You can’t enforce curiosity

The Internet is all about learning, even if just which film to watch on TV tonight or where to shop for the best prices, but it is all learning. Likewise social tools at work are great places for learning. Learning from the experience of others, learning what is happening around you, learning how to improve yourself and become better at what you do.

All of this depends on curiosity. Wondering why things are the way they are, wanting to understand things, a desire to take responsibility and grow as an individual. Sadly we beat these characteristics out of people from an early age.

Jane Hart wrote an interesting post recently about how to deal with “unwilling corporate learners”. Though couched in the language of training and learning the issue is the same one. How do you encourage people to learn if they show little inclination? How do you help them to re-discover their natural curiosity?

I do believe it is natural. I do believe that everyone has the capacity and desire to learn. I argue back when people sometimes say that I am “unreasonable expecting everyone to think”. We just have to find a way of making it worth their while.

7 thoughts on “You can’t enforce curiosity

  1. I’m less persuaded that we have the curiosity "beaten out of us" than that I think curiosity comes from a place of safety and that this seems precious rare in todays workplaces.

    I’m reminded of Bowlby’s attachment theory and that securely attached children are far more likely than avoidant/insecure children to roam away from their mothers and explore their surroundings.

    Curiosity suggests a certain license to explore "What if…?" questions and challenge the status quo. I wonder if a lack of curiosity is down to people feeling insecure in their positions and not wanting to draw attention or rock the boat?


    1. It might be part of it but I still think that the conformity consciously imparted by the school system is designed to ensure compliance and this carries on into the workplace. If I had a penny for every time someone said to me "I’m not sure I’d be allowed to do that".


      1. Hi Euan.

        Sure, as I reflect on it I think we may be exploring a similar underlying point from different perspectives.

        To me "I’m not sure I’d be allowed to do that" feels like someone expressing a basic insecurity. That to step outside what one is "allowed to do" is inherently risky. In the same way instilling conformity/compliance and a "do what you’re told" mentality could be seen as creating fear of your own agency because it’s not usually the "do what you’re told" but the "or else" that keeps people in line.

        My experience of small, start-up companies, is that the biggest fear is external ("we could cease to exist") and consequently there are relatively few rules (basic codes of conduct and financial controls) and people are praised for going off the reservation if it leads somewhere better. In bigger companies the fear is more diffuse and existential threats are more often related to internal interests/empires than competitors.

        It would be interesting to explore this more deeply because it feels very important. Have you read anything else interesting in this area?



  2. I also think that when we feels safe we are naturally curious to learn new things. We able to view different opinions from ours. We are willing to initiate new thinking and behaviour. It is interesting to notice that when helping organisations to develop and learn how crucial it is to make them first feel safe. After that learning will follow naturally.


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