Navigating digital change® rarely presents a deterministic path. Road signs do not suddenly appear, directing you to change your personal or organization path. Cultivating curiosity helps navigate change paths. People live their lives waiting for an obvious sign to make a move or embrace change. It never happens. Moreover, even when the signs seem obvious to others around us, our human nature causes us to resist. I think of doctors that tell their patients they will die if they don’t change a critical habit. Even when the patient agrees with the doctor’s prognosis, often the patient continues with their damaging behavior.
Cultivating curiosity is a first step. We need to cultivate curiosity to be able to “see” and explore. Photographers cultivate their seeing skills – noticing the interplay of light, exposure, focus, and subject. Likewise, painters explore the relationship between colors. Musicians experiment with melody, harmony, and rhythm. Curiosity underlies all this, motivating artists to try something new and push beyond conventional boundaries.
If you are a business or organization, cultivating curiosity helps you notice patterns that seem unchangeable. The phrase, “we’ve always done it this way”, reflects fixed, routine patterns that seemingly have always been and always will be. These patterns are so ingrained, we don’t even notice, much less question them. We should question who decided something should be done a certain way or why something has to always be done the same way. Our lives can seem boxed-in by unseen orthodoxies. Yes, I realize patterns help us be efficient in our daily activities. We cannot rethink everything in real-time. Some orthodoxies keep us safe. Driving patterns such as signaling turns is a norm, and the law. However, hosts of other seemingly fixed patterns deserve a second-look.
Seek Creative Experiences
Cultivating curiosity is not just randomly asking questions about stuff. The core of curiosity is built around life experiences – creative experiences. The more life experience, the more thought diversity you naturally notice. Building life experience offers limitless options. However, the best options involve your whole person. Get outside the limits of your smart phone or computer screen. Examples abound. Travel connects you with people of different cultures and perspectives. Painting or photography prompts us to look at our physical world with fresh eyes, to notice things we usually glaze over. Music stimulates us to integrate rhythm, harmony, and even story-telling. Acting and improvisation causes us to get out of our heads and engage with others. By practicing these curiosity-building skills, we bring new perspectives to all our activities. For example, if you design web-site user-interfaces, you may suddenly discover new ways customers might want to engage. You might create a fresh interaction pattern that creates a competitive advantage.
I was in an introductory acting glass where we each had to take an orange and study it carefully, noticing all the patterns in the skin, the indentations and the color variation. We then shut our eyes and tried to paint or sketch it in our mind. Next, we opened our eyes and noticed all the details we missed. On the second try, I remembered much more detail. Finally, we put our oranges in a pile on the floor. The teacher mixed up the oranges and asked us to find our orange. Everyone found their orange. I will never again look at an orange the same way.
If you represent an organization navigating digital change®, imagine how you might approach change if cultivating curiosity became the norm such that you could shut your eyes and sketch any key pattern that is important to your customers, your employees, and your stakeholders. You will stay relevant and embrace needed change at that right time, with less fear.
James Stephens, the Irish poet and novelist once said,“Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.”
Cultivate curiosity to conquer the fear of change.
More on Cultivating Curiosity
For more on curiosity, see HBR’s article, Why Curiosity Matters.