While the title of this article is not entirely accurate, statistically it is mostly correct. In a search on Monster.com, one of the top global job boards, there are 16,106 jobs with the word for this attribute in the job description. In contrast, a search for communication comes up with 968,170 jobs (an almost 6,000% difference!!!). Even coffee has twice as many results with 34, 585. Francesca Gino in her HBR article on the subject states that managers are more likely to stifle this attribute than to encourage it. This is despite common assertions (backed up by various studies) that employees with this characteristic are better problem solvers, more engaged in their work, and overall more successful in their careers.
Why is such an important quality ignored by the majority of organizations when there are such obvious benefits. Perhaps the following quote by Albert Einstein gives us a clue:
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
What manager wants an employee who is constantly questioning why they have to do something or do it in a certain way. Most businesses have set processes and procedures and simply need an automaton to complete the task the way they have been told. Even firms who publicly seek "problem-solvers" are not looking for people to discover new ways of doing things. They just want them to deal with issues that come up so that they can quickly get back to their routine jobs.
In a 2017 article in the Atlantic, curiosity is an indicator for future academic success. The author points out that it seems to be linked to happiness and satisfaction in relationships as well. From an academic standpoint, curiosity is being compared to IQ in its ability to predict success in school. It is interesting to consider though how very little curiosity is actually "required" to achieve that success. Our kids do not need to wonder at how a caterpillar can transform into a butterfly, they just need to be able to select "metamorphosis" as the right vocabulary word from the four options on the multiple-choice test. Our education system, at least in most schools, from elementary up through undergraduate is based on regurgitating facts and ideas that are considered "correct".
So while it is not specifically necessary for our kids to be curious in order to do well in school and life it is most definitely a plus. We all want our kids to be happy and that makes it worth the effort to encourage curiosity in our children.
When I started researching how to instill curiosity in my kids it was perhaps not terribly surprising that "positive reinforcement" came up as the first suggestion. One of my favorite books growing up was "Why are there more questions than answers Grandpa?" (out of print and $795 on Amazon!) by Kenneth Mahood. In the book, a young boy drives his Grandfather crazy with endless questions like, "Would hitting a nail on the head give it a headache?" or "Can my funny bone tell jokes?" Finally, the old man sends his grandson to clean the attic where he finds a book to answer all his questions. Much hullabaloo ensues and our young hero succeeds in turning the tables and the book ends with Grandpa asking all the questions. The grandfather in this book is an excellent example of how NOT to encourage curiosity. If asking questions is viewed by our kids as a bad thing they will stop asking and eventually stop wondering.
The other approach for raising curious kids is one you will recognize from many of my previous articles, role modeling. Kids mimic us and learn what is acceptable early on by watching what we do and how we act. If we ask questions, take the time to satisfy our curiosity, show enthusiasm about learning new things, then our kids will likely follow our lead. Make an effort to verbalize your queries so that our kids see and hear what we are thinking. Rather than doing a quick search on google quietly to find an answer to your question, wonder out loud about it and maybe even ask your 3 year old what they think about it!
“I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt
The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on Twitter, Linkedin or Facebook.