Curiosity is often undervalued as a critical competency in many organisations. It drives creativity, learning and innovation – but its value is yet to be widely recognised.

It may seem an abstract concept, but curiosity manifests itself through concrete behaviours such as asking questions, exploring new ideas, and seeking out new experiences. It helps individuals, teams, and organisations to anticipate change and quickly adapt to disruption.

Conversely, without curiosity, people and organisations remain in their comfort zone and find it difficult to adapt to new challenges. This can lead to stagnation and the risk of disruption by competitors[1].

The link between curiosity and performance

Research by Francesca Gino (2018)[2] revealed that organisations that support curiosity and a learning culture perform better on several metrics:

  • 92% more likely to develop novel products and processes
  • 52% more productive
  • 17% more profitable than organisations that don’t support a learning culture.

Organisations such as Google, Merck, and Novartis believe that curiosity is critical to their business. Google looks for curiosity in their recruitment process. Merck has developed an assessment to measure curiosity as well as a programme to increase levels of curiosity. Novartis has curiosity as one of its values and staff are given access to webinars, online courses, and toolkits on a diverse range of topics.

Vitally, curiosity is something that can be developed and nurtured. People may vary in terms of their natural levels of curiosity, but leaders and organisations can actively encourage and support it through role modelling, creating space for curiosity and communicating a value for it through recognition and reward.

What stops individuals and teams from being more curious?

Data suggests that only around 20% of people are actively displaying curiosity at work[3]. As children, we were most likely highly curious so what happens subsequently that leads to such low levels in the workplace? Possible reasons for this include:

Individual mindset: curiosity is linked to growth mindset. If we approach situations with a growth mindset, we are more open to asking questions and learning. In contrast, when in a fixed mindset, we tend to believe that we have all the required information, or that new ideas or approaches are irrelevant, or may be hesitant to ask questions for fear of appearing not to have all the answers.

Focus on short term performance: recognition and reward often focus on doing things more efficiently and productively within specific timescales. This approach can leave little space for people to question why and how things are done, even though curiosity can increase productivity by finding new and better ways of doing things. One study[4] found that curiosity dropped 20% on average within the first 6 months of starting a new job, as people became more focused on completing their immediate work quickly.

Lack of recognition for curiosity: while organisations may say they value curiosity, it is not always actively encouraged nor rewarded. A study[5] that included 16,000 employees found that only 52% of people believed that leaders in their organisation encouraged curiosity, and 81% believed the curiosity had no impact on how much they were paid. This indicates a lack of incentive – financial or otherwise – to explore beyond immediate role responsibilities.

Practical ways to boost curiosity at all levels


Ask: How am I curious? What things drive my curiosity?

It’s important to recognise that we are probably curious in some areas more than others. For example:

  • When faced with a knowledge gap or problem, we may be driven to seek more information and to persist until the problem is solved.
  • Or we may be intrinsically interested in novel and different ideas and be motivated to explore them to learn more.
  • Others may be curious about people, to understand them and why people do the things that they do.
  • And some are curious about challenging situations and embrace them while others may shy away.


Like many skills, we can develop and improve curiosity as individuals with effort and practice:

Illustration of a lady looking through a lock

Practise asking good questions: Curiosity is signalled by what we say and do and asking good questions is a great place to start.

Question the status quo, look for deeper answers, and look for different possibilities. Consider asking some of the questions here when faced with both familiar and unfamiliar situations.

Practise listening: “Listening is as important as talking: It helps us fill gaps in our knowledge and identify other questions to investigate” (Gino, 2018). Too often, we can feel compelled to provide answers quickly without first exploring and understanding the situation in more depth.

Leaders play a particularly important role in setting the tone and acting as role models for curiosity. Asking good questions and taking the time to listen and expand their knowledge is key to demonstrating this.

