Note (added September 21, 2023): We are aware of the ongoing investigation into possible data fraud in connection with some studies conducted by or connected to Francesca Gino, and we want to make sure that Leading Learning readers are also aware.
To be curious is to be human. It’s what drives us to further explore the unknown and discover what we don’t know, which means it plays a vital role in learning and engagement. Because of that, you’d expect curiosity to be something that’s encouraged by leaders and organizations. But all too often, that’s not the case.
Dr. Francesca Gino, is a behavioral scientist and an award-winning Harvard Business School professor whose research shows the importance of creating a culture where curiosity is modeled and encouraged. Her most recent book, Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life, explores people who personify “rebel talent,” and the core talents they all seem share (spoiler, curiosity is one of them).
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa talks with Francesca about the benefits of curiosity, it’s relationship to learning, and tips on how to instill it – and other rebel talents – into learning experiences.
Listen to the Show
Read the Show Notes
[00:18] – A preview of what will be covered in this episode where Celisa interviews Harvard Business Schoolprofessor, speaker, and author, Dr. Francesca Gino.
[02:18] – Introduction to Francesca and some additional information she wanted to share including that she describes herself as a lifelong learner. She admits what she loves most about her job is that it’s not only about doing teaching and research, it’s about learning from others and feeling as if learning never stops.
[04:16] – I first encountered your work through a Harvard Business Review article on curiosity. So let’s start there—how do you define curiosity, and what got you interested in studying curiosity—or, I guess I could ask, what got you so curious about curiosity? Francesca shares that curiosity is the impulse we have to seek new information and experiences and to always try to explore novel and new possibilities. What got her curious about curiosity she says, is partly because of her three small children—she’s fascinated by how they approach the world and the questions they ask. But data shows that curiosity peaks at age 4-5 and then it declines steadily from there. So she started looking at how organizations sustain, encourage, or often shut down curiosity. Francesca shares that she looked at 350 people starting new jobs and when she initially asked questions about curiosity, across the board, it was pretty high. However, when she went back to those same people 6-8 months later, she found that it had dropped by at least 20 percent. This is a missed opportunity because if we think about most of the breakthrough discoveries or remarkable inventions throughout history, not only in business, they come from people’s curiosity. This led her to get curious and begin investigating why it is that so often we decide not to be curious or why organizations we work for shut down our curiosity.
[06:55] – You’re a professor, so know what it’s like to teach adults. What do you see as the connection between learning and curiosity?Francesca explains that curiosity is one of the main drivers of learning and the reason we have a thirst for learning is because we are curious. She points out that across context – not only in business but even in schools – oftentimes teachers/leaders do not take on the opportunity of modeling the behavior for others and really paying attention to the micro behaviors that would encourage more curiosity, and with it, more learning, rather than shutting those down. Often there is so much focus on performance, crossing off the next thing on our to-do list, or executing to perfection, that we forget about curiosity. Francesca says one of the reasons most leaders don’t encourage curiosity is because they have the wrong mindset of what that does—they almost think that you can’t have curiosity and efficiency at the same time. But she’s seen lots of organizations/businesses where there are both and the very idea of encouraging curiosity leads people to know when it’s a moment or time to execute and when it’s a moment to explore and to keep learning. So both can coexist despite the fact that we might think they are in contrast to each other.
[08:52] – You talk in Rebel Talent about that perceived tradeoff between innovation and efficiency. Would you unpack that efficiency/innovation trade-off for us? Francesca discusses how in the book and in the HBR article she mentioned examples of very successful organizations where curiosity is in fact inspired. This is to suggest that there are ways for all of us to make sure that we get things done so we are efficient in the way we accomplish our work, while also keeping an eye on curiosity. She shares an example from Intuit who offers “innovation” awards of the year to people whose explorations led to new products or processes. But they also have “failure” awards that go to people who had explorations that led to important learning for the team—and these come with a failure party. This really creates a climate where exploration, in the sense of keeping curiosity alive, allowing people to experiment, is awarded as long as it leads to some important learning. Another example she shares is about a restaurant in Italy that won Best Restaurant in the world in 2016 (and top of the list in 2018). One of the things that is clearly an important to them is curiosity and she talks about how one of their leaders modeled curiosity and turned failure into a source of inspiration.
Sponsor: WBT Systems
[12:50] – If you’re looking to inspire your learners and keep their curiosity alive, a learning platform can play a critical role. We encourage you to check out our sponsor for this quarter.
WBT Systems develops the industry-leading TopClass LMS, which delivers transformative professional development experiences for education and certification programs. With a single point of support from in-house integration experts, TopClass LMS easily integrates with a wide variety of systems to provide efficient administration and a unified learning experience. WBT supports organizations in using learning technology to help drive growth in membership, increase revenues, and enhance the learning experience. WBT believes in truly understanding your challenges and partnering with you to ensure the success of your education programs.
