Shunryu Suzuki once said, “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few.” Peter Drucker, who was an adviser to some of the biggest companies in the world for nearly a half century, relished the outsider’s perspective. He felt it enabled him to see issues that those inside might miss. He was once credited with saying, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”
Both Suzuki and Drucker believed that curiosity and inquiry were key to growth both as a person and as a business. But to this day, we still place a higher value on the expert. There was a study done at Stanford’s design school. They brought in groups of business school students. They put them in front of a table that had 20 pieces of spaghetti, 1-yard of string, 1-yard of tape, and a marshmallow. Their instructions were to build the tallest tower possible and to crown their tower with the marshmallow. They were given 18-minutes to complete the task. The average height of their towers was a little more than 10-inches.
Later, Stanford invited groups of Kindergartners in for the same experiment. The materials were identical and the instructions were no different. They too were given 18-minutes. The average height of their towers? Over 20-inches.
Beginner’s mind, where all is possible, where curiosity thrives, and paradigms don’t exist, that’s what organizations should place at a premium. As a business leader, I don’t want a room full of people looking to me for answers. No, I want a room full of people who are questioning everything that we are doing as an organization.
I remember once giving one of our kids a gift for her first birthday. My wife and I sat excitedly waiting for her to open the package, only to be waylaid because the bow caught her fancy. She looked at it, put it her mouth. She was just genuinely curious. Somewhere along the way, we lose that and replace it with a quest to know rather than to experiment and discover.
How can we kindle curiosity? One way is to invite outsiders into your organization. Encourage them to look around and ask questions. Maybe you can do this with reciprocity. Invite another CEO in for a day and offer to do the same in return. There is a double benefit. You get fresh eyes on your business, and you also get to see how another organization does things, which hopefully raises questions you can bring back.
Another approach is to think empathetically. Become your customer. Start looking at your organization through their lens. Our view of our business is narrow. We see how things work within the organization but have no idea how others see us. But, if we change that point of view and start looking at our organization as our customers might, it may encourage us to question some of the things we do.
One final way to kindle that curiosity is to read and listen to other good thinkers. In fact, the genesis of this article came from a book on inquiry that I just read, “A More Beautiful Question”, by Warren Berger. It made me question how much I question, and I hope this article does the same for you.