There is an old idiom that says “curiosity killed the cat,” which means fundamentally means that inquisitiveness leads one into danger. According to The Phrase Finder, the first use of the phrase can be attributed to the English Playwright, Ben Johnson, in 1598. But, what are leaders without curiosity?
Leaders by their very nature are and should be exploring the “what ifs.” One cannot lead without thinking about how something should be done, or what will result from a specific action. Thus, if a leader does not have a curious streak, how are the other leadership traits developed? In fact, the archaic meaning of the word curiosity (according to Dictionary.com) is “careful attention to detail” and “desire to know and learn.” Essentially, one of the key traits attributed to leaders.
Curiosity while there is a potential downside, it can lead one along a dangerous path, is fundamental to our desire to learn and solve problems. Without asking the “what if” questions, how is one supposed to grow? How is a business supposed to plan for its future or for potential threats? How is the next innovation supposed to occur?
These are key questions that leaders ponder each and every day, so it is apparent that leaders have a healthy curiosity streak. But, what about the downside? This is also something that leaders have to consider. Leaders need to think through potential actions to avoid the downside. You can just open the box, without thinking about what consequences might arise. Leaders have to look at and examine the potential unknowns. They have to anticipate some of the consequences, knowing full well that all the consequences may or may not be apparent depending upon the specific situation. It is the unintended consequences that have the biggest potential to get us all into trouble.
So, being curious and acting upon the curiousness that we have as leaders is a careful balancing act. Leaders need curiosity but need to be deliberate in how we proceed. Leaders have to look for and consider the potential dangers, not just the potential benefits. Leaders have to look at more than their next action, they have to think about the subsequent actions due to the intended result (or in how the results are implemented). Yet, without curiosity; we as individuals and society don’t progress.
Thus, leaders must:
- Not lose the curiosity that got you to this point
- Not take things for granted
- Not stop asking questions
In order, for us to do this, leaders must:
- Continue to explore – Whether through travel, reading, discussions, etc. as a leader you have to be exposed to different ideas and points of view. You have to expand your frame of reference.
- See learning as an opportunity to open the mind – Leaders have to stay abreast of what is happening around them. They have to monitor changes in their chosen fields. They have to study new ways of applying techniques, and tools. Learning is a constant in a leader’s daily life.
- Understand that curiosity is an active process – As a leader, you must actively engage in exploration, actively ask questions, and actively seek to learn. It is not a passive endeavor.
My favorite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity.I think if you are curious, you create opportunities, and then if you open the doors, you create possibilities.
Mario Testino, Photographer