We have long since realised that intelligence (or ‘being smart’) is not a predictor of success in life. Basic cognitive ability is simply not enough to get on. Daniel Goleman therefore developed the concept of emotional intelligence, or the ability to understand and manage both your own and other people’s emotions. This is a better predictor of success at both work and life more generally.
However, in the last 10 years or so, other researchers have suggested that perhaps even emotional intelligence is not enough. In 2015, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Chair of Business Psychology at University College London, suggested that future leaders will need both cognitive intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence. However, they will also need something extra: curiosity.
What exactly do we mean by curiosity? It is easy enough to find a dictionary definition (see box).
curious, adj. anxious to learn, inquisitive; curiosity, n. state or quality of being curious, inquisitiveness
Chambers English Dictionary, 1989 edition.
curiosity, n. a strong desire to know or learn something
Oxford Languages, online edition, 2021.
However, what does it mean in practice in business? And perhaps more importantly, why does it matter? To do that, let’s look at Chamorro-Premuzic’s concept of the curiosity quotient.
The Curiosity Quotient: Three Areas of Curiosity
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic defined three areas that he considered were important in curiosity:
Unconventionality is the willingness to think differently and challenge systems. For example, unconventional people ask questions like ‘why do we do it this way?’. They are always looking for ways to improve things, and challenge existing processes or policies.
Intellectual hunger is the desire to learn more about a wide range of subjects. Those who are intellectually hungry spend time reading a range of sources, from peer-reviewed journals through to social media. They genuinely want to know more, and are prepared to put in the time to find out.
Experiential curiosity is the desire to have new experiences and develop new relationships with more people. People with this type of curiosity actively try to meet new people. They tend to be ‘early adopters’ of new technology, and always want to be the first to try anything new. They also often described themselves as ‘thrill-seekers’.
Chamorro-Premuzic suggested that together, these three areas provided a ‘curiosity quotient’ or profile. It is possible to score highly for one area, but much lower for others. However, it seems likely that the best leaders will score highly on all three.
People with a high curiosity quotient are likely to proactively try to develop new habits. They will ask questions and be interested in the answers. They will also be interested in what is going on around them. They will read and explore widely to find out more about the world. They will invest in their own development, using a range of sources to expand their knowledge. They will be alert to new ideas and technology—and always keen to try these out. They will actively embrace the chance to try out new techniques or methods, and seek out new opportunities at work and in their daily lives.
On the flip side, they may also come across as easily bored, or distracted. They may not be prepared to take anything at face value.
It is fair to say that curious people will not always be the most comfortable people to be around.
They like to be outside their comfort zone—or perhaps, more fairly, most other people would consider their comfort zone to be a rather uncomfortable place. They are far more tolerant of ambiguity than most of us. They are also prepared to challenge others and provoke thought.
Curiouser and curiouser!
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Looking at this, it is possible to suggest that curiosity is simply having a growth mindset. You could also argue that it is part of emotional intelligence: perhaps linked to the desire to innovate, coupled with adaptability.
However, whatever we call it, we probably need to accept that an interest in the world around you, and a willingness to learn more, are important qualities in life. They are almost certainly even more important in leadership.
Developing Your Curiosity
Developing your curiosity is not an exact science. However, researchers suggest that there are several activities that you might try. These include:
Broadening your social media horizons. One of the problems that is often cited with social media is that it acts like an ‘echo chamber’. That is, we tend to tailor our feeds to reinforce our views. Curiosity requires you to take the opposite approach. Tailor your feed to challenge yourself. Look for people with different views and listen to what they have to say. It’s good to feel that your ideas are being challenged.
Looking at things differently. Start with where you live and take a different route to work. Consider taking a bus tour if you live in a big city and see your home with new eyes. You might also try working in a different location or travelling at different times. The key is to break your old habits and help yourself to explore new ones.
Eating lunch with someone different. It is easy to get into the habit of eating at your desk, or on your own, or even with the same people each day. Broaden your horizons by having lunch with someone new. Some people suggest doing this every day, but if that is too much change, then why not every week, or every month?
Picking the brains of someone unexpected. It is tempting to believe that age brings wisdom and experience—and to a certain extent, it does. We therefore tend to consult those whom we consider more expert. However, those younger and less experienced also have ideas. The concept of 360-degree feedback has been around for a while, but still struggles to gain traction. Try reinventing it as a way to gather new ideas. This may be especially important if you are struggling with technology, as the younger generation of ‘digital natives’ often have considerable skill in this area.
Asking more questions. The final idea is simple: stop telling and start asking. Of course, you then also have to listen to the answers. The ability to ask the right questions is vital. However, it turns out that simply asking more questions, whether or not they are the right ones, can help you to become more curious, and also to learn more.
There is more about this skill in our page on Questioning.
A final thought
It is important to realise that nobody has all the answers. However, developing curiosity encourages you to ask more questions—and this, in turn, will enable you to seek out more answers.