I had an interesting experience last week. While waiting for a friend in a hotel lobby, I was passing the time doing what I’m sure many of you do when waiting: reading and responding to work emails. All of a sudden, my train of thought was broken. Looking up, I saw a small boy, maybe three or four years old, riding the escalator with his grandmother. It was his happy squeals that had broken my concentration and yanked me out of my own thoughts, to pay attention to my surroundings.

As I watched the two travel down the escalator, the little boy kept pointing at different things in the lobby and chattering excitedly to his grandmother. I couldn’t help smiling and thinking to myself: how curious he was! I could hear his grandmother answering his many questions: those are taxis ready to take people places…the flowers are to make the guests feel good…

As I watched them on the escalator, I realized that although I had been waiting for my friend for quite a while, it hadn’t even occurred to me to look around at all. I had paid no attention to anything in the lobby: beautiful vases full of flowers, paintings, marble floors and rich wood paneling. I’d simply been head down, immersed in my emails, totally oblivious to everything.

Not curious at all.

And then I started to think about it. Children, like the little boy on the escalator, are naturally curious. Spend any amount of time with one and, like the little boy’s grandmother, you’ll probably spend a good portion of your time answering questions: why does that happen? How does that work? Where did he go? When can we…? And on and on and on!

As I continued to think this through, I looked around the lobby, and what do you think I saw? Lots of people, almost all of whom were just like I had been: heads down, totally immersed in whatever they were doing on their phones or laptops. Maybe you’ve noticed that in places you’ve been too. No one was paying the slightest attention to what was going on around them. Doesn’t seem to me that, as adults, we’re curious anymore.

I think that’s a problem. For our customers, for the companies we work for and for ourselves, as people.

And here’s why.

  • The world we live in is changing quickly. And new technology is only going to speed up that rate of change. If we’re not open, curious and willing to learn, how will we be able to keep up with those changes?
  • Our customers’ needs are constantly changing. Although they might have needed one type of service when they first became our customer – checks cut and taxes deposited, for example – two years later, their business might have grown, and now they need a time-keeping system and human resources administration as well. If we’re not curious, how will we help them obtain the services that they might not even realize that they now need?
  • Service and sales reps interact with customers on a regular basis. They’re on the frontline. They need to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of every business, every single day, looking and listening for ‘clues’ to your changing customer needs. If your customer service reps aren’t curious, how will they bring those ‘clues’ back to your company so new products can be developed to satisfy those needs?
  • Curiosity is an important component of creativity. As human beings, we all have the capacity to have ideas, to create and to put together our experiences in new ways that have never been dreamed of. That’s what innovation is. Fifty years ago, who would have even thought that depositing checks into a bank account by taking a picture from a cell phone was even a possibility? And now anyone can do it! If you aren’t curious, how will you be able to create the new services that your customers haven’t even imagined yet?

In my experience, curiosity isn’t just important in your adult, working life, it’s actually essential! However, as we grow older, it’s harder to remain curious. Throughout our working lives, there are a lot of expectations placed on us to be certain, to ‘know’ things. Think how good it feels to be the ‘go to’ person on a subject or to answer people’s questions. As we grow older, ‘knowing’ is much more valued than ‘not knowing’. And it feels comfortable and good too! Problem is, though, when we are certain that we know things, we usually stop asking questions…the kinds of questions that our customers need us to continuously ask them. So, how can you help your people regain their curiosity – and then remain curious? Here are some suggestions:

  • Be a good role model! Ask them questions! If you are talking with a service rep about a customer, how about asking them what’s new with the customer’s business? Or, how about asking them how they think one of your new services could be improved? Show your people that you are curious! Instead of telling them things – showing them how much you know – ask them questions to show them how curious you are about them and your customers!
  • Spend time watching and listening to the way your people interact with your customers. How many questions are they asking your customers? Not many? Then how about helping them prepare questions to ask customers in advance? Or working with the team to brainstorm a ‘curious question’ that all service reps can ask their customers each week? Just like anything else, formulating and then asking questions gets easier with practice!
  • Challenge yourself – and your team – to take a break from phones and electronic devices to take a look around! How about creating a “Who, What, Where, When, Why” scavenger hunt with questions that can be answered by looking around your building. Although it might seem a little strange, at first, practicing being ‘curious’ will soon be second nature.

Asking questions is the best way, no matter what age you are, to learn and grow. And as the world – and our customers – change ever more quickly, what we all need to do is be able to learn and grow. Continuously. And in my opinion, that means regaining our curiosity and remaining curious throughout our lives.

Are you still curious?