RSM South Africa

Cultivating curiosity and driving innovation

Innovators are often seen as the imaginative minds behind organisations, often questioning the design of a process, product or service and actively improving it. That said, serendipity also has a significant role to play. When challenges arise or a crisis hits, we are often so consumed with, and frustrated by, the setbacks they create, that we can forget the importance of asking questions and learning from the situation. It is this growth focused and curious mindset that helps drives innovation forward.

WHERE, WHAT, WHY, WHEN AND HOW?

Studies have found that curiosity peaks at a very early age and takes a steady decline from there. As we grow up, we become more self-conscious, more fearful about asking questions, and are instead predisposed to displaying confidence and expertise.

It is no surprise then that we see this phenomenon occur in most organisations. People tend to consider their role as fixed and their company’s way of doing things as set in stone. Many employees, and even some leaders, simply accept their task as it is assigned without questioning the process or asking about objectives.

But to survive and thrive in today’s volatile markets, we must ask questions, and lots of them. Accelerating change and uncertainty, particularly within the current COVID-19 era, demand it. The speed of this change requires organisations to have the right mindset and be constantly learning and developing.

THE INNOVATION MINDSET

Naturally, a big part of this mindset or ‘attitude’ is being curious – the desire to get under the skin of business challenges and disrupting the status quo to work towards a new solution. This is a constant process of refinement and improvement. Curiosity is the process through which we begin to strip away the layers of the onion, to discover what is driving the frustration. This is not unlike a business development mindset, where probing questions are asked to discern the consumer wants and desires - in fully understanding a client need or pain point, we create a world of opportunity.

That said, curiosity is just the first ingredient in the innovation process. Once that curiosity has been piqued, the next steps are to apply knowledge of market trends and our own capabilities to the issues being faced and begin developing tangible solutions. The best innovations  are often developing a better way to do something or filling a noticeable gap in the marketplace.

CURIOUS BUSINESS MINDS IN ACTION

The application of technology to improve the consumer experience is a great illustration of combining curiosity with a strategic, commercial objective.

If we look to a company like Amazon, which has seemingly perfected the consumer buying experience, we can see that they are still constantly refining and improving their process. Having recently purchased several food retailers in the US, Amazon is looking to completely renovate the consumer buying experience by eradicating the need for cashiers. Amazon have also won approval to start using drones for delivery.

INNOVATION AS A COLLABORATIVE CONCEPT

Taking an idea from inception to fruition is often a combined effort, and very rarely do individuals come along who can facilitate every step of the innovation process. Developing a culture that actively encourages the entire workforce to have a voice and platform to share ideas and question the status quo is critical to sustainable innovation. By managers demonstrating a commitment to listening and placing an importance on individuals having their chance to shine, they open a whole new frontier of creative potential. For example, in the world of video game development, it is not uncommon for teams to be given a day, each month, to work on a personal project, in turn sparking major spikes in productivity and fresh concepts.

Other organisations encourage friendly competition as a means for generating ideas which are voted on by peers. The rewarding nature of approaches like this serve to drive creativity.

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR NURTURING CURIOSITY

For a business to truly create a culture for innovation, then, it is evident that the first step requires the establishment of an environment where ideas can flow freely, and curiosity is encouraged. But while it is crucial to communicate the importance of curiosity, that alone is not enough to shape culture. Instead, curiosity must be driven from the top.

Here are 5 practical ways to help instil a curious culture throughout your business:

  1. Lead by example – be a model for the culture you are trying to create and show what you expect from your people by demonstrating it yourself.
  2. Reward innovation – as companies grow, culture tends to change and innovative thinking can be stifled. Consider introducing awards that recognise and incentivise those who generate ideas.
  3. Create challenges - Facilitate fixed-term innovation campaigns to identify potential solutions to business issues. You might simply ask a question and gather insights from across your organisation. This is a great way of demonstrating to your workforce that innovation is the responsibility of everyone.
  4. Operationalise curiosity – Ensure that the innovative mindset is present in your team’s daily work. Encourage them to question things more often.
  5. Curate curious minds – Most of us are naturally curious about some things but the focus of our curiosity varies drastically from person to person. Emphasise its role in your hiring process, to ensure you have the right team in place from the get-go.
     

Ultimately, curiosity leads to a wealth of learning, development and new insights. When combined with creativity, those insights can then be shaped into tangible ideas, which are key to unlocking opportunities for success.

Paul Herring

RSM Global Chief Innovation Officer


Related articles

Demonstrating the value of collaborative leadership

Risk and resilience – tips for business scenario planning