Developing Your Curiosity to Open New Opportunities

by Michelle Jobst, CPMR, Jobst Incorporated

Are you hitting your target results for sales, business development, and career aspirations? Hopefully you’ve built out a clear process and are right on track to hit the results you are aiming for.

However, if the answer to that question is “No,” chances are you lack an essential ingredient needed for the continued success of your business.

Contrary to the oft-quoted saying, “Curiosity killed the cat,” curiosity about yourself, your business, customers, business trends, etc., allows you to anticipate challenges and opportunities. That anticipation allows you to stay more than one step ahead of the competition. It could even open new opportunities.

In fact, it has been defined as a “Super Power” by Jon Cohen and Spencer Harrison in their research on the topic of curiosity. So think for a moment how valuable it would be to craft curiosity in the shape of such wide-open questions as “Why?” “What if?” and “How might we…?”

  • How might we capture more customers?
  • What if I had decided to devote more time and effort to higher margin product sales instead of spending an inordinate amount of time on the “lower hanging fruit” sales?
  • How might we streamline our sales process to facilitate better communication to and from customers and principals?

The inherent wisdom of being an advocate for curiosity isn’t lost on successful business planners and thinkers. In writing “The Business Case for Curiosity” for the Harvard Business Review, Francesca Gino, behavioral scientist and professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, notes that “Most of the breakthrough discoveries and remarkable inventions throughout history, from flints for starting a fire to self-driving cars, have something in common: They are the result of curiosity. The impulse to seek new information and experiences and explore novel possibilities is a basic human attribute. New research points to three important insights about curiosity as it relates to business.

“First, curiosity is much more important to an enterprise’s performance than was previously thought. That’s because cultivating it at all levels helps leaders and their employees adapt to uncertain market conditions and external pressures: When our curiosity is triggered, we think more deeply and rationally about decisions and come up with more-creative solutions. In addition, curiosity allows leaders to gain more respect from their followers and inspires employees to develop more-trusting and more-collaborative relationships with colleagues.

“Second, by making small changes to the design of their organizations and the ways they manage their employees, leaders can encourage curiosity — and improve their companies. This is true in every industry and for creative and routine work alike.

“Third, although leaders might say they treasure inquisitive minds, in fact most stifle curiosity, fearing it will increase risk and inefficiency. In a survey I conducted of more than 3,000 employees from a wide range of firms and industries, only about 24 percent reported feeling curious in their jobs on a regular basis, and about 70 percent said they face barriers to asking more questions at work.”

If Professor Gino’s comments spark some interest, the thoughts offered by Ben Dean, Ph.D., who wrote “Curious About Curiosity” in a newsletter devoted to the subject of authentic happiness, add to the conversation. Dean defines curiosity as a strength and it’s a strength associated with intelligence and problem-solving ability. “It’s just the thing needed to review your plans, if they need adjusting.” Additionally, implementing curiosity can lead to innovative solutions not previously considered. Curiosity allows us to more easily tackle more difficult problems.

As simple as these questions might be, too often they’re not asked for the very reason that the busyness of working in the business can distract you from big picture questions. Small business owners wear many hats, but if we are not regularly performing tasks related to viewing the whole business, then ultimately we do nothing more than firm up the status quo.

In areas where you are looking to “level up” your organization’s end result, you might consider applying more curiosity skills to close possible gaps.

Michelle Jobst, CPMR, is a graduate of the College of St. Catherine, St Paul, Minnesota with degrees in speech communications and international business economics. Jobst has over 20 years experience in technical sales; her work history includes experience in customer service and export. She is a member of the Rubber Division, ACS (American Chemical Society) and SPE (Society of Plastic Engineers). While she started working at Jobst Incorporated in 1994, she grew up with the business in her home when her father started out in 1978.