Curiosity and success

Is financial success correlated with curiosity? Harvard Business Review claims it is. And they are not alone. Hiring curious people is a smart idea. Developing your natural curiosity is also an interesting thought.

Today I do not encourage you to check facts and read further, but instead, look deeper into your own qualities. Do you allow yourself to express curiosity?

The five dimensions of curiosity

Curiosity is very natural for many of us, but its analysis is far from simple. There is an actual psychological model, which maps curiosity according to five dimensions. I quote:

    1. deprivation sensitivity—recognizing a gap in knowledge the filling of which offers relief. This type of curiosity doesn’t necessarily feel good, but people who experience it work relentlessly to solve problems.
    2. joyous exploration—being consumed with wonder about the fascinating features of the world. This is a pleasurable state; people in it seem to possess a joie de vivre.
    3. social curiosity—talking, listening, and observing others to learn what they are thinking and doing. Some may even snoop, eavesdrop, or gossip to do so.
    4. stress tolerance—a willingness to accept and even harness the anxiety associated with novelty. Being likely to step forward and explore.
    5. thrill-seeking—being willing to take physical, social, and financial risks to acquire varied, complex, and intense experiences. They actually want novelty.

Joyous exploration has the strongest link with the experience of intense positive emotions. Stress tolerance has the strongest link with satisfying the need to feel competent, autonomous, and that one belongs. Social curiosity has the strongest link with being a kind, generous, modest person.

Let us see… I PROBABLY score high in 1 and 2,  below average on 3 and 4, and very low on 5. I still think I am quite curious, enough to read a book or buy a gadget but not enough to go into the heart of Amazonas. It seems that science still has a long way to go to become relevant.

Does curiosity help in careers?

About 80% of people think curiosity catalyzes new ideas and about 60% that it helps in a promotion. Curious people can shine when dealing with complex and changing scenarios, but they are hard to manage and likely to run when faced with routine office jobs. Google is notoriously known for hiring people grossly overqualified for their actual jobs. No amount of office games can cover the fact that very good people are bored to death in very average jobs.

Curiosity may be good for leaders, but not for ordinary employees. I quote :

Curiosity is the best predictor of strength in all seven of the leadership competencies we measure

  1. results orientation
  2. strategic orientation
  3. collaboration and influence
  4. team leadership
  5. developing organizational capabilities
  6. change leadership
  7. market understanding

Executives with extraordinary curiosity are usually able, with the right development, to advance to C-level roles. However, that development is critical. Although a strong positive correlation exists between curiosity and competence, there is a significant spread—and a highly curious executive may score much lower on competence than less curious counterparts. What separated the two groups was the complexity and breadth of the opportunities they’d been given.

This is interesting. While the leadership qualities that were chosen by the authors almost coincide with the five dimensions of curiosity, competence is predicted by broad experience. Broad experience is the quality of people who change many jobs before finally being promoted. Curiosity and early promotion may lead to a grossly incompetent leader wondering why nobody wants to hire him.

Do curious people deserve a promotion?

And again I quote:

When our curiosity is triggered, we are less likely to fall prey to

  • confirmation bias (looking for information that supports our beliefs rather than for evidence suggesting we are wrong) 
  • stereotyping people (making broad judgments, such as that women or minorities don’t make good leaders).

Every 5% increase in curiosity kind of leads to 10% increase in creativity. Add to this understanding of the major players and activities… We are talking about better decision making, more open and informed communication, focus on innovation.  This may be good for the organizations, but hard for managers.

Conveyer-belt sort of efficiency is incompatible with curiosity. Curiosity drive people to explore, challenge the authority, create mess, ask uncomfortable questions, and overall waste time on nonsense.

Managing curious people

If you are a curious person, think not just about your current job but also about your next two jobs. Only exceptional mentors in a positive environment will allow creative outbreaks.  Otherwise, even in startups, when the survival of the company or the branch is threatened, every second not spent on the main goals is considered a waste.

