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3 Simple Ways To Drive Innovation By Cultivating Curiosity

From Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom, the evidence that curiosity was the driving force behind many great creations is indisputable. 

Mr. Disney even called it the key to his company’s success.

Image result for walt disney and mickey mouseIn Curious: The Desire To Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, Ian Leslie puts things into a modern context:

“The key to making one’s curiosity more fruitful and productive is to harness it…to take a non-discriminating interest in anything and everything new and apply it in a more focused, directed, and sustained manner.”

So the obvious question is: How can I harness this powerful force?

First and foremost, you need to recognize that cultivating curiosity is not a quick or easy process. From making wine to mastering the game of chess, you need a big amount of time, effort and perseverance.

Cultivate Curiosity, Drive Innovation

Though not a fine product or skill, curiosity can be cultivated. 

However, a willingness to experiment with eyes and ears wide open is critical to success.

Here are 3 actionable ways to help you harness and cultivate this powerful force behind innovation:

1).  Approach It As a State, Not a Trait

Unlike chess or long-distance running, curiosity is a mindset, not a skill or natural ability. By asking questions and taking a real interest in other people and things (beyond what you know or think you know), you will develop a state of curiosity.

Approach your next coaching opportunity with the a “dumb & lazy” mindset.

Start by asking simple, basic questions as if you don’t know anything about their idea (dumb). This will force them to articulate and sell their idea in a convincing way. More importantly, let them come up with the idea/solution on their own (lazy).

Letting them do the brain work will ensure their full ownership – You most definitely want this!

Result: Modelling this behavior will spark the interest of your collaborators; it can also help break down barriers between job functions and departments.

Warning: Do not model this behavior unless you wish to cultivate a “culture of inquiry” among your team or staff.


2).  Before Walking Away, Challenge Yourself

Just because you’re uncomfortable or even threatened by an idea doesn’t mean it’s a bad one. In fact, forcing yourself to be curious in times like these can produce some unexpected positive results.

The next time you’re feeling uncomfortable by an idea ask yourself these 2 questions:

  1. How might I/we actually do this?
  2. What might the results look like if it worked?

Result: This can help you overcome fear or skepticism to see the merits of an idea. More importantly, it will spark your creative thinking.

Warning: Do not ask yourself these questions unless you want your mind to start working on strategies and solutions.


Way 3:  Listen Up and Learn

When I actively listen to someone’s story, I almost always learn something. Not only do I learn about something outside my world, it activates my mind and I generate ideas that I can apply to my own situations.

The next time you’re meeting with someone outside your company or even area of expertise, try and really focus on them and listen with a receptive mind.

Here’s a powerful 3-Step Process for Active Listening:

  1. Listen with open ears and eyes, not mouth – withhold your input.
  2. Ask clarifying questions only and regularly summarize what you’ve understood.
  3. Offer tips or personal stories only if requested or the conversation is stuck.

Result: Listening in this way will multiply your experience and knowledge tenfold; it can also lead to new ideas and possibilities.

Warning: Do not listen to others’ stories unless you wish to learn something new and spark your creative thinking.


Ask To Learn: A Case Study

Around 2004 I met a guy at a birthday party of a mutual friend. He introduced himself as an Intercultural Trainer.

It sounded interesting, but I had no idea what it was. I proceeded to ask him question after question until he finally invited me to be a role player at his next workshop. 

A year later I was running intercultural workshops of my own. It was the beginning of a new career.

I learned to ask lots of questions as a way to discover new and potentially life-changing opportunities – even when there was no clear or immediate benefit.

If the founders of Airbnb hadn’t been curious about fixing the problem of not enough lodging in popular cities by allowing locals to rent out their private lodgings, I doubt their business would have taken off like it did.

Get In T-Shape Now

In 3 Ways Embracing Curiosity Can Change Your Life, Warren Berger paints it as a must-have 21st-century skill:

“Having a broad perspective and a wide knowledge base is particularly valuable in today’s multi-disciplinary work environments, where ‘T-shaped people’, whose skills and knowledge run wide as well as deep, tend to fare well.”

The 3 above tips will help you develop the “T-shape”. 

Don’t take my word for it – go find out for yourself.

Here’s an easy-to-use Experimentation Loop:

  1. Act and create results
  2. Reflect on results
  3. Adapt and repeat

By using your own results(data) and not that of unknown “experts”, you’ll create your own style and approach – one suited to your specific needs and objectives.

So if you want to be more innovative in your work, you must learn to harness and cultivate curiosity.

Being curious about yourself and the world around you will not only improve your personal and professional life, it will also make it a lot more fun. 

Please do take my word on that!

Thanks for reading,


P.S. For my advice on how to get started, book a FREE DISCOVERY CALL with me.


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  • Thanks Tim for this article. The topic happens to come just at the perfect moment: I recently read a Blink of the book “Curious” (Ian Leslie) that among other things described that curiosity is something small children are already living (They as about 300 questions per day). Unfortunately this “powerful force” can be lost or at least suffer as a consequence of parents not showing interest in the questions asked.

    It’s great to see, that every adult can win back this force by following the ways you are proposing.

    • Thanks, Monique. BTW, which “way” do you see as most important to help people (adults) rediscover this ability?

  • Great article on acquiring this essential mindset. I’ve found that the key ingredient to tapping into the power of curiosity is to seek out those with interests and tastes very different from my own. The questions will come naturally when you’re learning something completely foreign to you and the newly acquired knowledge will stoke your desire to learn even more.

    • Absolutely – you don’t learn anything new talking to people with the same interests! Thx for sharing, Shawn.