Encourage employee curiosity to foster innovation

Foster innovation

Curiosity. It’s what we have to thank for many of our modern-day conveniences and life-altering (in some cases, lifesaving) technologies.

It also happens to be far more vital to an organization’s performance than was previously realized – and that’s according to recent research, shared by Harvard Business Review.

In a survey conducted by Francesca Gino, a behavioral scientist, author and Harvard Business School professor, it was found that only 24% of the 3,000 respondents across a variety of firms and industries felt curious in their jobs on a regular basis, and 70% said they face barriers to asking more questions at work. In spite of its benefits, it appears that many organizations fail to encourage, and in fact may even discourage, curiosity.

Gallup data paints a similar picture. Only 18% strongly agreed that they can take risks at work that could lead to important new products, services or solutions.

What makes curiosity so important in business?

According to Gino, “Cultivating [curiosity] 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 collaborative relationships with colleagues.”

Let’s look at some other reasons why organizations should be fostering a culture of curiosity, creativity and innovation.

Aside from the potential of sparking time- and money-saving ideas (or, even a completely ingenious concept), there are a number of benefits that could be expected when curiosity is encouraged in organizations. These include:

  • Positive morale – Giving employees the space to innovate and to share creative concepts where they feel their input is appreciated helps foster a sense of value and recognition, which in turn boosts morale. When morale is high, people are more likely to be engaged and passionate about their work.Gino’s survey revealed that 92% of respondents viewed curiosity as a catalyst for job satisfaction, motivation, innovation, and high performance.
  • Collaboration – Making room for creativity in the context of a team helps your employees build internal networks, and get to know one another and each other’s strengths through greater interaction with one another. This ultimately encourages better collaboration, which may even lead to bigger and better ideas and problem-solving tactics.
  • Productivity – When employees are inspired and motivated, they’re more likely to be productive. Remember, employees want to be involved, to make a difference and to improve their skills. When they feel that they are contributing in a meaningful way (to the company and to their career growth), they’re more inclined to go the extra mile.

How to encourage curiosity

So, where do you start?

As with many efforts that drive retention and foster innovation, developing a curious workforce begins with your company’s culture.

Is the importance of curiosity something that comes up in the odd meeting or discussion, without much practical follow through? Do employees come forward with innovative concepts or is this unheard of?

Organizations that succeed at fostering curiosity don’t skirt around it. They don’t just allow it, they expect it. They ensure that their employees have the platforms, time and other resources to get their creative juices flowing, and they anticipate innovative input from their employees.

To foster innovation and start weaving curiosity and innovation into the fiber of your organization, you can:

  • Assign a designated innovation area – Set up an area in your building where employees can step away from their emails and other distractions and let their imaginations soar. This area needs to inspire creativity with the appropriate décor, music and other resources like colored markers or paint, flip charts or the like.
  • Schedule time for creativity – For innovation to become part of your company’s culture, curiosity and creativity can’t be nice-to-haves or items that are left for last on employees’ to-do lists. To emphasize the importance of curious thinking, you need to prioritize and set aside time for this creative practice to take place. And, it needs to be a regular occurrence in your employees’ calendars.
  • Host brainstorming sessions – Brainstorming sessions are a great way of putting ideas out in the open and getting individuals to work together towards new and innovative concepts. It’s a low-pressure way of encouraging collaboration and inspiring creative thoughts. Oftentimes, one concept will spark another person’s idea, which may lead to an even better solution.
  • Get employees engaged (right from the start) – A culture of curiosity should be fostered right from the start, by hiring candidates that prove to be innovative and passionate about thinking outside of the box, and then nurturing their creativity during the onboarding process.To develop a culture where innovation is not only welcomed but expected among existing employees, they need to be actively engaged. And they’re more likely to be engaged when they feel confident that their contributions are valuable and will make a meaningful impact. Continuous learning opportunities grow employees’ confidence by helping them diversify their skills, giving them a broader outlook, and helping them come up with questions from different perspectives.
  • Build an internal gig economy – We know that today’s employees are after opportunities for growth. Curiosity goes hand in hand with this drive towards internal reward and satisfaction. One of the greatest ways you can stimulate innovation among your employees is by letting them explore and broaden their horizons. This can be achieved by creating an internal gig economy, giving them the freedom to take on additional projects in other departments or teams within your organization.

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