The Transformational Power of Curiosity

Credit: Gary Butterfield

You know that feeling when you find a kindred spirit? For me, that feeling is excitement, and it happens when I connect with someone who shares a similar (but distinct) worldview and we immediately begin a rapid-fire brain download.

That’s the feeling I had when I interviewed Michael Bungay Stanier for my podcast.

It turns out that Michael and I both share a belief in the transformational power of curiosity. That belief is something that underlies our solutions in Meltdown and ties together Michael’s excellent book, The Advice Trap.

It also shows up in the work I do helping leaders use curiosity to solve big problems.

That might sound simple, but it’s not. Curiosity isn’t only about asking more questions. It’s about becoming more comfortable not knowing the answers.

But that’s hard!

Senior leaders are folks who have steadily risen through the ranks by knowing answers. Presented with a problem, they solve it. They get stuff done.

But as their responsibility increases, leaders start to work on problems where there’s no defined answer. And those problems take a different approach to solve.

Take my work with a group at Microsoft who were tasked with catalyzing legal innovation at the company. When we started out, we didn’t know the structure our work would take. We didn’t know what, exactly, we’d be rolling out, and we didn’t know how it would be received.

So, bit by bit, we tried things. We experimented with different ways of working with existing teams and engaged people with curiosity and openness.

Not everything we tried worked. But everything we did was a learning experience. We learned what worked and what didn’t, and we started learning more about the problem.

These days, by the time you write down your strategy, the world has changed.

As a result, leaders have to move from operating in the warm comfort of certainty to acknowledging the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world that they now operate in. Implementation is not a straightforward, linear process. In anything but the most trivial cases, you don’t know how something will turn out when you start to work on it.

The answer isn’t more control or knowledge. It’s learning. It’s digging into things that don’t make sense and increasing your understanding of a problem.

And, as you get more comfortable prioritizing learning over control, you can start moving away from “the way things have always been done” and start responding to the data as they are right now.

By doing that, you’ll be able to use curiosity as a way to drive experimentation. You can move from top-down plans to statements like “I don’t know — but I wonder what we could try.”

Michael and I discuss these ideas and more in the podcast. Curious? Go and listen to Episode 12 .



Host of The Breakdown™ podcast. Co-author of MELTDOWN, a book on why our systems fail & what we can do about it. A lot, it turns out.

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Chris Clearfield

Host of The Breakdown™ podcast. Co-author of MELTDOWN, a book on why our systems fail & what we can do about it. A lot, it turns out.