Thursday, 18 June 2015

Curiosity in the workplace - the wellspring of innovation

A colleague raised an interesting topic for discussion on LinkedIn recently about encouraging a campaign for curiosity. We liked the initiative so we thought to put the spotlight on our trainers this time to find out where they stand on the issue. Saira Nisa’s response caught our eye, you can read it below.

There are many ways in which employers can help to encourage curiosity in the workplace. Interestingly enough, we tend to find that companies within the tech industry invest a lot of time and money into creating an environment and a culture where curiosity and creativity can exist.
Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why. ( Bernard Baruch)

I came across an interesting article which gives a brief overview of how companies such as Google, Microsoft or Asana encourage curiosity. The article does talk about creativity but I believe that it is the ability and the willingness to be curious which breed creativity and likewise, creativity encourages and continues curiosity.

These companies are international conglomerates and very much giants within their industries. However, there is nothing that stops other national and international companies from implementing even one or two of their ideas or starting off small-scale. It takes a curious and creative mind to come up with alternative ways in which curiosity and creativity can be encouraged in the workplace on a budget.

On the flip side, employees must also be able to place a high level of trust in their employers to seriously consider what those 'lower down the food chain' have to say and how they feel. The strategy Toyota employs is a great example of how staff working on the ‘shop floor’ basically run the company and have the highest level of influence over their seniors –  direction does not come from top and filter down to employees, it comes from the employee to the seniors and then decisions at the top level are based on the needs and wants of the shop floor workers. Toyota recognises its staff to be the experts in their field and the management team are there to serve them.

Where staff know that they can have this level of influence (or power), they will take the initiative to look for ways of improving their work environment, bring about efficiency, progress within their roles and within the company.

To use other companies as examples:

  • Amazon pay for their staff to get qualifications completely unrelated to their job roles because they recognise that not everyone wants to stay within the same firm for the rest of their lives. They support their staff to achieve their personal ambitions and not just career ambitions. Keeps them motivated!
  • Richard Branson, Virgin’s Founder says “Train your staff so that they can go and work elsewhere but treat them so well that they won’t want to leave”.

At my secondary school (a very long time ago!) we turned up one Monday to find posters of ‘riddle-like’ statements and words around the whole school such as;
  • “r u in February”
  • “borrow” “lend”
  • “who built the arks?” “Just ask”
We all started questioning teachers who would not tell us the answers and at first said that they had no idea either and then said that they weren’t going to tell us, we had to work it out ourselves. Eventually we found out it was a grammar, speech and spelling improvement campaign. They noticed a trend of students who spelt ‘February’ phonetically and so they missed out the r and sometime missed out both the r and u.

Some students used the words “borrow” and “lend” incorrectly so instead of asking if they could borrow something they used to ask “Can you borrow me xxx”.

I’m sure you can guess the issue with “Arks”…

They found that it had the impact that they were looking for:
a) it got us curious, investigating (with no Google in those days) and asking questions and 
b) the level of spelling, pronunciation and grammar improved.

I guess the teachers there were curious enough to question how to bring about the improvements they wanted and were creative enough to come up with that campaign!

Saira Nisa,
Learning Consultant, Capita Learning & Development

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