Career and Business Lessons from Curious George

I recently attended a company offsite where my fellow executives and I took a hard look at our rapidly growing business. Often, growth can blind companies to latent problems that subsequently arise at the worst possible time. Good management teams regularly go offsite to step back, wake up, work together, fix problems, and plan ahead.

Though our team covered the requisite corporate planning, strategy, metrics, etc., it was the discussion of corporate culture that snagged us. Though we had great products, happy customers, and a well-regarded brand, it was our people – and more specifically our culture– that tied it all together. Yes, we all knew culture was important, but we also understood that many companies took it for granted and gave it nothing more than lip service, or worse, its own web page under “corporate values.”

We then began a dissection of what made our corporate culture work. Sure, we found important attributes such as intelligence, work ethic, and expertise, but one stood out, miles above the rest: curiosity. All of our employees had it – in spades.

Curious GeorgeThey were:

  • Curious about our customers
  • Curious about our market
  • Curious about our products
  • Curious about our competitors
  • Curious about each other
  • Curious about nearly everything

Now I was curious about “curious.” I decided to go through a pile of resumes that I had rejected; I was searching for curiosity. I realized that a majority echoed a significant lack of curiosity. Wow. I went further and looked at employees whom I’ve let go over the years. Same thing: a majority just weren’t curious about things. Hmmm. I then reflected on my personal life and found that my best (and most interesting) friends all had insatiable curiosity.

My thoughts then turned to Curious George, the incessantly inquisitive monkey from the eponymous book series that many of us either read or read to our children. Though Curious George frequently caused a kerkuffle when his probing nature went too far, he always ended up better off and happy.

There’s a valuable lesson here:

When you’re curious, you’re helping to change the world. Your successful career is a positive byproduct.

Profound? Perhaps. Now I’m just curious why I didn’t figure this out earlier…

Rob Ciampa

4 Comments


  1. Rob,
    Great post. During my Life Coach training many years ago before I got into marketing, the thing I remember most was the encouragement to approach clients with curiosity. And from that curiosity, to ask the exact right questions that would help the client see their problems from a fresh perspective, which would inevitably lead to a “light bulb” moment and movement toward a solution.

    In my experience, that stance of curiosity helps clients feel safe and supported yet nudged enough to get unstuck. What I know about curiosity is that when it is strong and sincere, it is coming from an open mind and an attitude of acceptance. Both of which are necessary for creativity and innovation. You and your leadership team have been wise enough to hire the curious who also happen to be the most creative.

    Reply

    1. Christine,
      Thank you. Running parallel to this post was my questioning about whether curiosity could be taught. I reflected on situations where I invested heavily in two particular individuals, trying very hard to trigger their curiosity. I gave them books, brainstormed with them, etc. Nothing worked; they just weren’t curious. They failed with customers and failed in their job performance. I ended up firing them both. Candidly, it was tough to gauge their curiosity during their interviews. Since then I’ve put together more accurate curiosity identifiers, which so far has worked quite well. In fact, it’s been a key indicator of future success. That may be another blog post.
      Regards,
      Rob

      Reply

  2. Rob,
    Oh, I think it’s more than a just another blog post! As I was reflecting on the issue that exact thought came into my mind – “Can this be taught?” My first instinct was No. And I think it relates to my point about attitude and open mindedness. You can invite someone to be more accepting and open-minded…though I suspect they might need to already be open-minded in order to try to be more open-minded! LOL! I believe that fearful people tend to be more narrow-minded, and hold a dualistic view of the world that makes them need certainties in order to feel safe. But those certainties of belief and attitude are what make them incapable of curiosity. In other words they have a very small and contained comfort zone. And it’s hard to be creative when one lives in that kind of a self created box. I hope we’ll have a chance to talk about this more sometime. Great stuff!

    Reply

    1. Christine,
      Having managed for so many years, I’ve realized that there is a group of people set in their ways and training them will have minimal (if any) impact. If they can do their job, they’ll quietly coast along. If they can’t, there is NOTHING I can do, except move them out. Cynical? No – realistic. If I find people with curiosity, intelligence, passion, maturity, and drive, I know that my investment in them is the smartest thing I can do for both them and my company.
      Sincerely,
      Rob

      Reply

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