Curiosity and Creativity – Part Two

Usually, when we talk about curiosity, it feels like we’re talking about a gap in our knowledge that we would like to fill. But actually, the word “curiosity” stems from the Latin word “cura” meaning “to care”.  So we could say that curiosity is about caring enough for the things and people around us that we are constantly on the look-out for the things we might not even know we don’t know.

It seems appropriate that we have identified it as something we need as part of the ASPH #RightCulture and that we should make this the second part of our ‘Curiosity and Creativity’ blog.

Curiosity is really important to improvement because it is the attitude or state of mind that leads us to ask ‘why does this process work in this way?’, ‘how could this be better?’ and ‘what could we change to make an improvement?’ Without this outlook we may only be reacting when things go wrong.

Curiosity also provides the drive to be persistent in making improvements, continuing to ask ‘Why?’ and never accepting the answer ‘that’s the way things are done around here!’

In this short clip, Don Berwick describes why curiosity is important to a way of thinking that supports good improvement:

So, if we are asking everyone to be more curious – we thought it would probably be helpful to describe a little about what we think this means.

What does it mean to be curious?

There is relatively little literature on curiosity in the healthcare sector. There have, however, been a huge number of studies on curiosity in education. It’s no surprise really – children are constantly exploring and pushing boundaries to discover what they don’t know about the world around them.

But something about growing up means we lose that: we become subject to social norms and pressures, and we become “provers” rather than “improvers”.

That’s a bit depressing, but it also tells us that curiosity is a state, rather than a trait. We can become more and less curious at different points in time, and under different conditions.  So what are those conditions? We think we have some of them below:

Confidence – If people feel secure, they tend to be less vulnerable to social pressures, and more likely to be curious improvers than provers!

Exposure to new ideas and information – In our experience curiosity is a cycle. If people receive new information (for example through conversations, study days, or reading interesting articles), they become curious about that new information… which generates new ideas… which generates curiosity… which generates new ideas…

Asking questions – People in hierarchical, mechanistic organisations resist questions, believing they’re inefficient or feeling like they challenge authority. But we shouldn’t be afraid of them.  Role model them, recognise them, invite them, reward them as sometimes questions might even be better than answers!  You can even build entire agendas from them, like HopeLab.

(Be careful with tasking people asking questions to go away and find answers though – you may quickly find the questions stop coming)

Asking GOOD questions – The sorts of questions that build a culture of curiosity are open, exploratory ones; and remember that language matters. It matters so much that some of the world’s most innovative businesses have invested significantly in embedding the “How Might We..?” questioning methodology, and it’s no more complicated than it sounds.

Valuing intuition and experience equally – Encouraging people to “bring a beginner’s mind” to some problems can turn up new questions, understanding and solutions.

Observing as well as measuring – Measuring tends to confirm or contradict what you think you know. Observing will highlight things you don’t know you don’t know. Try something like a 15 step challenge, rather than relying on a survey, for example.

Seeking out different and broad perspectives – Actively seek out different perspectives.  Maybe even deliberately invite people into conversations or meetings who wouldn’t usually be there.

Carving out time to learn, study and reflect – 70% of learning is said to happen “on the job”, but what about that learning that is beyond “process” and about real understanding? Some businesses (like Google, and 3M) have what they call 10% (or 20%) time, which is a dedicated period of time (10 or 20% of an individual’s contracted working time) for working on a personal project, researching or learning.

Allowing people to do what they’re passionate about – During the 10% or 20% time described above, the key is that projects aren’t prescribed. An individual chooses to work on something they’re really passionate about, and the scheme has produced some fantastically successful and innovative ideas. Curiosity is where the energy is, and vice versa.

questioning2Some questions you may ask yourself to establish how curious you are:

  1. How confident are you as an individual?
  2. Where and when do you find new information and new ideas?
  3. What would you guess is your ratio of questions-asked : statements-made?
  4. How good are you at questioning?
  5. Which is stronger in your decision making: experience or intuition?
  6. Do you assess situations by measuring or by observing?
  7. How do you make sure you hear a wide range of views?
  8. When do you learn, study and reflect?
  9. What do you really care about?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.


Rebecca Matthews – @Rebecca3005

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