A Data Driven Culture Requires Curiosity

July 27, 2020

Curiosity is one of the most permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.
Samuel Johnson

Last week I focused on why metrics that really matter are critical to organizational growth and sustainability. I would like to dig a bit deeper into this issue.

One of the challenges leaders face in trying to build an organization where data is the driving force, is getting staff to move past what they think they know to embracing what they do not know; creating a mindset and a culture of curiosity. It starts by hiring staff who are by nature, students of life—always learning, engage in reading beyond their field, have diverse interests outside of work, etc. Smart companies should be looking for people who are eager to learn what they do not know, individuals who are inquisitive, even if the things they are learning are not immediately useful.

Because curiosity is something I value in staff, I started to do some reading/research on the ways that company leaders are assessing curiosity and building a culture where people are eager to learn what they do not know.

There are a plethora of options leaders have to intentionally assess the curiosity of staff. Harvard Business Review cited a series of scientifically validated questions, drawn from extensive research on curiosity in educational settings and the personality traits associated with it. There are also Insight Assessment tools (California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory, INSIGHT Health Professional) that are used to measure inquisitiveness and intellectual curiosity. In 2009, Kashdan, Rose and Fincham published an updated version of their Curiosity and Exploration Inventory. They stated: “given curiosity’s fundamental role in motivation, learning, and well-being, we sought to refine the measurement of trait curiosity with an improved version.”

Why does this matter? Because curiosity leads to motivation and innovation. I found a great example of this that occurred at England’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. Apparently, the hospital was experiencing a number of casualties during patient transfers. Thinking about the sectors that are very good at “transfers” the head physician brought in a Formula One racing team to evaluate the hospital’s processes, asking them to make observations based on their own methods. The process recommended by the racing team (a three-step approach to triage) reduced the hospital’s errors by more than 50 percent.

I then began to wonder what within organizational cultures might thwart curiosity. I was intrigued to find a State Of Curiosity Survey, conducted by Harris Poll, that showed employees think curiosity should be more important but they do not feel supported in being curious. According to this poll:

• Only 39% of employees say their managers are either extremely encouraging or very encouraging of curiosity

• 66% say they face barriers to asking more questions

• 60% say their workplace creates barriers to curiosity into their work, and

• Only 10% strongly agree that their managers preferred new and unfamiliar ideas.

If we are to create data driven organizations where employees are committed to asking questions, digging deeper, learning what they do not know, we need to create a culture where curiosity is identified as a top priority, where it is safe to ask questions, where the act of questioning is encouraged. This culture starts in the talent acquisition phase and continues through day to day interactions with organizational leaders and is a major focus of performance evaluations.

Join me next week as we explore this concept further.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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