The Curiosity Continuum | Opening Lines

Our new opening lines video is out now! Watch as Jon Burkhart talks to us about The Curiosity Continuum and what this means

You can watch the video and read the tremendous article below!

In the work Carla Johnson and I have done with brands from nearly every industry and every corner of the world, we’ve seen distinct patterns in how curiosity in all its forms plays out in the success or demise of a company. I’ve taken these observations and mapped them in a matrix that reflects the structure (or lack thereof) in an organization, and the likelihood that culture prompts people to regularly peek around the corner to see how the bigger world may impact their brand’s success.

We call this the Curiosity Continuum.

On the horizontal axis, we show the range of a company’s culture from highly chaotic on the left, to highly structured on the right. We define chaotic as a nonlinear, unpredictable process working toward unexpected outcomes. Structure, on the other hand, refers to a clearly defined process an relationships that work toward predefined outcomes.

The vertical axis refers to how likely a company is to be curious. The highly curious companies that rank at the top have a strong desire to investigate, learn and know things without specific reasons to do so. In contrast to them, companies that rank as indifferent show characteristics that imply they have no particular interest in, and are unconcerned with, exploring new outcomes.

We have characterised the inhabitants of four quadrants of the Curiosity Continuum as four different animals:

The Platypus = Highly Curious, Highly Chaotic

  • Self-identified as curious
  • Prefers working in an unstructured, chaotic environment
  • Collaborative
  • Risk and failure seen as learning opportunities
  • High energy
  • High innovation

 

The Sloth = Low Curiosity, Highly Chaotic

  • Indifferent to the world around them
  • Believes world/industry should and will continue as is
  • Prefers working in an unstructured, chaotic environment
  • Liberal approach to risk
  • Sees failure as exactly that
  • Low energy
  • Low innovation

 

The Gazelle = Highly Curious, Highly Structured

  • Self-identified as curious
  • Prefers working in a structured environment that balances efficiency and experimentation
  • Collaborative
  • Carefully manages risk through process
  • Sees failure as a learning opportunity
  • High energy
  • High innovation

 

The Ostrich = Low Curiosity, Highly Structured

  • Indifferent to the world around them
  • Believes world/industry should and will continue as is
  • Single-minded focus on efficiency
  • Carefully manages risk through process
  • Sees failure as exactly that
  • Insists people stick to their swim lanes
  • Low energy
  • Low innovation

The sliding scales

Chaotic organisations see the need for open-ended idea generation.

People who downplay this approach think letting employees follow their curiosity will lead to a costly mess. Execs believe that employees would be harder to manage if people were allowed to explore their own interests. They believe people would disagree more, it would take longer to make decisions, and the cost of doing business would go up. That’s simply not true. While chaos doesn’t

always produce something that’s immediately usable, it does push the parameters for possibilities. And that’s the foundation for progress and, eventually, getting to a higher level of performance.

While some teams thrive on chaos, others do best with a foundation of structure. It gives them a greater feeling of control which, in turn, helps them manage the emotional aspect of risk that comes with curiosity. Think of it as the bumpers along the lanes when bowling. They have a process through which to channel curiosity, an accepted path to follow within their organizational culture and they see curiosity an iterative process – they don’t settle for the first possible solution, instead they use that to look for better remedies.

Clearly, this shows that there’s not one approach that’s better; rather which one launches success for a company depends on what works best for their respective culture.

Turning to the gradients of curiosity, however, gives us a much different picture.

In curious cultures, leaders understand that the questions asked are more important than the answers themselves. Eric Schmidt, Google’s uber successful CEO from 2001 to 2011 shared: “We run this company on questions, not answers.”

Leaders in indifferent cultures believe they need to talk and provide answers, not ask questions. And

certainly, they don’t want employees wasting critical productive time by doing that either. They communicate from the top down instead of actively asking employees and customers what they think. “We know best,” and “that’s not how we do things,” are common mantras.

So, once you’ve found your place in the Curiosity Continuum, are you pegged to stay there for life? Definitely not, and there are some great examples of companies who have developed in our three areas of curiosity – market, customer and product – with great success.

 

Jon Burkhart also the co-host of the “ultimate anti-conference”, the Fast Forward Forum, due to run in Venice on 6th to 8th October 2019. For more details visit https://fastforwardforum.eu/

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