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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Get Curious

The best advice I’ve gotten in recent years is simple. Get Curious. For those of you who don’t know me personally, I can be rather aggressive, especially with things I don’t trust. Whether by virtue of personality or experience, my instincts always lead me to attack and take apart the unknown. This is in some ways a good trait in an engineer, after all, the unknown is what causes you to get paged at 2am. Unfortunately, when it comes to interpersonal interactions, aggressively looking for flaws in things you don’t understand looks less like smart defensive behavior and more like obnoxious trolling.


So how can one honor the need for clarity without attacking and picking apart things in a way that causes others to get defensive? The tactic I’m using is “Get curious.” Instead of assuming that the other party hasn’t thought of your objections, try to understand deeply the context in which they are making their statements. Why do they seem to want to do something that may sound illogical to me? What is their perspective on the circumstances? What have they tried to do already?


A few years ago I wrote about “Yes, and...” I won’t lie; I still struggle to this day with “yes, and”. For me, “get curious” is a bigger picture version of "yes, and," one that I find easier to keep in mind. If you’re always curious and looking for the context, you’re open to the possibilities that are out there. The possibility that you’re missing something important. And that openness makes people want to work with you.


“Get curious” could be the mantra for the learning organization. Curiosity in the face of failure, instead of blame, leads to a safe environment for people to fail, and lets us discuss our failures. Curiosity leaves us open to new ideas. Curiosity enables us to recognize our differences and embrace them to create a stronger whole.


So for those of you who are quick to blame and judge and want to get out of this habit, get curious. For those of you who feel like your team is afraid to take chances and fail, get curious. Even for those of you who are afraid that you’re being too nice and are not challenging your team or colleagues enough, instead of getting mean or aggressive, get more curious. You’ll be surprised at how much more effectively you can create change when you approach situations with open curiosity.

3 comments:

  1. The takeaway from getting curious for me is to be less judgmental. The crazy thing about judging other people is that I end up having the same discomfort that I would have if it were coming from another person. It’s as if by judging others, I am also judging myself. The way out of that cycle I have found is to be more accepting of differences and I agree that involves being more open to new ideas and alternative contexts.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Being curious means respecting other people's ideas, instead of shutting them off right away even if you know they're not correct.

    I like these words from Bret Victor: "I think that bringing ideas into the world is one of the most important things that people do. And I think that great ideas, in the form of great art, stories, inventions, scientific theories, these things take on lives of their own, which give meaning to our lives as people." (https://vimeo.com/36579366)

    If we get into the habit of killing ideas, people will suppress their own ideas, which would be a loss for everyone.

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