Ask questions and be open to new ideas, challenges, and ways of doing things
“Curiosity killed the cat” is a phrase used to warn of the dangers of unnecessary investigation, especially when we feel asking questions may be opening a can of worms, generating more problems than answers. However, if we are to become effective leaders, we should learn the value of curiosity.
Curiosity is innate. When we are babies, we learn to engage with our surroundings by being curious and through exploration.
As we grow older we tend to lose this skill because we feel we have got the right answers to our questions or we are not encouraged to ask questions.
A leader may feel they should provide all the answers. As such curiosity may be seen as a weakness. But it is weak leaders who don’t ask questions for fear of looking incompetent. The problem with answers is that they don’t teach you anything. Answers end thinking. If you have the answer, why ask questions? So, curious leaders stop having all the answers and start having all the questions. By being curious, we are open to new ideas, challenges and ways of doing things. This constant seeking of knowledge makes innovation happen. We ask questions and take action to find the answers.
Have you stopped asking questions? It’s not too late to rekindle your curiosity. This is vital to be an effective leader. Develop an enquiring mind.
According to the former defence secretary of the US Donald Rumsfeld: “There are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
These questions can help you to start practising curiosity
● What happened?
● When did it happen?
● Where did it happen?
● Why did it happen?
● How might I…?
● What if there was another possibility?
● What else is available for me to choose… that I haven’t chosen?
● What skills, tools, relationships or other resources do I have or want for achieving my goals?
So, the challenge is to convert some of the “unknown unknowns” into the “known knowns”, narrowing the information gap. This is where curiosity allows you to dig deeper into the zone of “unknown unknowns” (see Fig).
A first step is to start with the things you know you don’t know. What is it you’ve always wanted to know but have not learnt? Why not put an action plan in place as to how you will get to know this? Don’t be afraid to ask as the answers you find will benefit not just you.
As a leader, it is important to encourage curiosity, and lead by example. It is essential for organisations to develop a culture of curiosity, which leads to ownership at every level - health professionals asking the right questions at each step of the way.
A famous quote by the French writer, historian and philosopher Voltaire states “you should judge a man by his questions, not by his answers”. So what questions are you going to ask? Not curious, yet? Then how are you going to seek answers?
Ruth Oshikanlu is a nurse, midwife and health visitor, as well as a coach and managing director of Goal Mind. She is a Queen’s Nurse