Intellectual Curiosity


Photo by Mark Baker

Intellectual curiosity may be roughly defined as a willingness to explore something based on interest, a desire to learn something new and the pursuit of answers to “why” questions. It encompasses mental stimulation and the journey of the discovery process, as well as the satisfaction that comes with knowing more than you did before.

Recently I was engaged in a business conversation about this topic. It was precipitated by a colleague’s comment, “We don’t hire people who are intellectually curious like we used to be.” To which another colleague challenged, “Aw, come on – you really believe that?”

The initiator of the conversation meant that “back in the day,” young professionals studied technical subject matter relevant to their field. Becoming an expert, having deep understanding and being able to answer questions off the top of their head would help propel their career (and it apparently did). Another colleague challenged this notion, responding, “That’s what I thought, too, and I was totally wrong. I should have become expert in selling, because being able to generate business is what would have propelled my career.” The response was, “Well, I don’t think the young people we are hiring today are intellectually curious.” 

This discussion revealed a nuance I hadn’t thought about before—that curiosity and our approach to learning and investigation may differ along generational lines. In today’s world, expertise is at our fingertips, and we have Gen X and Gen Y members newer to the labor market who have not known any other way. Vast digital libraries of information may be pulled up with just a few clicks, or via a quick tap to call on SIRI to do the search. “Just Google it” gets said many times at our dinner table, particularly when teenagers are present. So, why would you want to become a technical expert when all of this is available? Isn’t it more productive to learn how to ask the right questions, and apply brainpower to problem solving and innovation?

This brings me back around to curiosity. Recitation of facts or memorization of data was a form of curiosity that was valued in the past. Today, I believe a greater worth of a curious mind may be measured in the ability to formulate questions, navigate through the labyrinth of information that is available and embrace different perspectives generated by the answers uncovered.

More good stuff on the topic of curiosity:

Digital Sweet Spot

Image courtesy of Carlos Porto /

Image courtesy of Carlos Porto /

Digital tools that have gained traction in our personal lives have changed expectations in our work lives. Case in point: recently, the office chorus has been singing, “Why can’t we have video conferencing?” They Skype and FaceTime on their smartphones and tablets while on personal time (and some for work), but the official work options are limited to phone calls, in-person meetings, web-based (non-video supported) meetings.

Meanwhile, all organizations are feeling the constant pressure to grow revenue, innovate and service customers 24 x7, while wrestling with rising costs, increased competition and the churn of both customers and employees.

One component of this pressure is the availability of ways to communicate, collaborate, access information and be productive regardless of time, place or distance. At work, we are constrained by the parameters of standard business hours and work location, available/approved technology and security permissions. It’s a now-common refrain: organizations are entrenched in old-school, highly controlled approaches, while today’s employees want to be trusted and do their work autonomously. Example: Gen X and Y members use a wide variety of social tools to interact with peers, yet organizations largely rely on email, phone and intranets for collaboration.

This tension can’t help but impact the customer experience. Your organization’s customers have the dual perspective of being both individual consumers and employees themselves. They experience the same frustration in their own daily interactions, and, as such, would welcome seamless integration when working with your organization. Like your own employees, your customers won’t appreciate or understand barriers you may have in place that prevent them from doing business with you when they want and how they want. One potential obstacle is the security, confidentiality and required controls over both customer information and communication. This may not always align with what multitasking, tech-savvy employees want in terms of integrated tools for their personal and work lives.

Clearly, consumer and employee experiences have changed and are always changing. Here is a simple framework to think about the “digital sweet spot,” the tipping point where what you deliver and what these constituents expect is in balance.

  Personal or Consumer Experience Employee or Customer Experience
Communication and Collaboration Leverage audio and video tools for live or recorded communication. Personal creation and editing is easy and fun.Document, task, editing, and collaboration tools allow groups to form and work together quickly and efficiently. Are monolithic tools in use?   What vetting process for tools is used?Are they as easy to use outside the office as they are in the office?Can you collaborate with tools other than email? Do you have to be invited to join or are you welcome to participate where you can contribute?
Decision Making Google search for data sources and on-line analytical tools.Crowd-source recommendations based on reviews (e.g. Yelp, Amazon Reviews, Rotten Tomatoes). How long does it take to get access to your enterprise data?Do your suppliers/vendors/partners provide data in an easy to use way? 
Productivity Search YouTube, Kahn Academy, or EdX for just-in-time learning on just about anything.Curated information sources keep you up-to-date on relevant topics.  Can tools be used across multiple devices?Is internal knowledge easily accessed? Is this published for clients and customers?Are internal sources encouraged to contribute their knowledge to open sources? Can customers subscribe to them?

Based on your industry or role, your view of the sweet spot may vary. But be aware—be very aware. If you aren’t hitting the sweet spot, your competitors just might be. That may be just the edge they need to win business in a challenging marketplace.

Creating your own digital sweet spot begins with taking a good hard look at what is possible, then adding a reality check of what is practical. Somewhere in the middle, erring on the side of the customer/employee experience, you’ll be able to engage with these audiences on a new level. The payoff may be increased loyalty from customers and increased job satisfaction from employees. That’s a win-win by any measure.