Make space to practise curiosity regularly: Build it into your routine – it could be small things like listening to a different podcast each week or watching TED Talks, listening to an audiobook whilst out for a walk, or talking to a different colleague outside your immediate team or function each week.

Team and organisation:

Recommended practices for leaders and organisations to adopt that can boost curiosity include:

Hire people with curiosity: Review your recruitment process and whether it includes ways to identify levels of curiosity in candidates. Organisations such as Spotify, McKinsey & Company, and IDEO look for “T shaped” individuals. That is, people who have deep expertise in one area (the vertical line of the T), and who have interests in other areas and can collaborate across disciplines (the horizontal line of the T)[6].  Google asks questions in the interview process to assess whether people are driven to learn for the sake of learning.

Provide time for employees to learn and explore interests: Focusing exclusively on productivity and efficiency can stifle curiosity, discouraging individuals and teams from taking the time to explore different ways of doing things. A different approach is to give people a set number of hours per quarter for them to learn about topics or work on projects they’re interested in. Novartis, for example, created a programme that provided employees with 100 hours of employer-paid education a year. This included access to online training and audiobooks, as well as support for further education.

Create opportunities for people and ideas to come together, For example[7]:

  • Introduce different people within your network to help cross pollinate ideas
  • Create cross-functional project teams
  • Provide opportunities to work in or with multicultural teams
  • Run TED-style talks with colleagues from different parts of the organisation
  • Invite a diverse range of external speakers to share ideas and perspectives.

Recognise learning: Focusing purely on pass/fail outcomes can have a negative impact on performance over time[8]. In contrast, recognising what people have learnt, how a team have improved, and the journey people have taken to achieve a result often leads to stronger overall performance. This approach can be applied in a range of situations, from 1 to 1 development conversations to reviewing team or function performance. Another practice could be “failure awards” which recognise people for exploring new ideas that may not have worked but that generated valuable learning. These may be used alongside the more traditional awards that recognise successful outcomes.

Implement initiatives and techniques that spark curiosity: From idea linking and hackathons to assumption reversal and the 5 whys, there are a range of techniques that can help encourage curiosity and creativity. For example, asking ‘why’ 5 times can help to get beyond simple, first order explanations to more creative and perhaps more accurate reasons.  Reversing assumptions and asking “what if?” can open up new and different ways of thinking, while hackathons incentivise teams to explore ideas and generate creative solutions in a time-limited and competitive environment.

Curiosity is critical

Curiosity is a critical skill in an environment that is complex, changing, and uncertain. By boosting learning and creativity, it can equip individuals, teams and organisations to tackle more effectively today’s as well as tomorrow’s challenges[9]. Vitally, it is far from being an abstract concept and is in fact something that we can develop and apply daily and that can be nurtured and encouraged through words and actions, and organisational practices.


[1] Merck (2019). The state of curiosity report 2018. Merck KGaA: Germany.

[2] Gino, F. (2018). The business case for curiosity. Harvard Business Review.

[3] Agarwal, D., Bersin, J., Lahiri, G., Schwartz, J. & Volini, E. (2018). The rise of the social enterprise: 2018 Deloitte global human capital trends. Deloitte: New York.

[4] Gino, F. (2018). The business case for curiosity. Harvard Business Review.

[5] Harrison, S., Pinkus, E., & Cohen, J. (2018). Research: 83% of executives say they encourage curiosity. Just 52% of employees agree. Harvard Business Review.

[6] Horstmeyer, A. (2020). The generative role of curiosity in soft skills development for contemporary VUCA environments. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 33(5), 737-751.

[7] Kashdan, T. B., Disabato, D. J., Goodman, F. R., Naughton, C. (2018). The five dimensions of curiosity. Harvard Business Review.

[8] Mussel, P. (2013). Introducing the construct curiosity for predicting job performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 34, 453-472.

[9] Litman, J.A. (2005). Curiosity and the pleasures of learning: wanting and liking new information. Cognition and Emotion, 19(1), 793-814.