More and more curious: What does curiosity mean for us?

Over the past 12 months, we’ve done a lot of strategic work to support ARTD’s future growth. We sharpened our vision, which is for a more thoughtful world, in which communities and decision-makers use evaluative tools to design and refine action for the public good.

We also reviewed our values: curiosity, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and commitment. We’ve been using our twice-yearly staff planning days to think more about what our values in mean in action.

When we (virtually) gathered earlier in July, we focused our conversation on curiosity. We know curiosity and creativity are critical for doing useful work in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous contexts. But what are the attributes of curiosity relevant to our work? We asked ourselves, what does curiosity look like when working with each other, and with our clients?

In our work together, curiosity is an attitude as much as it is a practice. For many of us, it is about being childlike or bringing a beginner’s mind to our work. It is about being open to possibility and to learning. Curiosity is about being willing to consider news ways of solving problems, and of thinking outside the box. The attitude of openness that enables curiosity to flourish, is underpinned by great communication skills: asking more questions and doing more deep listening.

Many of us noted the intent of questioning is an important distinction between being helpful and being unhelpful. We reminded ourselves to pause and think about why we are asking a question. Is it to learn more in a useful way? Or, are we being sticky beaks? As Steven R. Covey wrote in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply. Being quiet after asking questions allows others to fill the space.

Childlike curiosity can go too far, as anyone who has a toddler or a puppy in their life will know! It can be exhausting or frustrating for others to face endless questions and enthusiasm for learning. Sometimes, it is better to take your questions offline. Other times, it’s better to walk away and do some more research to ensure your questions are well formed and in service of your clients objectives.

Finally, we noted that curiosity needs to be leading somewhere. As Max McKeown, author of The Strategy Book reminds us, curiosity alone is a beautiful thing, but you need strategy with curiosity to take you where you want to go.

We value curiosity because it allows us to move beyond confirming what we already know, to finding new evidence or new patterns. When we do that, our work is better, and we serve our clients better.

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