Curiosity Sparks Innovation

There is a wonderful new book out by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman titled A Curious Mind…The Secret to a Bigger Life. You may recognize Brian Grazer who is the Academy Award winning producer of such films as A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Splash and more. He also produces award winning television shows which have been nominated for 43 Oscars and 149 Emmys—in other words, he is a successful entertainment producer!

I first heard about the book from an interview with Brian in the United Airlines magazine and I loved reading about how for years Mr. Grazer has been holding “curiosity conversations” with just about anyone you can think of! He’s sought out interesting and accomplished strangers—from spies and Nobel laureates to artists and CEO’s. These talks have inspired many of his films and TV shows.

The book makes a strong case that “curiosity is the tool that sparks curiosity and curiosity is the technique that gets to innovation.” He suggests that questions create the mind-set of innovation and creativity. Curiosity presumes that “there might be something new out there.” I love the way Brian explains it—he says” he keeps asking questions until something interesting happens.”

He says that “being curious and asking questions creates engagement” so there is a link to one of the most frequently discussed management topics today—employee engagement! Another link to the world of work is his belief—and I totally agree—that curiosity sparks innovation.

So, what should you do if you want to have a curious conversation—especially one that might lead you to innovation? The authors suggest you start close to home with people you already know—family, friends, work-related colleagues. Think of someone who might have an interesting job or who has had a very different life experience from yours. Begin the conversation by telling the person that you’ve always been curious about their work (or their achievements or education or whatever makes them unique) and that you’d like to spend 20 minutes or so talking to you about what they do (or what their challenges are or…)

Here are some tips for having a successful curious conversation:

· Be sure to clearly state that you want to hear their story—not that you are looking to sell them something or looking for advice—you are curious about them and their story!

· Be careful to stay within the timeframe you agreed to before you started so that you honor them.

· Prepare your questions ahead of time and be sure to ask open ended questions like, “Tell me about why you decided to study … “or “What was your first professional success?” or “What’s surprised you the most about where your passion has taken you?”

· Even though you have thought your questions through ahead of time, be flexible if the conversation goes in a new direction! That’s where you will learn the most!

· Listen carefully and respectfully. Follow up questions with probes like, “Tell me more…,” “How so?” Your goal is to learn as much as possible from the conversation.

· Be grateful for the time the person spent talking to you. Of course, you would thank the person at the end of the conversation but the authors suggest you send a handwritten thank you note in which you mention something that was particularly interesting or in which you share a story of how something they said caused you to think or behave differently. You can also send a thank you email but handwritten notes get a lot of attention because no one sends them anymore! And, remember, a thank you note should not ask for anything—it is to say how much you appreciated their time and information!

We challenge you to use curious conversations to drive innovation in your organization and let us know how it works for you!

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