03 December 2015

When Agile and Curious Collide

As consciousness increases in the world it seems the divide between organisations and their stakeholders only gets bigger.In fact, Deloitte ‘Human Capital Trends 2015’ reveals an astounding 87% of organisations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges, and 50% call the problem “very important”.’

The culture and engagement crisis is symptomatic of a much deeper issue and incongruence between our ‘real life’ and work life. Paradigm shift from hierarchies to lean networks and ‘flatter’ organisations, coupled with increased demand for autonomy and individual empowerment fuelled by technology and greater interdependencies, creates extraordinary challenges for business leaders.

To survive and thrive organisations need to get curious and explore ways to create stronger and more authentic alignment with stakeholders. I’m not talking about corporate responsibility and shared value. No, what I’m positing here is the need to become and remain inherently curious.

Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will – James Stephens

Curiosity is the intrinsic motivation to learn, our desire to know about something or someone. It’s that ‘spark’ in our brain that leads us to investigate something that is interesting because it is unusual.

A fascinating study published in the peer-reviewed Scientific Journal of Neuroscience, Neuron, suggests that when we become curious our brain chemistry changes. Professor Charan Ranganath, from the University of California explains that there is ‘this basic circuit in the brain that energises people to go out and get things that are intrinsically rewarding’ and ‘this circuit lights up when we get money, or candy. It also lights up when we’re curious’.

There’s a mountain of evidence supporting the benefits of nurturing curiosity in the workplace, spanning emotional wellbeing and love of learning, to social inclusion and mitigation of negativity and despondency amongst employees. And yet, when considering effective strategies to transform culture, mitigate risk, and for competitive advantage, curiosity is not an immediate thing that comes to mind but is more often associated with nosiness and danger.

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious – Albert Einstein

Curiosity gives rise to experimentation, innovation, and invention. However, curiosity on its own is not enough to sustain a thriving and resilient culture. It needs an adaptable counterpart – agility.

Being agile is about speed. It’s about grace-under-fire and having a capacity to move quickly and decisively in anticipating and taking advantage of opportunity, whilst collaborating to avoid negative and even catastrophic consequences of change. Agile is clever, and having a resourceful and adaptable character marked by ready ability to move with quick, easy grace.

When agility  and curiosity  come together it changes the game. People learn to anticipate their environment, and each other. Together, agility and curiosity create cohesion and courage – the result being the emergence of conscious culture.

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