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December 2018
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TD Magazine

The Curiosity Gap

By rejecting creative thinking, executives may be wreaking havoc on business innovation.

Does your organization value curiosity? Your answer to that question may depend on whether you're an executive or an individual contributor. A new SurveyMonkey study asked more than 23,000 people, including 16,000 employees and 1,500 C-suite leaders, whether their organizations value and reward curiosity. This research uncovered a dramatic gap in how these two groups perceive curiosity, with 83 percent of executives saying that curiosity is encouraged within their organizations but only 52 percent of individual contributors agreeing. These two groups also have different perspectives on whether curiosity leads to financial reward, with 49 percent of executives agreeing that curiosity leads to salary growth compared with only 16 percent of individual contributors.

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This gap has practical implications for workplace innovation. About three-fourths (73 percent) of employees said that when they feel curious at work, they are more likely to share their ideas and generate new ideas for their organizations. If employees don't believe that their curiosity is encouraged and rewarded, they are less likely to be engaged in their work and offer up new ideas that may help their organizations thrive.

Research conducted by behavioral scientist Francesca Gino backs up these findings. In her survey of more than 3,000 employees, only one-fourth reported feeling curious about their jobs, and 70 percent said they face barriers to asking questions at work. Gino also presents conclusions that help to explain why employees don't feel curious. She discusses a separate study she conducted of 520 chief learning and talent development officers in which leadership reported discouraging curiosity. The leaders believed that curiosity would lead to disagreements, slow down decision making, and generally make their workforce harder to manage.

While curious employees may not always produce workable new ideas, Gino's survey of employees found that 92 percent of respondents see positive outcomes to curiosity, including an increase in new ideas, job satisfaction, motivation, and higher job performance. All this research reveals that when executives discourage curiosity, they may lose out on innovation in return.

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About the Author
Eliza Blanchard, APTD, is ATD's Learning & Development content manager. Contact her at eblanchard@td.org.
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