[13:52] – While curiosity might at first blush strike some folks as a kind of soft and squishy concept, the benefits are real, backed up by hard data. Would you share a bit about what you’ve found about the benefits of curiosity? Francesca shares she found that even in the context of people whose job is to be a learning officer in an organization, there isn’t much encouraging of curiosity. For example, she looked at data from a survey of 520 Chief Learning Officers and Chief Talent Development Officers and she found they often shy away from encouraging curiosity because they believe that fundamentally the company is going to be harder to manage if people can explore their interests—something she notes is striking considering what curiosity can do for us. It really is an important driver of innovation and Francesca says there’s wonderful research by Harrison Spencer and other colleagues that robustly show a link between curiosity and more innovative thinking—and it’s also linked to more creative ideas. She notes that curiosity can also be helpful in our decision-making processes and her research showed that we tend to be less biased. So the type of systematic errors that we often fall prey to when we make decisions, don’t seem to show up as much when we approach the decision with curiosity because we ask all sorts of questions about potential alternatives. Finally, curiosity is really important as we work with others because when we’re curious, we’re much better able to reach good decisions within the group because we approach conversations with more of an open mind and we’re more receptive to ideas.
[16:35] – Curiosity is just one of five core elements you attribute to rebel talent in your recent book, Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life. Would you briefly talk us through the other four elements of rebel talent and what they look like? Francesca discusses how she was fascinated with people who seem to be breaking rules, but in a way that is very constructive and positive, for their lives and for the organizations they work for. In taking on this project of writing the book, she wanted to understand what talents they [the “rebels”] seemed to have and what we could learn from them. She briefly explains the five core talents they all seem to share:
- Novelty – most of us prefer to go for what’s familiar and comfortable, but rebels instead stretch themselves and always go for what’s new.
- Perspective – most of us attempt to approach the world/jobs/life by looking at them from a specific point of view, but rebels tend to look at different situations considering different points of view so they have a much broader perspective.
- Authenticity – rebels find ways – and courage – to express their views rather than conforming to the ideas and behaviors of others.
- Diversity – rebels fight against the social rules that we often see in society and they really think about ways in which they can productively leverage their differences with others. They are people who are very much surrounded by others who are very different from them in a way that’s beneficial to their work and decisions.
[18:52] – You found that what binds these five rebel talents is engagement. This struck me because engagement is a hot topic in learning—we want and need engaged learners for our educational products to be truly effective, for them to result in different thinking and changed behavior. What advice do you have for those providing education and professional development and lifelong learning to adults around enlisting these rebel talents in the service of effective learning? How might we instill or foster novelty, curiosity, perspective, diversity, and authenticity among the learners we serve? Is it something we can bake into what we’re offering or do we have to have separate learning experiences around those talents? Francesca says there are all sorts of ways to bake the experiences into what we’re already doing. When it comes to her own teaching, depending on the topic of the class, when she’s talking about the importance of some of these talents she makes sure there is an experience to go with them. For example, when she was teaching the importance of novelty in organizations she used an improv comedy exercise to help stretch the learners and give them something new. When it comes to curiosity, Francesca suggests a very simple way to bake that into learning experiences is to turn questions to the audience (rather than having all the answers yourself)—so this triggers curiosity and perspective by getting answers with all different lenses. She also points out how we’re often focused on performance so another way to help keep curiosity alive is to add learning goals (in addition to the performance goals).
[23:35] – Francesca shares how she got to learn more about Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger while working on the book (the pilot who landed a flight in the Hudson River after both engines became disabled). What’s striking about him she says is that by the time the accident actually happened, he had a ton of experience. Yet every time he walked into the cockpit, he asked himself what could be different or what he could still learn. Despite the fact that he had lots of experience, he’s an example of someone who still looked at new situations with a lot of humility and with an appreciation for learning—and we all have an opportunity to look at situations this way.
Sponsor: Community Brands
[24:57] – To help foster that appreciation for learning, you need good technology to support you and your learners. We suggest you check out our sponsor for this quarter.
Community Brands provides a suite of cloud-based software for organizations to engage and grow relationships with the individuals they serve, including association management software, learning management software, job board software, and event management software. Community Brands’ award-winning Crowd Wisdom learning platform is among the world’s best LMSes for corporate extended enterprise and is a leading LMS for association-driven professional education programs. Award-winning Freestone, Community Brands’ live event learning platform, is a leading platform for live learning event capture, Webinars, Webcasts, and on-demand streaming.
[26:00] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Francesca shares about her experience participating in an improv comedy class with her husband and how it forced them to stretch and learn more about themselves. This helped her learn to appreciate the fact that discomfort can be good for life and she really loves the principles that are at the core of improv comedy.
[28:19] – How to connect with Francesca and/or learn more:
[29:09] – Wrap-Up
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[31:17] – Sign off