What Kills Curiosity at Companies – And How to Avoid It

March 11, 2019

All of these kill curiosity at any organization.

Creativity is the single-most important skill today, according to LinkedIn data. The reason?

In a world that's changing faster than ever, yesterday’s answers won’t solve today’s problems. Instead, across all industries and all functions, creative thinking is required to think of innovative solutions to age-old problems.

But creativity can’t exist without curiosity; they go hand-in-hand. Only by questioning the status quo (i.e. curiosity), can you dream up new ideas (creativity).

That makes curiosity a must-have attribute for any individual or company. And yet, there are common traits that kill curiosity at companies.

In her LinkedIn Learning course Applied Curiosity, Instructor Becki Saltzman explains what these “curiosity killers” are – and, better yet, gives strategies for overcoming them.

7 Things That Kill Curiosity at Any Company

According to Saltzman, seven of the most common curiosity killers at any company are:

    1. An extreme discomfort with being seen as wrong.

The best companies welcome new ideas, and don’t see everything through the narrow prism of “right” and “wrong.” There are drawbacks and pluses to virtually every solution – the best organizations continue to test new ideas and learn, so they can continue to get smarter.

    2. An intense fear of failure.

Similar to the last point, to have a curious, learning culture, you need to accept failures. There’s no way around it.

Otherwise, if you punish all failures, there will still be failures. People will just cover them up and nothing will be learned from them.

Plus, your people will be reluctant to try anything new. And that is literally the exact opposite of innovation.

    3. Overvaluing certainty over inquiry.

There’s often a “certain” answer – meaning, a solution you are fairly certain will work out.

For example, doing it the same way you’ve always done it is a certain answer. Or, doing what’s regarded as the industry norm is a certain answer.

The challenge is, if you always pick the “certain” answer, you won’t learn anything new and you'll limit yourself. Additionally, it’ll be a classic case of diminishing returns, where each similar effort will be slightly less successful than the last.

Mix it up. On virtually every project, you should experiment somewhere.

    4. Having siloed departments within your company.

If departments within your company start becoming too siloed, or even if your company itself becomes too siloed from your customers, you’ll slowly begin to grow less and less curious.

For example, if product never talks to sales, it means only product people – who have a tendency to have a similar approach – will make product decisions. This kills innovation, as outside voices are instigators of curious thought.

Same goes for being too siloed from your customers. Yes, your product might be very technically advanced – but is it really solving your customer’s needs?

Bottom line, infusing all of your departments with unique voices is critical to having a culture of curiosity.

    5. Having a lack of diversity among your staff.

You can cut-and-paste what I wrote for point four here in point five.

Unique voices ask unique questions, which leads to curiosity. If your team is too similar – and not just along racial and/or gender lines, but even if all your marketers have bachelor’s degrees in marketing, for example – you’ll invariably have a less curious unit.

    6. Having a very hierarchical culture.

If your culture is very hierarchical – meaning, the highest-paid person in the room is always right – you’ll foster less curiosity. Because no longer will people ask if this is the best answer; instead, they’ll just wonder what their boss believes is the best answer.

A quick test to tell how hierarchical your culture: when’s the last time the highest ranking person in the room initially disagreed with something, but it happened anyway?

If you can’t think of an example, there’s a good chance you have an overly hierarchical culture.

    7. An overreliance on short-term performance over long-term gains.

This happens often. We get so focused on hitting goals for this month or this quarter, we are unwilling to try new things because we don’t want to risk missing those marks.

That’s exactly why short-term thinking kills curiosity. Yes, you need to hit goals – but you also need to prioritize what your company is learning along the way, which requires longer-term thinking.

3 Strategies for Increasing Curiosity at Your Company

We just listed seven of the most common curiosity killers at companies today. But what are the opposite of those? What are ways to increase curiosity at your company?

In her course, Saltzman listed three:

    1. Encourage cross-pollination.

This means encouraging different teams to meet with each other and with customers (even if they aren’t customer-facing). And also encouraging lateral moves within your company.

“Meet with people in different departments with different job functions and at different levels of your organization with the purpose of learning more about them and their projects,” Saltzman said. “As a leader, encourage your team members to do this and show what they learn with your team.”

    2. Include learning goals in each project.

Virtually every project has its own set of goals. Make it mandatory to add a new track of goals too – learning goals.

That means, for each project, what will you learn that you can apply to future projects? This requires your teams to experiment, and ultimately makes the whole company smarter. It forces curiosity.

    3. Reward great questions, not just great answers.

How’s this for a fun team competition – who can come up with the best question?

It’s a great exercise that fosters acute curiosity. Creating a list of great questions you’d love to answer can give you a blueprint of what you’d like to learn in your next six months of projects.

Want to learn how to build a more curious mindset for both you and your team? Watch Becki Saltzman's course, Applied Curiosity, today.

Other topics within the LinkedIn Learning course include how to: