felt dissatisfied or unfulfilled, I am now able to see how disconnected I was from those foundational needs. Although this is a discussion for another day, I would suggest learning is an inherent dimension of what it means to be human. I would also suggest that if we are not learning and following our curiosity, we are either simply maintaining the status quo or languishing. And for those of you who know me, you are aware of my thoughts about status quo thinking (see previous posts).

Hopefully this post, after a very long absence, offers something of value. If you have comments or questions, I would love to hear from you. Thanks for thinking through these ideas with me…and, Lead on!

2 comments

  1. Luis Vera · · Reply

    Thank you Evan! Nicely written and thought provoking… I got your definition of culture but I am not sure if I understood what you mean by curiosity. I totally agree with you that they both go together. I would love to know what is curiosity for you and how can you develop the sense of curiosity…

    Wonderful to hear from you and, as always, I love to hear your thinking!

    Be well. Luis

    Like

    1. Hi Luis! Thanks for your comments. Acknowledging the idea of curiosity is subjective, I was using the term to reference the things that spark intrigue, catch our attention, and leave use wondering and wanting to know or learn more. Send me a note about your thoughts on curiosity, let’s discuss further.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: