Can you be? Are you? Is the Industry?
I recently posed that simple question to some Edelman colleagues – from across the U.S. and Canada, from different practices and different job levels. So how did they respond? I heard a large chorus filled with “probably not,” “never” and “there’s always room for more curiosity in my daily life.” With just a couple of exceptions (and I want to hang out more with those curious few), most acknowledge that they needed more curiosity in their work, as well as their daily lives.
As an experiment, our New York office creative director Jimmie Stone and I invited a group of 25 people from the office to join us on what we simply billed as an “excursion to be curious.” All they were told was to be available for about 90 minutes, to meet at a certain location at the designated time and come untethered to their mobile devices. Oh yes, and we did promise them beer and wine as a reward for being curious. And so they came. We split them up into teams of three – more often than not, with people they hadn’t yet had the opportunity to work with. And off they went to explore completely different paths. What they found in their 45 minutes were completely different, eye-opening experiences.
Being asked to be curious was liberating – liberating in the sense that they got to pause instead of just doing, to talk with strangers instead of those they felt more comfortable with, to stare instead of glancing, to wonder instead of being too busy to bother. One of the simplest anecdotes we heard was the most telling: On one side of our office building sits a company called Hyper Island. One group said that they passed it every day and had no idea what the company did or what it was. But during our excursion, under the guise of curiosity, this group went in, introduced themselves and started talking to its employees. And what began to bloom? The beginnings of possible collaborations.
To me there is a distinction between searching and being curious. Both are good. One starts with knowing the question and the “directional” answer you seek. The other starts open-ended, and can often help frame the question you want to pose. Another way of saying this is that search can be about the answers you expect to find; whereby curiosity could start with satiating a hunger for something that you just can’t pinpoint. Searching is smart, analytical and purposeful. Curiosity is messy, unsettling and for the “controlling” aspects of ourselves, a bit uncomfortable.
Personally, I fall beneath my expectations on the curious scale. I have my aspirations, yet I let the trivial, mundane and busy things take over. So I am putting it out there now – I am going to personally make time each week (two hours plus) to be aimlessly curious. I am going let my curiosity set the direction and I’ll just have to follow it. And perhaps I’ll let my dog Jackson be my Sherpa – after all, his curiosity has no boundaries. The world is his playground.
Now imagine this. What if we kicked off every new assignment or even every day with people who had the “luxury” of being curious? What could be different? What would be different?
So I am eager to start a conversation around whether or not “ we are curious enough.” How are we satisfying our curiosities and how can that inspire others?
Who knows what we’ll find. And that’s the most exciting part of all.
Howard Pulchin is executive strategic director, Edelman Strategic + Creative Guild.
Image by Damian Gadal.