Why Curious People Are Destined for the C-Suite


Here is an excerpt from an article written by Warren Berger for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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When asked recently to name the one attribute CEOs will need most to succeed in the turbulent times ahead, Michael Dell, the chief executive of Dell, Inc., replied, “I would place my bet on curiosity.”

Dell was responding to a 2015 PwC survey of more than a thousand CEOs, a number of whom cited “curiosity” and “open-mindedness” as leadership traits that are becoming increasingly critical in challenging times. Another of the respondents, McCormick & Company CEO Alan D. Wilson, noted that business leaders who “are always expanding their perspective and what they know—and have that natural curiosity—are the people that are going to be successful.”

Welcome to the era of the curious leader, where success may be less about having all the answers and more about wondering and questioning. As Dell noted, curiosity can inspire leaders to continually seek out the fresh ideas and approaches needed to keep pace with change and stay ahead of competitors.

A curious, inquisitive leader also can set an example that inspires creative thinking throughout the company, according to Hollywood producer Brian Grazer “If you’re the boss, and you manage by asking questions, you’re laying the foundation for the culture of your company or your group,” Grazer writes in his book, A Curious Mind. Grazer and others maintain that leading-by-curiosity can help generate more ideas from all areas of an organization, while also helping to raise employee engagement levels.

The notion that curiosity can be good for business is not entirely new, of course. Decades ago, Walt Disney declared that his company managed to keep innovating “because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” But having that desire to keep exploring “new paths” becomes even more important in today’s fast-changing, innovation-driven marketplace.

In my own research for my book, A More Beautiful Question, I found numerous examples of current-day entrepreneurs and innovators—including Netflix’s Reed Hasting, Square’s Jack Dorsey, and the team behind Airbnb -— who relied on curious inquiry as a starting point to reinventing entire industries. Dorsey, for example, was puzzled when an artist friend lost a big sale to a potential customer simply because the artist couldn’t accept a credit card. Dorsey wondered why only established businesses, and not smaller entrepreneurs, were able to conduct credit card transactions; his search for an answer resulted in Square, a more accessible credit card reader.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Warren Berger (@GlimmerGuy) is author of the new book A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas (Bloomsbury). To learn more about him and his work, please click here.

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