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Curiosity in the Workplace: How to Unlock Innovation and Problem-Solving 

curiosity in the workplace

“We are a culture of No.” Words that multiple team members had used to describe their culture during a recent Impact Audit. Was it the leadership’s intention to create a culture of ‘No?’ No. Was it what they desired and hoped for in their culture? Also no. Yet this is a common challenge we see in many organizations. Whether said aloud or not, ideas like “We’ve always done it that way” prevail, but that type of thinking prevents growth and innovation. The organizations we observe that are more agile, innovative, and, most importantly, working to create safe environments have a culture of curiosity. And not just curiosity when it is fun and exciting, curiosity when things are hard.   

Defining Curiosity

Curiosity is defined as a desire to learn or know more about something. We know from our work that there are always things we don’t know. Things we don’t know about the world, other people, the situation, or even ourselves. Curiosity can be a powerful force for innovation and problem-solving and can be a powerful force when building self-awareness and creating a culture of safety. Curious team members are more likely to ask questions, challenge assumptions (their own and others), consider other people’s perspectives, and seek innovative possibilities for old problems.  

In Curiosity First workplaces:  

  • Ideas are shared and welcomed; disagreements and discussions are productive.  
  • Collaboration is active and lively. People are eager to be involved in conversations, and team members actively participate in discussions.  
  • Curious team members are always respectful of others and their ideas. They want to understand why people think and believe the way they do.   

The Benefits of Promoting a Culture of Curiosity

Cultivating questioning minds in the professional space can bring about immense benefits. Let’s take a look at some of them!  

Increased Creativity and Innovation  

Curious minds are indispensable for stimulating creativity and innovation in the workplace. By granting team members the freedom to explore, query, and express their ideas, we not only promote the development of original solutions and improved problem-solving skills but also foster an environment of collaboration. Allowing people to share their ideas freely will spark transformative investigations, inspiring originality and creative solutions.  

Improved Problem-Solving and Decision-Making  

Stoking curiosity can be a powerful tool in problem-solving and decision-making. When team members feel empowered to ask questions and explore different angles, solutions, and decisions, they become more transparent and successful.  

True collaboration blooms when teammates come together to share their ideas, passions, and projects. Inquisitive team members can foster strong relationships with one another, creating the most conducive environment for creative problem-solving, respect, and camaraderie.  

Enhanced Collaboration and Communication  

When team members feel empowered to explore their ideas without judgment or criticism, they are likelier to share their thoughts openly and honestly. This, in turn, spurs meaningful dialogue, leading to better decisions and improved problem-solving ability. It also helps build relationships between teammates by deepening mutual trust; when team members trust each other, they are more likely to collaborate effectively on tasks.  

Greater Adaptability and Resilience  

Curious team members are more adaptable and better able to cope with change due to their predisposition to seek new information, perspectives, and experiences. They can better handle new challenges and opportunities by exploring different possibilities. They can formulate creative solutions to problems, innovate in their work environment, and possess greater problem-solving and decision-making capabilities.  

Strategies for Encouraging Curiosity in the Workplace

Stoking curiosity in the workplace calls for conscious action. There are different methods that organizations can employ to motivate their team members, such as:  

Fostering a Growth Mindset  

A growth mindset believes a person’s abilities and intelligence can be developed over time. This concept was popularized by renowned psychologist Carol Dweck, who identified two types of mindsets: fixed and growth. People with fixed mindsets believe that their talents are innate. In contrast, those with a growth mindset understand that their skills can be honed and improved through practice and effort.  

Encouraging Open and Honest Communication  

Organizations should promote an environment of curiosity where team members feel comfortable asking questions, offering their perspectives, and sharing ideas. You can achieve this by creating a true open-door policy encouraging feedback and constructive criticism. Creating a safe space for honest conversations will promote curiosity and exploration, resulting in improved problem-solving and decision-making skills. Managers should also offer coaching opportunities to help team members develop their growth mindset and become more adaptable to change.  

