Curiosity has been hailed by leading academics as one of the most critical competencies of the modern workforce. Curiosity has been shown to boost people’s employability and given that the jobs of the future are becoming less predictable, an increasing number of companies are looking to hire employees based on what they are likely to learn, rather than what they already know.
Of course, metrics such as IQ can help you to predict an employee’s ability to learn but a person’s IQ can’t predict whether they will be inquisitive and open enough to effectively use this ability. No skills can be learnt effectively without at least minimum levels of interest and high IQ levels need to be combined with high interest levels to achieve mastery. So, what exactly makes curiosity such a valuable trait in employees and leaders?
1. Curious employees are more likely to be creative
Curious employees are more open to new experiences and more likely to challenge the status quo. This openness to new experiences leads these employees to enjoy the experience of dealing with novel business challenges and developing creative solutions. Given that many markets are changing at an ever increasing rate, companies need curious employees who are engaged in developing creative solutions to business challenges and continuously building their skills. According to a 2016 study published in the Personality and Individual Differences journal, people with high levels of diversive curiosity are most likely to excel at creative problem-solving.
2. Curious employees are likely to be able to thrive in complex situations
Second, curious employees are more tolerant of ambiguity which allows them to deal with the complexities, challenges and nuances of the business world. Many business-problems are made with sub-optimal information and thus lack clear-cut solutions and answers e.g. Will this person develop into a top leader?, Will this merger work out?, Is this the optimal message for this marketing campaign?.
Regardless of the challenge, curious employees will be more likely to objectively evaluate a wider range of data, facts and options before making a decision. To contrast, when employees lack curiosity, they have a high need for closure and they are more likely to dismiss any perspective that is not aligned with their beliefs or attitudes. Incurious employees are psychologically conservative in the sense that they seek to preserve their existing beliefs, as opposed to challenging them. They fear that by acknowledging that their point of view is wrong, it will make them look and feel stupid or inferior.
3. Curious leaders encourage innovation
Third, hiring curious employees is likely to backfire unless you have curious leaders and a culture that encourages curiosity. When leaders are open to new information, perspectives, ideas, innovations and information, this encourages subordinates and team members to share and be open to new ideas and innovations.
The Limits of Curiosity
In order to thrive in a rapidly changing market, one needs to hire curious employees and leaders, nurture curiosity and reward curiosity. However, curiosity does have its limits. Excessive curiosity can cause employees and leaders to struggle to focus, to lack regard for targets and goals and to opt for unusual and risky solutions at the expense of simple and effective ones. The ideal level of curiosity can vary considerably depending on the role and industry in question. However, if you have to choose between hiring an employee who has too much curiosity or one who has too little, we would usually suggest that that you hire the candidate who has too much curiosity.