The Business Value of Curiosity

You can’t possibly be successful in business if you’re not deeply curious about other people.

Being successful at business requires many things: courage, creativity, people skills, and so forth.  However, there is one character trait whose importance is sometimes neglected: curiosity.

Curiosity is like one a Swiss Army Knife with all the attachments. It gets the job done in nearly every situation and is easy to access once you’ve got it in your tool kit. Curiosity helps you in:

Building customer relationships.  People are drawn to those who show interest in them.

Increasing your business acumen. Being curious about your own industry and the industries of your prospects drives you to learn more.  As you satisfy your curiosity, you’re augmenting your ability to add value to your customers’ business.

Solving customer problems.  It’s only possible to create a meaningful solution is you’re motivated by true curiosity about what’s actually going on and why those problems recur.

Negotiating win/win contracts.  Your ability to understand the positions of the other party are directly dependent upon your ability to feel true curiosity about them.

Correcting sales errors.  When a customer buys from somebody else (or doesn’t buy from anyone at all), if you’re not curious about what that happened, you won’t bother to find out why, and therefore can’t learn from your failures.

Creating great products.  Would-be innovators who aren’t curious about what makes people tick and why technology works (or doesn’t) can’t possibly create workable products or services that people want buy.

Motivating your employees. If you want to get the best out of people, you must be curious about their dreams and desires.

In short, curiosity at the core of every successful business effort.  If you don’t have curiosity, you can’t expect to be successful as an entrepreneur, a salesperson or as an engineer.

In any event, the relative complexity of different eras is of little matter to the person who is simply struggling to cope with it in everyday life. So perhaps the right question is not “Is this era more complex?” but “Why are some people more able to manage complexity?” Although complexity is context-dependent, it is also determined by a person’s disposition. In particular, there are three key psychological qualities that enhance our ability to manage complexity:

IQ: As most people know, IQ stands for intellectual quotient and refers to mental ability. What fewer people know, or like to accept, is that IQ does affect a wide range of real-world outcomes, such as job performance and objective career success. The main reason is that higher levels of IQ enable people to learn and solve novel problems faster. At face value, IQ tests seem quite abstract, mathematical, and disconnected from everyday life problems, yet they are a powerful tool to predict our ability to manage complexity. In fact, IQ is a much stronger predictor of performance on complex tasks than on simple ones.

EQ: EQ stands for emotional quotient and concerns our ability to perceive, control, and express emotions. EQ relates to complexity management in three main ways. First, individuals with higher EQ are less susceptible to stress and anxiety. Since complex situations are resourceful and demanding, they are likely to induce pressure and stress, but high EQ acts as a buffer. Second, EQ is a key ingredient of interpersonal skills, which means that people with higher EQ are better equipped to navigate complex organizational politics and advance in their careers. Indeed, even in today’s hyper-connected world what most employers look for is not technical expertise, but soft skills, especially when it comes to management and leadership roles. Third, people with higher EQ tend to be more entrepreneurial, so they are more proactive at exploiting opportunities, taking risks, and turning creative ideas into actual innovations. All this makes EQ an important quality for adapting to uncertain, unpredictable, and complex environments.

CQ: CQ stands for curiosity quotient and concerns having a hungry mind. People with higher CQ are more inquisitive and open to new experiences. They find novelty exciting and are quickly bored with routine. They tend to generate many original ideas and are counter-conformist. It has not been as deeply studied as EQ and IQ, but there’s some evidence to suggest it is just as important when it comes to managing complexity in two major ways. First, individuals with higher CQ are generally more tolerant of ambiguity. This nuanced, sophisticated, subtle thinking style defines the very essence of complexity. Second, CQ leads to higher levels of intellectual investment and knowledge acquisition over time, especially in formal domains of education, such as science and art (note: this is of course different from IQ’s measurement of raw intellectual horsepower). Knowledge and expertise, much like experience, translate complex situations into familiar ones, so CQ is the ultimate tool to produce simple solutions for complex problems.

Although IQ is hard to coach, EQ and CQ can be developed. As Albert Einstein famously said: “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

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