When the situation is favorable, a good mentor and manager will

  • listen rather than talk,
  • carefully guide the personal interests towards productive learning and research,
  • allow some time to deal with open questions.

Typically a good manager will tend to hire a diverse team.

I tend to be a bad manager. On my current job, I hired a team, where everybody I hired scored very high on creativity, painted, and meditated. They are all very competent but tend to undermine every business practice with the best intentions. Eventually, the team became so autonomous that I stopped managing them and focused on my own research. Productivity only increased.

Age and curiosity

Curious people age differently. “What if” questions are asked equally passionately. Some of the greatest philosophers and writers in human history were most productive in their late 70s. With old age, we tend to lose mathematical agility but our linguistic skills and creativity do not slow down.

The memory actually slows down with age. I quote:

Conduction velocities in sensory and motor nerves slow down with age.  Changes in storage and retrieval of information occur for all age groups. Recall, the searching and retrieving of factual information from storage worsen over time. But recognition, the matching of stored information with information in the environment, changes very little over time. Encoding, the process of preparing information for memory, takes more time and effort. This relates to sensory barriers and creates a disadvantage to initial processing. In general reaction time to a stimulus is slower in old people.  

While there is no sign of decreasing productivity, creativity, and intelligence at old age I would suggest constant and focused memory training to deal with a slower metabolism and sensory processing.

Also as we age curiosity pays off: curious people are still relevant and well-informed while their peers may become outdated. I have actually seen people in their 70s performing complex mathematical tasks on equal terms with younger colleges.

Curiosity in experts vs managers

While curious managers need a very broad range of activities, curious experts often report a very strong and passionate interest in a single area of human activity.

Aging managers often appear to be very informed and relevant, while experts often seem helpless in anything except their areas of expertise.  I assume this has to do with the nature of their curiosity. Many experts I know have a very wide range of interests, while they earn money from just one of their interests.  Their interests are constantly changing, but their interest in the core competence seams very consistent. Anecdotally I think this is a very effective combination, so I try to copy it.

I quote:

The positive affects of interest and enjoyment are also crucial in modulating the negative affects associated with hard work and accomplishments. Consider the pain and suffering, the late nights, the fatigue—affects of distress, anger, fear, etc.—often required to complete a big project, a degree, a trial, and so on. If the interest is not sufficient, it will be difficult to overcome the negative affects.

Presenting the ideas

Some experiments show that unfinished presentation invites curious investigation and brainstorming, while well-finished presentation discourages people from tampering with it. This is somewhat the opposite of the business culture, where we are tempted to present well-developed ideas and results. Quite possible messy texts are encouraging the readers to participate and become more creative.

Do we really encourage others to be curious and challenge us, or are we secretly intimidated by the challenge and the changes? This is a hard question, and I am not sure we can be objective with ourselves.

Can we become more curious?

Honestly, I do not know. If we find something boring, we will tend not to ask further questions and hear the answers. Let us consider the 5 dimensions. Here I am using anecdotal evidence and common sense.

The gap in knowledge is a sort of anxiety. We feel it when working in jobs that require knowledge and technology. One day we check something innocent to find out that Pluto is no more a planet, and we get anxious. I think the focus here is acknowledging and facing your stupidity rather than trying to avoid it.

For joyous exploration, we probably need to let go of perfectionism and proficiency and enjoy the most ridiculous interests we have.

Social curiosity may actually make us unhappy if we go with the initial stories we hear. As we go deeper and show compassion, people will open up and the communication is very rewarding. So the main idea is going beyond the show, consistently asking “what made you think or do that”, until we get the actual human being.

Stress-tolerance and thrill-seeking may result from exposure therapy. Constantly visualizing and occasionally actually trying new things, to verify that they are fun and nothing bad happens. I actually had to do that, as initially, I was getting stressed by changes.

Of course, we have courses where we teach all of these things. Some lectures are free. Start with them…

Curiosity ... the rover

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