Leaders should take the initiative to host team-building activities that authentically spark creativity and collaboration among colleagues. These activities can also provide insight into different ways of thinking and help foster an environment of curiosity.  

Providing Opportunities for Learning and Growth  

Organizations should prioritize team members’ learning and growth by offering opportunities that allow them to explore their interests, develop new skills, and discover their passions. These opportunities include training programs, job shadowing, mentoring, and other developmental activities. Organizations can create a learning culture to keep their team members curious, engaged, and motivated. This, in turn, leads to more meaningful dialogue between team members, better problem-solving capability, and higher levels of adaptability.  

Role Modeling Curious Behavior  

Leaders should ask questions regularly to stay abreast of new developments, seek different opinions and perspectives, and uncover hidden insights. Asking open-ended questions stimulates divergent thinking, encourages dialogue, and allows leaders to understand their team or organization better. With this kind of atmosphere, organizations will likely reap the rewards of an inquisitive workforce.  

Encouraging Risk-Taking and Experimentation  

Leaders must create a space where team members feel comfortable taking risks without fear of failure or repercussions. Leaders can facilitate this by setting clear expectations, emphasizing the importance of learning from mistakes, and emphasizing the value of collaboration.  

Barriers to Curiosity and How to Overcome Them

Fear of failure, rejection, time constraints, power dynamics, and personal biases. These are just a few barriers that can stand between us and curiosity in the workplace. But they don’t have to! Here are a few strategies to help you overcome these obstacles:  

Fear of Failure or Rejection  

Organizations should foster an environment where mistakes are celebrated as signals for positive change and growth. Leaders must recognize and appreciate successes and missteps equally and empower individuals to take necessary risks with the confidence that failure is not final: it is simply a chance to reflect, regroup, and begin anew.  

Lack of Time or Resources  

If you can provide the opportunity to foster a spirit of curiosity through continued learning — you should take the time to do so. All team members should dedicate time to personal growth and professional development. Companies should also set aside funds for specific training programs and innovative projects — encouraging a culture of exploration and discovery.  

Hierarchical Power Dynamics  

Organizations that foster open communication and collaboration should start with a flattened communication hierarchy. Everyone should have an equal platform to voice their opinions and the ability to contribute meaningfully up to the top. Cross-functional teams are more successful when all team members can offer feedback and receive guidance through digital and in-person channels.  

Personal Biases and Assumptions  

Organizations must act to diversify their workspaces and empower their team members to push past their preconceived notions. By amplifying diverse voices and providing in-depth education on the importance of inclusion, companies can foster an environment where team members are encouraged to challenge and uproot their biases. Through these measures, businesses can achieve true diversity and inclusion.  


As leaders, it’s our job to tap into the spirit of exploration within our team members and create a culture of curiosity. We must be curious ourselves, provide learning tools and allow for experimentation. When we empower people to ask the ‘what ifs’ and ‘whys,’ opportunities for new ideas and solutions become available — and our business will reap the rewards.  

Promoting curiosity in the workplace is essential for unlocking the full potential of an organization. It sparks creativity, leads to better decision-making, increases productivity, strengthens resilience, and improves customer satisfaction. Overcoming the barriers to curiosity takes effort, but the potential rewards are significant. Leaders must create a culture of curiosity that leads to innovation and problem-solving — driving organizational success. 

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Sarah Noll Wilson is on a mission to help leaders build and rebuild teams. She aims to empower leaders to understand and honor the beautiful complexity of the humans they serve. Through her work as an Executive Coach, an in-demand Keynote Speaker, Researcher, Contributor to Harvard Business Review, and Bestselling Author of “Don’t Feed the Elephants”, Sarah helps leaders close the gap between what they intend to do and the actual impact they make. She hosts the podcast “Conversations on Conversations”, is certified in Co-Active Coaching and Conversational Intelligence, and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities. In addition to her work with organizations, Sarah is a passionate advocate for mental health.

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