I was doing my morning reading today and I came across a few posts and thoughts the value of opposing ideas, disagreement, and controversy and it reminded me of the value of curiosity when we are going about our daily lives. Increasingly we see leaders just “speaking louder”, believing that by talking louder they will convince more people to agree with their position (as radical as it might be). Friends and family get in comment wars on social media and post ideas that are clearly intended to create tension and disagreement. People are shocked by the fact that other’s opinions don’t align perfectly with their own.
We see more people with a false consensus bias which reduces the quality of our social conversation (and makes it challenging to maintain our own curiosity).
False Consensus Bias = People have a tendency to overestimate the extent to which other people think the same way that they do.
The solution to the challenge is housed in the proverb “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back”. Curiosity is associated with risk-taking because most people only remember the first part of the proverb. In fact, the satisfaction that comes from curiosity is the antidote to the challenges we are seeing today. More curiosity will mean less “volume” in our disagreements.
The Power of Curiosity
Curiosity is a strong desire to know or learn something. I believe that curiosity is the antidote to the negativity we are seeing. If we can force ourselves to be more curious we can eliminate our false consensus bias, reduce the volume of our conversations, and learn more about each other and the source of our individual ideas and opinions. Through genuine curiosity we can change the dynamic of our conversations and move toward alignment within our organizations, teams, and groups.
But how do we become more curious? Like any other skill, you need to exercise your curiosity muscle by practising your curiosity. I found some great exercises that I am going to start using myself to improve my curiosity muscle.
Learn About A New Subject
Learning is simple and you can do it on your own with a few minutes of downtime. As an added bonus learning is fun!
You aren’t striving to become an expert, only to expand awareness of an interesting new topic. Wondering how your car engine works? Curious about being an entrepreneur? Interested in learning more about the origins of a type of music? There are an endless supply of questions you can explore and the Internet is your friend when looking to learn.
If you’re a reader you may want to check out Feedly as a place to search and learn. Enter a topic in the search bar and find hundreds (or thousands) of blogs and news sources that are writing about that topic. If you prefer video learning there are an endless number of educational videos on YouTube that you can leverage. Perhaps you like more structure in your learning, in which case check out online course providers like Coursera or Skillshare to see if there are any online courses you can take to expand your knowledge.
Get To Know More About People
Learning new things about people forces you to use some of your curiosity skills:
- Asking open-ended questions
- Showing genuine interest in the responses
- Exploring other’s interests
- Shooting for the unknown answers (exploring new areas)
In sales, one of the most powerful approaches to engaging customers and building strong relationships is being curious. Harvey Mackay is one of my favourite leaders in this space and his “Mackay 66” tool gives you a great baseline for questions you should know about your customers. I’m amazed how few of Harvey’s questions I can answer even about some of my better friends.
Taking the time to work your curiosity muscles by exploring new things about the people around you is a great way to practice those core curiosity skills that you need to see the differences when you come across a disagreement or difference of opinion.
Assume You Are Wrong
You may need to start out slow on this one since it is uncomfortable for many of us. If you have been successful in our life and career it is hard to believe that we are often wrong. But by being wrong you will learn a lot about yourself and those you are working with to solve problems. Force yourself to take the position of being wrong at least once a week to start. As you become more comfortable with the approach start to do it more often until you are able “be wrong” every time you disagree with someone.
Approach an issue with the assumption that you might be wrong this time. You can’t be right all the time. You will be at least partially incorrect in many situations. In reality, you are actually completely wrong sometimes, so why do you always enter a conversation assuming that you are right?
Instead of convincing the other side of your own position, take the position that you are wrong and ask the other side to convince you. Open your mind and listen to the reasons behind the opposing position and assume that you are at least partially wrong. You will amaze yourself with what you learn.
You may have overlooked some important information or one of your own biases which may be working against you. Perhaps you have information or experience that others don’t that might be important in gaining consensus. The act of assuming you are wrong and listening will open the door to understanding and move you toward a better answer.
Advanced: The Controversial Opinion Game
Sean Blanda, co-founder of design magazine 99U offered up a game he plays with trusted friends called the “Controversial Opinion Game”. In his words:
The rules are simple: Don’t talk about what was shared during Controversial Opinion afterward, and you aren’t allowed to “argue” — only to ask questions about why that person feels that way. Opinions can range from “I think James Bond movies are overrated” to “I think Donald Trump would make a excellent president.”
This game results in “consensus bias” busting as people share their reasons for their positions on a controversial topic. Personally, the value of this exercise is that it forces you to exercise your curiosity by exploring your friend’s opinions. You will learn some interesting new things about your friends and how they view life through this approach. You will also learn the value of that curious approach that you can use in other areas of your life.
It is important to play the game with people you trust. The rules are simple but you need to be sure the people you play with buy into the concept.
As we look around the world we see more “volume” in the ideas and opinions than we ever have before. News agencies are blasting their political agendas into our households 24/7. Political candidates are “yelling” their opinions and ideas at us in hopes that we will buy in. Anonymous faces are “tweeting” and “posting” their ideas and arguments in our social media feeds. Bosses and leaders asserting their ideas as the best and only path forward for an organization or team.
In reality, many of these ideas and opinions are not 100% wrong and not 100% right. The best answer is usually somewhere in the middle. Through the power of curiosity, we will be able to find it and bring people together. Your job is to be that curious mind that can help to get us there.
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but curiosity brought him back.
Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.