Hiring for Curiosity, the Overlooked Key to Business Innovation
As curiosity becomes increasingly important to business success, employers must grapple with a difficult question: How do you recruit for and create a team of highly curious individuals?
Many environmental factors inside an organization can nurture or suppress an individual’s curiosity, but very little has been done to help hiring managers identify curious candidates. Moreover, we see little evidence organizations have done anything to improve curiosity levels across the business.
Until now, that is. The gap may finally be closing.
Innovating for Success
Change is all around us, and the pace of change only seems to accelerate. The rise of big data and constantly evolving technologies have added almost incomprehensible levels of complexity to business. As a result, fostering innovation has become the single biggest strategic priority for many executives.
In a Bain & Company survey of 450 executives worldwide, two-thirds of respondents said their companies made innovation one of their top three priorities. However, less than a quarter of respondents said their companies were effective innovators, and just one in five said their companies were “breakthrough” innovators.
What does curiosity have to do with innovation? One simple formula drives innovation in every company: curiosity + creativity = innovation.
It is impossible to innovate without fostering creativity. Since curiosity is a precursor to creativity, companies aiming to innovate must hire for and embed curiosity across their businesses.
Companies that nurture curiosity will see creativity increase. As creativity grows, so does a company’s ability to innovate. Curious people question the status quo and stretch each other’s thinking. They drive improved engagement and business performance.
Intuitively, we know curiosity is important, but we often fail to realize just how critical it is. The recruiting process neither focuses on curiosity nor promotes its value. In fact, while unintentional, many organizations actually create environments that impede curiosity.
Fortunately, this can be changed. Curiosity can be recruited for and grown in any organization.
Recruiting for Curiosity
According to a study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, curious people are typically bored with routine, more willing to accept ambiguity, and rarely comfortable with conformity. Always interested in the what’s next, curious people are more likely than the average employee to look at how they can improve the day-to-day business.
It’s important to investigate during the interview process whether a candidate has this type of curiosity. Existing measures of curiosity tend to ask candidates to self-report using standardized composite questionnaire items. While there are lessons to be learned from these measures, they center on personal well-being, and their reliance on self-report limits the usefulness of the insights produced.
For businesses, these curiosity measures leave a high level of speculation and uncertainty. Individuals have a tendency to lean toward the perspective employers want to see versus demonstrating their true curiosity.
Rather than relying on self-report questionnaires, the best way to measure curiosity in professionals may be through actual and observed behaviors. Through natural language processing (NLP) analyses, we are in the process of identifying language variables that correlate with curiosity. Business professionals are asked to respond to various prompts, some about curiosity specifically and some about their general perspectives. We then analyze their linguistic styles using automated computer analysis.
Through our initial research, we have identified the following traits of highly curious individuals:
- They use more words that refer to what is “likely” or “probable,” convey openness, and relate to education.
- They refer less to general actions (e.g., “act,” “adventure,” “approach,” “arise”).
- They use intensifiers, which amplify concepts (e.g., “considerably,” “enormously,” “extremely,” “highly”).
- They seem to speak less about doing stuff and place more emphasis on considering options, using more words that suggest a sense of likelihood, probability, and providence.
This battery of diagnostics can be easily applied to existing screening tools already available to recruiters. A less formal approach would listening for these cues as part of the interview process and analyzing written correspondences with candidates..
Creating a Culture of Support
Recruiters can seek out curious individuals, but companies need to nurture this trait if they want to reap the benefits of hiring curious people. Unfortunately, this is where most companies fail.
Both culture and climate drastically impact curiosity levels. Supportive organizations have some of the most curious people because they are more nurturing. However, even in these organizations, we see wide variability in curiosity levels across teams. While an organization’s overall climate may be supportive, individual team leaders may create climates that are inconsistent with this culture.
Conversely, rigid, hierarchal, or command-and-control organizations suppress and even stifle curiosity. Organizations with high levels of structure and process definitely fall into this category.
The most common ways organizations can support curiosity include:
- Providing flexibility in how work is accomplished. Success is success, regardless of how it gets done. Organizations should provide latitude for people to figure out things on their own.
- By providing guided judgement, organizations can put boundaries in place that allow employees to be good stewards of the business while giving them the freedom to exercise their own curiosity and creativity.
- Empowering employees to own and grow their own ideas.
- Letting employees lead teams and making sure they get credit for these accomplishments.
- Giving employees the time and resources to explore new ideas. Look for ways to connect people with different skill sets and experiences on shared projects.
- Recognizing employees for their ideas and accomplishments. Public recognition is the best form of recognition, as it energizes both the individual employee and others in the organization.
To be innovative, a business must be curious first. Hiring for curiosity definitely helps achieve this goal, but the work doesn’t stop there. An organization must continuously engage, develop, and manage its people in a way that promotes curiosity. If not, curiosity will quickly be suppressed. Worse, those curious team members will soon seek employment elsewhere.
Michael Hvisdos is founder and CEO of InQuizo. He can be reached directly at Michael@inquizo.com. Janet Gerhard is managing partner and CXO of InQuzio. She can be reached directly at Janet@inquizo.com.
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