The Chief Technology Officer of a medical devices company recently shared with me the two qualities she looks for in a potential new hire. Curiosity and eagerness. Her belief is that hard skills can be learned and refined along the way. However, a natural inquisitiveness and enthusiasm were harder to acquire.
I agree wholeheartedly. I also believe that curiosity and eagerness are habits we can cultivate if we take the time and see the value in doing so. Many clients I work with who feel stuck at a certain level of their career, are having difficulties with coworkers or direct reports or are overwhelmed with their workload often benefit from stepping back and taking a broader minded view.
When I ask them how could they be more curious about the situation, something interesting usually happens. They switch from a “what’s wrong” perspective to a “what am I not seeing” perspective. This one shift alone can make a big difference.
According to George Lowenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University who authored a 1994 paper titled, “The Psychology of Curiosity,” curiosity is what drives us to keep learning and keep pushing forward. When we realize there is a gap in our knowledge, we experience a deficiency of sorts and are motivated to get the missing information to reduce this feeling. What is so powerful about curiosity is that it is both a mental state and an emotion.
Eagerness boils down to a willingness, either to learn or to embrace what you don’t yet know. When I ask those same clients what would it be like to have enthusiasm about this current situation, I’m often met with silence at first. The question seems to be counterintuitive. However, once they think about it for a moment they realize that difficult situations could be a chance to learn, to grow and to strengthen a skill that will serve their success later on. This shifts the view of the problem to an opportunity for their own growth and that is something to be excited about.
If you find yourself stuck in the status quo, indifferent or bored about a situation, try the following:
- Pose an interesting question to yourself that takes you out of your comfort zone of knowing.
- Do some research on similar situations/subjects to stimulate your thinking.
- Have a conversation with someone who inspires you or that you respect. Ask them to give you an alternate point of view from your own.
- Transform fear of failure into a love of learning. Be willing to embrace the risk of disappointment with the potential reward of more knowledge.
- Seek out gaps in what you are capable of or confident it, knowing this awareness will create a desire to fill them.
While it’s true that our lives are impacted by the volatile world we work and live in, it’s also true that we always have the power of choice over how we will respond to it. What would happen if today you chose to respond to a difficulty with curiosity and enthusiasm? How might that shift your experience? What could you gain that you don’t have now?
Jo-Aynne von Born
Executive Coach, Work/Life Strategist, Workshop Facilitator