Much of the discussions around curiosity as a concept center on using curiosity to combat or counteract the human tendency to judge things that are different. When faced with change, we typically list out everything that could go wrong if we adopt it. Leadership and organizational culture theories call us to use our curiosity to create a sense of open willingness and acceptance to change.
Leadership resources point to “curious” as the neutral point on the mood elevator and asks us to at least remain curious when we are faced with change—in other words, to approach the change with a curious mind. When we look at curiosity as a value rather than a mindset, the conversation changes. Holding curiosity as a value leads us to engage not only our minds but also our hearts in this work. A curious mindset will ask for more information to help the seeker understand and adopt someone else’s idea, and curiosity as a value will lead the seeker down the path of creating their own ideas. The curious mindset is important for following, for working to adopt change, and for growing in the same direction as a collective; but the value of curiosity is the foundation of problem-solving, discovery, and innovation.
As we gain knowledge and experience in an area, we may easily become set in our ways. In a technical field like medical laboratory science, there is a finite amount of information we use on a regular basis. We know which chemicals are in which tubes, which tubes are required for which tests, which reagents go on which analyzer, which analyzer alarm requires which action, and which actions will yield the results we seek. We can perform all of this virtually on autopilot by the time we’ve done it a thousand times. Repetition, it seems, may be the death of our curiosity, and this is where many of us find ourselves after years in the field.
Bringing our curiosity to life again requires us to expand our boundaries, and it begins with wondering. We are good at wondering outside of our work environments. We may watch a flower bloom and wonder how it knew it was finally safe in the face of all the late snows. We might watch the snow falling on the mountains and find ourselves wondering how the storm can look so different depending on our elevation. We may be watching the slow construction of a new building on our route to work and wondering what it will be when it’s done. Our curiosity leads us to learn more, such as finding an article on high-elevation gardening or a video on mountain range weather patterns. We may even take a few minutes to drive past that construction site to read the “Coming soon!” sign we can’t quite see from the main road. When we are on our own time, we readily engage what inspires us.
Applying this to our work or long-term volunteer environments might seem less relevant, since most of us are not particularly inspired by our jobs. I offer that it is exactly our curiosity that can guide us to engage in our work with new eyes, to wonder what might be yielded from an unopened envelope or new intake/task. From here, we are poised to discover barriers, to seek new ways of doing things, and to look beyond the status quo to gain more consistent and successful outcomes in every aspect of our lives. Curiosity leads us to wonder if there is a better/easier/faster/more efficient way, guides us to research options, and compels us to try something new. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but curiosity is the mother of innovation when we hold it as a core value.