ACU (Australian Catholic University)


Issue 8, Autumn 2013

The importance of curiosity

It is a curious thing, that curiosity did not fatally injure the feline. If you are reading this second sentence, well done, chances are you are performing better at work than those that bailed out after my bombshell news about the cat surviving. For those who have joined me in this third sentence, welcome, and may I say I predict great things for your work performance. Why do I say this? Well if you asked that question you may be on your way to an employee performance award.

Enough teasing Jim, you’ve piqued my curiosity I hear you say. Ask yourself - are you easily piqued, curiosity-wise? Well I have some curious news to share about curiosity, some research that has the potential to make us re-think what we should be looking for in recruiting new staff. Have you worked out what it is yet? Are you thinking about how you might otherwise find out if Jim doesn’t get to the bloomin’ point tout de suite! Are you wondering what tout de suite means, or what comic Australian characters use the expression toute de suite?
If these questions or others are running through your mind, it may mean you are curious. And it turns out this is a very good thing indeed because it turns out that curiosity predicts performance at work better than nearly all personality measures, most ability measures, more than emotional intelligence as well as a lot of other new age mumbo jumbo ideas. Curious now? Want to know more?

First, we need to know what sort of curiosity is gripping you. There are two forms - diverse and specific curiosity. Diverse curiosity is about seeking out things that might be interesting. This normally involves some form of challenge, and encourages information acquisition, learning, and thinking.

Specific curiosity arises after your interest has been piqued intentionally or unintentionally by something. It provokes us to explore so we can learn more deeply. Curiosity as deprivation is all about understanding and mastering things.

So diverse curiosity is the state of the inquiring mind, continually on the look out for new and interesting things. Diverse curiosity requires an open-mind, a sense of humility that you do not know it all, that are different and maybe better ways of doing things, and a recognition of the limitations of our knowledge. It is the opposite of intellectual complacency.

Specific curiosity requires the determination and doggedness to get to the bottom of things, the persistence to think something through, to find all the available evidence, to pursue the truth. 

However, it is also easy to see why this kind of behaviour might be frowned upon in organisations. Why have staff wandering off on quests, boldly voyaging to overcome the monster of their curiosity when there is core work being neglected in the process? Indeed I’d go as far as to say that curiosity is frowned upon in many organisations because it is seen as disruptive. Generally it is the uncreative, small-minded, overly stressed, too goal-focused, narrow-minded middle managers that promote such a view. 

The more senior managers, almost by definition are likely to display significant curiosity behaviours, because it is precisely these sorts of behaviours that allowed them to distinguish themselves from the pack and gain promotion in the first place.

Now Patrick Mussel, reporting in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, has come up with some data to support the idea that creativity is linked to job performance by studying apprentices working in the automotive industry. He found that measures of curiosity could predict job performance over and above a range of standard ability and personality measures.

The results did not differ between the sexes. Curiosity, it seems, is a powerful predictor of future work performance, so much so, that Mussel recommends it be included in recruitment processes. It also raises the question of how we can best foster curiosity in staff and in the next generation.

Mussel argues, and I agree with him, that curiosity is likely to be an increasingly important quality when the work we are doing is continually and unpredictably changing in a chaotic and complex world.

If you have made this far, I am sure you already know that toute de suite means right away (literally all in a row), and is much favoured by Kath and Kim. But why do Kath and Kim use the expression, why was it chosen for these characters…?

Professor Jim Bright

Professor of Career education and development at ACU, Professor Jim Bright combines academia with running a career management consultancy, Bright and Associates.

Teaching a Postgraduate Certificate in Career development in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane, he also supervises Phd students researching his Chaos theory of Careers as well as offering research expertise.

With over 20 years experience Professor Bright has an international reputation as a career development professional. He has been widely published and his careers column, the Brightside, appears weekly in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.
With a BA(Hons) and Phd in Psychology, he is a fellow of the Australian Psychological Society and the Career development Association of Australia, and is a former national chairperson of the College of Organisational Psychologists.

Stumped about your career? not sure where you want to take your degree? If you have a question for Professor Bright email or send us a message on Facebook.

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