Role of leadership in institutionalizing curiosity

Develops ideas and values though curiosityFile photo
Sarajit Baral

Learning organisation is one of the buzzwords in the last few years. Thank God! At least we recognized the importance of learning to stay ahead of change and competition. Otherwise, we have several examples of how failing to learn and adapt can lead to obsolescence – Blockbuster, Nokia, Kodak, etc. But, in most cases, organisations/leaders operate on the surface rather than dig deep into a topic. Do we really get the essence of a learning organisation? 

Learning organisations ponder, adapt and act on new knowledge. In the neo-modern world, within the fast-paced business environment, it is imperative to build a culture that facilitates continuous learning and development. But an organisation itself cannot learn or adapt, at the end of the day, it boils down to the employees who need to embrace the learning or new knowledge.

Do we really think that one who has multiple targets and deliverables at work, will be willing to learn just because we tell them it will be better for one’s career? We all went through multiple pieces of training in life and there is nothing to deny the fact, 90% (or more) of those pieces of training did minimum to our development as we forgot most of the material after a week or two. If it does not work, what intrigues learning?

Remember the books that we studied in school? What do we remember the most? For me, the stories, and the topics which met my curiosity are the best-kept knowledge that I still possess. This is the reason we remember all the 'Tin Goenda' stories better than the Periodic Table. If we dig down, instilling curiosity in one’s mind is the best way to make one seek new knowledge and skill.

With the leadership experience, I learned – a “learning organisation/culture” is just a fancy term until we institutionalise curiosity within the team. Because it encourages the teammates to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and seek out new ideas. This mindset is a prerequisite for adaptability to new trends, innovation, transformation, and better decision-making within an organisation.

Being heard is one of the key denominators of being curious and motivates one to capitalize on thinking capacity

The question remains – how do we institutionalise curiosity within a team?

Google search engine or recent AI-based ChatGPT may come up with a lot of ways to do that. But I shall stick to my own experiences that worked for me and my team.

I always encouraged my teammates to challenge the status quo and present his/her ideas on the topic. Being heard is one of the key denominators of being curious and motivates one to capitalise on thinking capacity. I am also a big advocate to go with small pilots to implement new ideas rather than rejecting them theoretically based on prior experiences. Because, if the initiative works for some reason, the team gets benefitted but if it does not – the learning that it captures will be more effective than any other training.

I also understand, it is not always possible to initiate pilots – for whatever reasons. Hence, as a regular practice to instill curiosity, I used to take advantage of team meetings. I am sure we all have monthly team meetings in different forms and shapes. Usually, we discuss different business priorities during those sessions. However, we used to keep an hour dedicated to refine our learning journey.

In every meeting, we assign someone from the team to read a book or to research a topic that is mostly generic (leadership, marketing, new consumer behavior, or customer developments). The assigned one must read the book or research on that topic and present it to all of us on the next session. As he/she has to concise the book within 30 minutes of presentations or face the entire team, he/she has to go through it thoroughly. After the presentation, we used to discuss further where the person in charge plays the role of a facilitator. I was quite surprised to see the outcome. And of course, we used to reward the person who contributed more effectively to the session.

I am also a great believer in forming project teams consisting of members from different functions. As an example, if it is a marketing initiative, with 2 marketing team members – I like to have members from the business acquisition team or supply network team. This brings in fresh ideas within the project as well as members from different functions will have exposure to different functional skills and appraise each other’s work. In my experience, this initiative also gives fresh air to my teammates from the daily work that he/she does.

There might be a lot of other ways to instill curiosity. But we need to believe in the core that institutionalizing curiosity is an essential component for any organisation to be successful in this world. This is not a “nice to have” rather it has become a “must do’ for all the leaders navigating small, medium, or large organisations.

* Sarajit Baral is Chief Executive Officer, Agami Ltd.