the 4 killers of curiosity with Dr Alison Horstmeyer

#56: The 4 killers of curiosity – with Dr. Alison Horstmeyer

Why is curiosity so important? How can you get it? And what are the biggest curiosity killers? 

I am discussing the 4 killers of curiosity and how to avoid them in our VUCA world, together with Dr. Alison Horstmeyer.

Who is Alison?

Dr. Alison Horstmeyer was a business development executive at the intersection of Tech and Media. As she moved through her career, she really loved helping other people be successful and as she did exactly that, she noticed a certain level of anxiety, stress, and complacency around her, accompanied by different leadership styles. Being curious about that (that’s what the entire podcast is about), she went back to school and dived into the science between the mind and body behavioral science. She also got certified as a coach and a yoga teacher in the process. She now mainly focuses on emboldening individuals and teams to explore, experiment and evolve, while managing the stress that comes with it along the way.

Why curiosity is so important in our VUCA world?

For those of you that don’t know what VUCA means, it is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Our world is changing at an enormous pace and things are becoming less and less certain, making agility an important asset in businesses wanting to compete in this VUCA world. 

That is why curiosity has become so important. Curiosity has become a powerful meta-skill, a higher-order skill that energizes and empowers other skills like critical thinking, creativity, divergent thinking, empathy, collaboration, and trust. Empirical data suggests that curiosity is one of the top four character strengths that are connected to psychological well-being and life satisfaction. But how exactly should we define ‘curiosity’?

What is curiosity and how can it help you?

By Dr. Horstmeyer’s definition, curiosity is the self-directed seeking exploration and immersion into certain situations that will have the highest potential for new experiences, and new information. Those situations tend to be uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. 

“But why is being curious so important?”

Immersing ourselves in these situations gives us the highest potential to give us new inputs and experiences, which create new connections in our brain. Being curious helps make the uncertain and thus uncomfortable, manageable. This brings me to Dr. Alison Horstmeyer’s first dimension of curiosity.

The 4 dimensions of curiosity

1. Not knowing

When we get very busy, we become a tactician and continue to apply what we know, but sometimes, when we get a situation we did not expect, we fall back into our conditioned behavior and apply what we know, rather than being open to solutions we are not familiar with. This is what Alison calls the expert mindset. The problem with this mindset is that you are not prepared for bigger complex problems that might come up in the future. Holding onto your cognitive biases and assumptions will leave no room for reflection. So if you want to become more curious, you will have to accept that you don’t always know the solution to a problem and you will have to explore new ideas, which brings me to the second dimension.

2. Exploration

This dimension has a very active quality to it. You can be curious, observe and be interested, but still don’t do anything. Rather than passively opening yourself to new ideas and skills, you should actively explore these new concepts and directly apply them in your life to get the best result possible.

3. Openness

Openness is kind of a broad term, I get it. But in this situation, it is one of the most important things you have to apply. It isn’t easy to be open to different ideas and experimentations, but it is essential if you want to become curious. If you want to feel more liberated to explore and be agile instead of adapting, you have to let go of your preconceived notions, biases, and assumptions. To truly become agile and curious, you have to be open to unfamiliar territory.

4. Stress tolerance

The last three dimensions of curiosity aren’t easy to apply. This is completely normal because stepping out of your conditioned behavior and your comfort zone can be – well – quite uncomfortable. So this last dimension of stress tolerance is managing the anxiety, stress, and discomfort along the way. When you immerse yourself in curiosity, your body and mind need time to get comfortable with the discomfort of constantly learning new skills and concepts. This is completely normal! So understand that this stress and anxiety are a step you can go through to become a better agile and curious leader!

What is killing curiosity in organizations?

For Dr. Horstmeyer, it’s four words: top-down decision making. When leaders tend to be in the weeds a lot, they often are too busy to step back and envision what the next step should be, which is exactly what is required of a good leader in our VUCA world. When under pressure, a lot of leaders can become directive and forget to develop their teams and delegate. So if you notice yourself being that type of leader, remember that your team works best if you have a vision and leave room for reflection and thinking about the future. Because those leaders, who empower their team, are the ones that actually feel more energized (and you know that managing your energy is very important).

To summarize everything: being curious is essential in our VUCA world. We need to prepare ourselves to acquire new skills in this complex, uncertain and ambiguous world. In order to do that, we need to accept that in a lot of situations, we won’t always know exactly what to do. We will have to explore new possibilities and gather new information. If we are open to experimenting with these new possibilities and ideas, we can become agile and adapt ourselves and our team to this fast changing world. Lastly, remember that exploring new possibilities and going outside of your comfort zone can and probably will bring a lot of stress and anxiety at first. Just remember that this is a part of the process that everyone has to go through. So in order to tackle this curiosity challenge, increase your energy when you feel you need it and power through!

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