Friday, November 22, 2019

Curious Leaders: Relentlessly Question How Things Work

Adam Bryant has written a great article for Strategy+Business titled, "How to Think Like a CEO."   In it, he talks about a particular habit of mind of highly effective leaders.  He calls it applied curiosity.   Here's an excerpt:

Ultimately, I settled on a habit of mind that I call applied curiosity. Yes, curiosity is table stakes for anyone hoping to succeed. But it comes in many shades. Some people’s curiosity leads them to excel at crossword puzzles or to be champions on Jeopardy! Applied curiosity is a more specific variety.

People who have it engage in relentless questioning to understand how things work. And then they start wondering how those things could be made to work better. They approach everything with an inquiring mind-set — whether it’s making sense of shifting consumer habits or the global macroeconomic trends that are shaping their industry... 

What separates top CEOs from the rest is how much they question, probe, and then process what they are experiencing in order to look for insights and patterns. And in this wicked-problem world, the questioning mind-set has to be forward-looking as much as it is retrospective, sifting through what has already happened to look for lessons. If one old definition of wisdom is that it’s a sense that “I’ve seen this movie before and I know how it plays out,” then wisdom for leaders today increasingly means unlearning what they already know in order to explore what-if scenarios for an uncertain future.

I love the concept.  I've written before about how leaders often can become too beholden to the conventional wisdom, and even close-minded over time.  They become afflicted by confirmation bias, seeking data that confirms what they already believe, rather than being willing to consider how existing perspectives or mental models may be incomplete, or even wrong.  The best leaders acknowledge that the past is not necessarily a good predictor of the future, that what worked in the past may not work going forward.  They also understand that others may have vital information and insight that they do not possess, and they are open to listening to those perspectives.  Applied curiosity... we could use a lot more of it at the top of many organizations.  

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