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Dan Arens

It has been said many times and in many ways, but most often it is summarized in seven words: “We have always done it that way.” That phrase has been dubbed as the seven words most fatal to a business.

As a leader, owner, or manager of a business, you have the opportunity, to not only lead, but help take your company to the next level in growth. For many companies, unfortunately, that means keeping things the same, but according to research published in the Harvard Business Review, you might well consider taking a different approach for growth. Consider a new look at how things have been done in the past, then create and develop new ways of doing them. 

The key ingredient found in the research at Harvard indicated that in order to lead a company and be successful in helping it grow, the company leadership needs to be curious. Curiosity is the main element researchers found to develop a growth mindset. Researchers even identified a term they called a curiosity quotient (CQ). People with higher CQs are “more inquisitive and generate more original ideas, and this thinking style leads to higher levels of knowledge acquisition over time.” Further, the research showed “the most curious employees sought the most information from co-workers, and the information helped them in their jobs— for instance, it boosted their creativity in addressing customer concerns.”

John Chambers, the retired Cisco CEO, recently spoke to a group of startups and told them, “You want your competitors not to change.” Then he went on to emphasize, on the other hand, “You want to have the courage to change.” To say your business has recently experienced adverse conditions, in light of COVID-19, is probably a significant understatement. When it comes to creating an advantageous position for your business, it can be many times more difficult to change when your company is in a tough situation. Yet, as Chambers pointed out, in the world of business today, one thing is constant and that one thing is change, irrespective of the current conditions.

Chambers, who is part of the JC2 Ventures group he helped found after retiring from Cisco, said “You either disrupt or you get disrupted.” His observations encouraged businesses to take a different perspective when times are difficult. In fact, he went on to say, “You don’t compete against competitors. I’ve seen five generations of technology and we’re about to see a sixth one with a cloud moving to the edge and the Internet of Things. You focus on the transition in the business model.”  

Being a leader in your firm, consider asking more questions with more of a curious nature, instead of dictating a response or issuing an order to be carried out. By striving to be more curious, you should be able to bring more clarity to the unique aspects of what is challenging you and it just might allow you to achieve a better result. Many times a curious leader can be problematic if they are part of a bureaucratic system, but as the researchers point out, by continuing to be curious and providing an environment that allows others to be the same, you will be serving as an example for others to follow.

The Harvard researchers also encouraged company leaders to volunteer in reverse mentor processes. “To take your curiosity quotient to the next level, companies are now starting to realize that top down learning is not always appropriate, and reverse-mentoring programs are emerging as a result. In reverse mentoring, a junior team member enters into a professional friendship with someone more senior, and they exchange skills, knowledge, and understanding. For example, a younger team member might be more tech-savvy so encouraging a pairing with an older colleague or manager with less experience using technology can improve that manager’s ability to connect with potential customers. This is not a new idea. In the late 1990s, General Electric asked 500 of their top executives to seek out mentors from among new employees.”

In a 2019 speech to his high school alma mater in Seattle, Washington, Bill Gates, one of the founders of Microsoft, was asked the following question: “What are the skills today’s students need to know to thrive in the world of 2030 and 2040?” Gates replied by saying that curiosity is the framework for acquiring knowledge. The drive and determination of staying curious and continuing to learn are the cornerstones of business growth for your company.

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