One trait separating those who are truly successful from those who are merely surviving is a spirit of learning and an unbridled curiosity. Leaders who never stop moving, challenging, testing, and learning are the kinds of leaders who continually advance.

As a professional strategist since 1989, I’ve had an opportunity to work with many awesome leaders. Each of them had strengths and attributes that were unique. Several were brilliant analytically.  Some were extraordinary visionaries and excellent communicators.  Others demonstrated amazing mentoring skills that got the best of their people.  And a few were superb at strategy.  I have also had the opportunity to work with some real dogs too:  those who cannot hear a better idea or see a different perspective from their own.

Over the years, I came to realize that each of the successful leaders I met shared an important trait: intellectual curiosity. This kind of curiosity starts at a young age by just being curious.  Naturally, some of us as kids were naturally more curious than others. Sadly, many of us had our natural curiosity stifled rather than nurtured as we grew.

Growing up, I was told that curiosity and trouble often go hand-in-hand. I was also told that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  As an adult, I found that thinking is often confused with idleness.  But thinking and curiosity should go hand in hand.  Curiosity can lead to new ideas, new questions, and creative answers.  Because of this, curiosity is not only an important part of being smart, it is also strategically important to success in business.

Strangely enough, as we gain experience, we are often at risk of losing this important trait that we all once possessed as children. Why? Perhaps we were being viewed as different by a peer. Or perhaps it was due to fear of failure, fear of a boss, or even rebuke from a parent. Perhaps it is the result of a kind of natural cynicism associated with getting older and seeing business as it is, rather than as what it could be.

Real curiosity comes from seeing things differently. 

Seeing things differently requires recognizing what others are doing well, why, and how.  It takes a curious eye to be able to see real opportunity, possible roadblocks and obstacles to success, and what lies beneath tangible veneers. Curiosity observes ideas to understand, not copy them. Once those ideas are understood they can be used to improvise new strategy options, identify new ways to mitigate revenue inhibitors, and find effective solutions for a business.

Curiosity breeds creative problem solving

Being interested in what makes other people successful should reach outside of our own industry. When we learn from others that are doing the same thing that we are, we can easily mistake learning for emulating. Looking outside what we know best forces us to see beyond the surface to the underlying lessons that can change our thinking.

If you run a business, observe business models outside of your own ecosystem and sphere of influence. If you are in sensor technologies, observe the food industry. How do they do business? What are their models? What is their marketing approaches? Observe what you can, and learn from what you see.  Another simple idea is to read books outside your usual scope of interest.

Curiosity leads to agility

We all know that there is a big difference between a body that is in-shape and one that is out of shape. Just like exercise keeps our muscles fine-tuned and ready for action, curiosity does the same for our minds. Taking in new knowledge regularly flexes our brain muscles and keeps us in shape. Just like exercise, there is work and pain involved, but they both pay big dividends.

Curiosity leads to innovation

Without continuous learning, we can easily go into default mode. It is difficult to be innovative when you are just recycling the same old set of ideas. Real curiosity cures this. When we have a broad scope of knowledge, we have a bigger brush to create new solutions. The more curious we are, the broader we make our brush, and the more we are able to innovate.

Curiosity leads to creativity

If creativity is a state of mind, then it would do us well to shape our lives so that they are continually developing our creative side. The ability to think in directions that rub against the status quo is extremely important to business and marketing. New approaches to old problems is what brilliant ideas are made of. Everything takes creativity and imagination. It is up to us to make sure we are ready.

Curiosity leads to teaching by example

Time, talent, and dollars are all required to be a curious leader. We have to make time for learning, we have to develop the talent to learn, and we have to be willing to invest the dollars into making both of them happen.

Curiosity enhances your ability to impact the bottom line

Nothing is more important in business than the things that effect the balance sheet.  Just like your printer that needs toner, your brain needs fuel, and that fuel comes from being curious. The sooner we learn to learn, the sooner we will experience the rewards of curiosity on both the mental and the bottom line.

Here are 8 recommendations that might help you get more value from this blog posting.

  1. LISTEN WITHOUT JUDGMENT.
  2. ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS.
  3. SEEK SURPRISES.
  4. BE FULLY PRESENT.
  5. BE WILLING TO BE WRONG.
  6. MAKE TIME FOR CURIOSITY.
  7. DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY, “I DON’T KNOW.”
  8. DON’T LIVE IN THE PAST. IT IS TODAY THAT WILL AFFECT YOUR FUTURE.

Comments?   Questions?  I’d like to hear from you.  Email me.

TBG photo

Timothy Gendreau is a Revenue Strategist at The Gendreau Group

Timothy is an expert in developing new revenue strategies to produce real and sustainable revenues and enhance a company’s valuation