Epistemic Curiosity

Photo of Raazi Imam

iStock 843147722At the Caiman Annual Meeting last October, I spoke with our employees about what it means to "develop a curious mind". Our consultants are all experts in their fields, but I've found that the most successful consultants are those who go beyond their consulting specialty and have a desire to learn and grow in other areas as well.

recent interview with Astrophysicist and author Mario Livio lays out a good framework for thinking about curiosity. While very academic, it’s a good starting point because swiping through your phone when you are bored (which we all do) is not the type of curiosity I am referring to (this is called Diversive Curiosity). The type of curiosity that we all need to develop is called Epistemic Curiosity – the desire for knowledge that drives individuals to fill gaps in their understanding and develop new subject matter expertise, and by doing so, achieve a positive feeling or response. It’s something that is very much intrinsic to our personalities.

Epistemic curiosity is deeply important for us all to cultivate and develop, as it provides a whole host of benefits to employees and the organizations in which they work:

Adaption

The Harvard Business Review recently made the case that "curiosity is much more important to an enterprise’s performance than was previously thought. That’s because cultivating it at all levels helps leaders and their employees adapt to uncertain market conditions and external pressures: When our curiosity is triggered, we think more deeply and rationally about decisions and come up with more-creative solutions."

Fewer decision-making errors

All consultants bring pre-existing beliefs and notions and a history of personal experience to the business problems they’re tasked with solving. This is why our clients hire them – their experience, knowledge, and expertise is how they are able to bring value. However, in an ever-changing and evolving world, we must approach each business problem, from the seemingly simple to the obviously complex, as unique to any we’ve encountered before it. Consultants must be open-minded and careful not to succumb to confirmation bias, or the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of existing beliefs or viewpoints. When consultants approach situations with curiosity, they’re less likely to fall prey to confirmation bias.

Reduced group conflict

Our consultants often work on a team with other people who bring different beliefs, information, and experiences to the table. Curiosity allows members of a group to put themselves in one another’s shoes, practice empathy, and approach differing opinions with an open mind.

So, how do you know if you have this curiosity? Well, when you are debating or discussing a topic, do you like to withhold your opinion and really understand the opposing point of view? Does hearing opposing viewpoints make you reconsider your own? Truly understanding another person’s point of view and actively listening are important indicators of a curious mind. If you don’t think in this manner, don’t worry, as curiosity can be developed!

Here are three suggestions for developing a curious mind:

  1. Approach things with genuine positivity. Really consider a point of view that may initially result in a negative response. Take your strongly held political positions and take the time to understand the opposite point of view and why others feel so strongly attached to it. It forces a person to put themselves in another person’s shoes and sharpens awareness. This state of mind changes the way a person is perceived and accepted by others ultimately. And changing your “vibe” is no easy thing to do. This is also termed a “growth mindset.”
  2. Avoid routine. Try to change the way you approach a task or process, and look for new methods or tactics. For the consultant, this should be relatively easy to do this, but sometimes fear, boredom, or laziness don’t allow us to look at alternative approaches. Fight that feeling of routine and boredom.
  3. Be more sensitive to the environment around you. Whether its stopping to look at the sky, paying attention to your coworker's mannerisms during a meeting, or focusing on your friend instead of looking at your phone - be present. Focusing on your senses in the moment are key to being a more curious person, because over 90% of what we learn in life comes from visual cues.

Practice the above three and you'll find yourself more curious!