Sustainable leaders stay curious. “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious,” said Albert Einstein, recognised for his genius in innovation and thinking. I think there's something healthy in that. Curiosity gets a bad name, usually associated with the cat for some unknown reason. Or it is tainted by some misunderstanding that is for those lacking in knowledge or the young. Yet as leaders if we do not stay curious, we will not be sustainable. We will tend to be superficial, shallow in our thinking, not keeping pace with the rapidly changing world and ultimately, we will be caught in a reactive cycle behind the change, not proactively embracing progress and constructive innovation. The digital revolution we find ourselves in has insured that the future belongs to those who are curious; those who truly embrace innovation. Those who don't will now fail fast. Leaders and organisations that are welded to the status quo will fail and fail fast. The business models that used to take ten years to fail are now failing in two or three. So, as leaders we have to keep up and we can only do that by challenging the status quo and staying curious.
Asking why can be seen as intrusive, almost rude and yet gaining deeper insights into our markets, our organisations and our people, is at the forefront of creative change. We have to challenge our assumptions and be willing to be wrong.
I admire Ken Robinson, an English educator, who has for many years championed creativity and talent alignment in the conservative English education system. He's been resilient for many years and is only now having the impact I'm sure he dreamt about many years ago. He said that “curiosity is the engine of achievement”. I like that, and I think it has real merit. If we want to truly achieve, we have to stay curious, and gain those deeper insights.
When we ask “why”, we get to deeper truth, when we ask “why” again, we go deeper again. How many times have we missed an opportunity, a revelation or an important insight, as we've skipped over the surface and taken things at face value?
As leaders we can model this to our teams and our organisations. Staying curious is at the heart of sustainable leadership and as Sam Harris insightfully said, we should consistently challenge the frontiers and boundaries of our understanding. I think there's definitely wisdom in that.