In a business context, fostering a mindset of discovery starts with the belief that we are better together. Expanding our perspectives and exploring differing views are important aspects of personal and professional growth. The benefits of this growth extend beyond the individual and group dynamics to the broader enterprise and beyond.
Curiosity may be the key. It often leads to calculated risk-taking, one of the hallmarks of innovation. In fact, curiosity and open-mindedness were among the top traits identified in a survey of 1,400 CEOs as the most critical for effective leadership.
Curiosity compels us to ask questions and constantly learn about the changing world around us, which helps us to solve the problems we routinely face. In business, studies have shown that curiosity leads to higher levels of engagement and performance.
Business leaders should work to promote curiosity across their organization, leading by example and hiring and encouraging people who possess this important quality. Doing so will help ensure the continuous flow of ideas and innovation required to sustain a successful future for your company.
Discovery Requires Curiosity
Business leaders should want to know how their people work, and what motivates and inspires them. How do they learn best? What do they enjoy most? A mindset of discovery doesn’t presume an answer; it forces us to seek out people with unique perspectives to help us see problems from various angles. If you make curiosity one of your core organizational values, you’ll likely see this force amplified by a competitive desire to find the best solutions.
Of course, the “best” solution is not necessarily the “perfect” solution — “best” merely refers to the optimal answer at a certain point in time, given the additional constraints of resources, time, and talent.
Developing a Discovery Mindset Takes Practice
When you view a problem from different perspectives, solutions that were once hidden suddenly shine like a beacon. Thinking differently leads to seeing differently, which leads to solving differently.
If you always approach your house from the same direction, you’ll never notice someone else’s clever solution for rainwater collection, or pass by that new restaurant, or see the farmers market with its fresh local produce, and so on.
Likewise, if you always approach challenges or problems at work from the same direction — or perspective — you’ll likely miss out on innovative solutions. Sometimes, seemingly mundane observations can spark the next big idea.
An Environment of Discovery Opens Minds
If you believe good ideas can come from anywhere in the company, think about ways to elicit them. Encourage managers to invite people from different disciplines into certain meetings, even if only to listen and observe. This cross-pollination can lead to valuable ideas and feedback from unexpected sources.
Innovation demands a continual stream of ideas and discovery, enabled by open minds that are willing to change. Instilling these principles into your staff requires active practice.
Here are three simple ways you can foster a mindset of discovery across your workforce and keep your organization moving forward.
1. Clarify your corporate purpose. A clear purpose inspires employees at all levels to contribute to a noble cause that’s larger than their individual jobs.
Validate that your purpose encourages the open sharing of ideas and helps employees understand how each of their roles contributes to the overall mission. Recent research shows that emphasizing a mission helps to engage and retain employees across generations — Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials alike.
Setting a good example is essential, but creating opportunities for employees to make their own discoveries is even more important. CEOs must cultivate that experience by creating a process for internal discovery.
2. Promote a discovery mindset. Encourage managers to allocate time for creative exploration among team members. Ask people how they would want to spend their time if given a few weeks off from their normal job tasks. This can create a seedbed for future solutions.
If this is unfamiliar ground for you, engage HR to drive workforce diversity, and revise internal policies to give employees license to think creatively.
Some companies allocate a significant amount of time for employees to work on things outside of normal job duties. Google, for example, established an 80/20 rule: Employees dedicate 80 percent of their time to their jobs and 20 percent to working on creative projects that directly benefit the company.
3. Eliminate barriers to curiosity and creativity. Your company is a living organism that began as a new entity and grew rapidly. Once mature, however, a period of operational optimization can snuff out the innovation that created its success.
Structures and policies that create operational efficiency are often the roots of resistance to change. After all, operational techniques like Six Sigma exist to standardize processes and eliminate defects. But are you killing “defects” that may lead to the next level of your growth?
In a recent survey, 35 percent of marketing executives said a traditional mindset is the biggest barrier to innovation. Whether it’s rigid policies, departmental hierarchy, or a lack of skills or diversity, it’s important to identify and eliminate barriers to discovery.
If you don’t embrace and encourage curiosity and free-thinking in your organization, you may be silencing your best minds and, ultimately, your next innovation. Create a climate of curiosity, and see what surprising and often brilliant ideas emerge.