Why curiosity is the antidote to today’s uncertain times

Today, as thousands of aeroplanes sit dormant on deserted runways, and the world’s busiest tourist destinations lay silent, it is easy to succumb to anxiety about what lays ahead for the world we once knew.

Media outlets around the world are pumping out a constant stream of COVID-19 statistics, and phrases that were unknown to most of us just a few short weeks ago, now effortlessly roll off the tongue. Everything about this ‘new normal’ is anything but normal for most of us. And it only takes a casual stroll through the comment sections of social media to see that fear and anxiety is taking its toll.

Amongst this heady mix of information overload, social anxiety and the very real worries we have for our health and the financial security of our families and businesses, staying curious may be the furthest thing from your mind. But here’s why it might help you to not only cope with the current situation, but to come out the other side better placed for the world that emerges from COVID-19.

As the Harvard Business Review’s Series, Why Curiosity Matters, states, “Most of the breakthrough discoveries and remarkable inventions throughout history, from flints for starting a fire to self-driving cars, have something in common: They are the result of curiosity.” So, before we can respond to what comes next, first, we have to allow ourselves to be open to what tomorrow might look like. And, what role businesses and brands will play in the inevitably changed mindsets and habits of consumers.

Philosopher and psychologist William James (1899) called curiosity “the impulse towards better cognition,” or in other words, our innate desire to understand what we know we do not. With such a fundamental shift in human behaviour, movement, socialisation and consumption, it is inevitable that some of the changes we have been forced to make for the collective good, will stick and become a normal part of how we live in the not so distant future.

Just one example of this change is the move to working from home on mass, for any business that is able. Telecommunication companies have been producing ads for well over a decade that profess the benefits of technology for remote working – remember the one where the lady was having her toes painted while on a video call to the office. And while there is no doubt that technology has advanced in ways we could only have imagined back then, it is the shift in human and business behaviour that has been far slower to come.

So how can we ensure that we apply a healthy dose of curiosity to our current thinking and conversations to help ourselves, our businesses and our employees better adapt to these uncertain times?

Firstly, we need to put it on the agenda, helping to cultivate a curious mindset for both leaders and employees. Research detailed by Francesca Gino, a behavioural scientist and the Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, in ‘The Business Case for Curiosity’, shows that “when our curiosity is triggered, we think more deeply and rationally about decisions and come up with more creative solutions.” We need to challenge ourselves to look at our organisations at every level to help curiosity thrive. As Gino detailed, simply by making small changes to an organisation’s design and how we manage our employees, can help encourage curiosity, no matter what industry we are in.

And lastly, but perhaps most crucially, we need to be open to it, because nothing stifles curiosity more than fear, and we don’t have to look far to find ourselves surrounded by that right now. 

To help, over the next few weeks, the YoungShand team will be sharing our collective thoughts on what brands and businesses should be thinking about and doing, now, and in the future, as we all move forward into our changing world. We will be looking at everything from the changing media landscape to why necessity really is the mother of invention.

Until then, stay home, stay safe, but stay curious.

Anne Boothroyd is a Creative Director at YoungShand.

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