Curiosity Saved the CEO, Worry Killed the Cat
You’ve heard the phrase curiosity killed the cat. Did you know the original proverb was care killed the cat? The original meaning of care was sorrow or worry. “It is said that ‘a cat has nine lives,’ yet care would wear them all out.” (Brewer, E, C. 1898) In other words, anxiety killed the cat!
Curiosity counter-balances feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.
Curiosity is an important emotion for human survival. Faced with existential threats like starvation and violence, curiosity drove our ancestors to explore and journey into the unknown. Curiosity enabled them to find new sources of food and water, avoid hostile groups, and better their lives through discovery.
Curious executives lead successful businesses.
With the speed of change, disruptive technology and competitive pressure, executives achieve business success through curious examination of new opportunities and impending threats. “Adam Bryant, for example, has interviewed hundreds of CEOs for a weekly column in the New York Times called “The Corner Office.” In summarizing their common personality characteristics, he listed “Passionate Curiosity” at the top of the list.” (Smerek, R., 2015. pg. 59) Curious executives possess an insatiable hunger for knowledge and understanding.
Successful CEOs pursue learning to feed their curiosity.
Learning is a complex undertaking. Multiple factors contribute to learning effectiveness and optimization. I suggest these factors are particularly important for constructive learning for business executives:
New Scenarios Learning works well if two characteristics are present, novelty-complexity and comprehensibility (Silvia, P., J. 2008 pg. 58). We are intrigued if we appraise a new situation as novel, but to hold our interest, we also need to appraise it as comprehensible. As curious CEOs, we need to place ourselves in a learning context that increases both the novelty and the complexity of the material we consider and more importantly, makes new information comprehensible.
Community Dialogue To learn effectively, we cannot do it alone. We learn best in dialogue with others. We need a learning community. Our learning community needs to challenge us on many levels and ideally, foster a deeper self-engagement with the issues. When we engage others in a class, a board room or other cohort community, we learn because the “class” provides many levels of understanding and perspectives. With others, we tackle the comprehensibility of a new idea.
Learning Culture In a learning community, five cultural facets must be present for learning optimization (Lipshitz, R., Popper, M., 2002, pg. 85).
- Transparency: We discuss openly to expose our thoughts and actions to others for feedback.
- Integrity: We present and share information regardless of the possible implications.
- Issue orientation: We focus on issues and information with no regard for who presents the information.
- Inquiry: We persist to investigate the issue until we achieve full understanding.
- Accountability: We are responsible for our learning and implement what we learn.
Diversity A closely matched group—perhaps with similar sized businesses or similar levels of success—has inherent learning impediments. Such groups tend to “confirm” the member’s current status. The group congratulates each other’s success and fails to push each other to tackle tough challenges. “Confirmation” groups violate many of the cultural facets of an ideal learning group. Diversity, on the other hand, increases complexity and novelty and provides the opportunity for deep comprehension.
Optimal learning communities help CEOs access both internal and external knowledge.
Learning communities not only provide access to external knowledge through new scenarios and shared perspectives; learning communities stimulate self-reflection and access interior resources. As we mature in our business role, we often leave aspects of our personality behind. We lose access to the different roles we played throughout our journey. Without access to our experience, we deplete our ability to solve problems and function creatively.
Psychologists call our sense of ourselves in different roles as “multiple-mindedness” (Lindner, C., G., 2016). As we travel through life, we are an amalgamation of many “selves.” We are spouse, parent, business owner, aficionado of different hobbies, athlete, reader, student, etc. In business, we likely have been entrepreneur, risk taker, marketer, salesperson, accountant, legal expert, team leader, etc. As we journey through business, we specialize and leave other business personas behind. Without the resources of our multiple experiences shared among our interior community of “selves,” we deplete our ability to learn and adapt.
To awaken our dormant “selves,” we need a diverse community of other people that engage our past experiences and knowledge bases. Maybe you’ve become a manager and have forgotten how to take risk or innovate, but right next to you is a young owner, who must take risk and innovate to survive. Maybe listening to another member of the group reminds you of a younger you who was humble, hungry and scared. Through a renewed awareness, you begin a dialogue with “selves” long forgotten, but who may benefit you immensely now.
C12 Group’s peer advisory roundtables are ideal learning communities for CEOs.
The constructive learning community found in C12 Group roundtables provides challenging conversations and presents new scenarios that offer novelty-complexity and comprehensibility. C12 Group roundtables cultivate a culture of transparency, integrity, issue orientation, inquiry, and accountability. C12 Group’s diversity stimulates the internal dialogue between the multiple-selves that comprise our personal identity and business experience. As a faith-based organization, C12 Group adds a spiritual dimension to learning using Christian Scripture. At C12 Group, curiosity runs deep.
Brewer, E. B. (1898). Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curiosity_killed_the_cat
Lindner, C. G. (2016). Varieties of Gifts: Multiplicity and the Well-lived Pastoral Life. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield
(Lipshitz, R., Popper, M., (2002). A Multifacet Model of Organizational Learning. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. Vol 38 No 1, March 2002 78-98
Silvia, P., J. (2008). Interest—The Curious Emotion. Association of Psychological Science, Volume (1), 57-60.
Smerek, R. (2016). Organizing to Learn. Unpublished. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University
Timothy Holmes is a management consultant and executive coach. He is Chair of C12 Group, East Valley Chapter, in Greater Phoenix. A finance professional, his past roles include managed futures fund manager, chief investment officer, and commodity trading company partner. He also is an experienced Christian minister, chaplain, and teacher. His specialties are Christian ethics, Scripture study, and marketplace ministry.