“Curiosity is the engine of achievement.”
Sir Ken Robinson
Allowing curiosity to guide our conversations is the first step of storyfinding. With both prospects and customers, curiosity helps us clarify and deliver on expectations, reveal additional ways to serve and work together, and continually build on the all-important elements of trust and empathy.
Unfortunately, we all have a tendency to avoid, dampen or completely ignore our curiosity. Sometimes we confuse curiosity with being nosy, so we don’t ask important and valuable questions. And many of us choose speed over knowledge. We focus on limiting the length of a conversation and not on the extent and value of what could be shared.
Yet both our success and storyfinding skills depend on our limitless curiosity.
How does our limitless curiosity support storyfinding? And how can you weave curiosity into all of your conversations?
The word “curiosity” comes to us from the late 14th century and means careful attention to detail; skilled workmanship and desire to know or learn, inquisitiveness.
Compare this with the word “nosy” which surfaced around 1610 and literally meant “having a prominent nose” (think Cyrano de Bergerac). By 1890 the phrase “Nosy Parker” referred to someone known for prying, snooping, asking overly personal questions, and even eavesdropping.
Curiosity is not about being nosy.
It is about your desire to fully understand a situation. It allows you to express genuine interest in another person – their thoughts, feelings, experiences and hopes. And curiosity results in your giving someone your full attention, making them, for the brief moments of your conversation, the center of your universe.
It’s the arrival of the statement, “I’ve never thought of it like that before.” When I say it, it indicates I’m truly listening to the prospect or client, really hearing them without my assumptions getting in the way. When the prospect or client says it to me, it means I’ve crafted questions that have allowed them to think outside the box. This, to me, is golden; it’s the ticket to a deep discussion and most likely some fascinating work.
Astrophysicist Mario Livio was so curious about curiosity he wrote a book about it: Why? What Makes Us Curious. In it he dispels the myth that curiosity is something we lose over time: “Some people think that as we grow up we lose our curiosity, and that’s not entirely true. We do lose some elements of diversive curiosity or the ability to be surprised. But actually epistemic curiosity, that love of knowledge, appears to be roughly constant across all ages.”
Livio succinctly expresses why curiosity is so incredibly valuable in your work: “… the answer to every question just brings about a new question. Sometimes the new question is even more intriguing than the original question.”
And new questions definitely reveal the deeper story, the important bits of knowledge that allow us to truly understand and serve our prospects and clients.
There’s tremendous value in allowing curiosity to lead your conversations.
How can you make this happen? It isn’t always easy and, as with the development of most skills, it takes practice. Here are some ideas:
- Get your ego out of the way. The need to be right, or the one with the best ideas, or the one doing most of the talking – all of these things silence curiosity. Peter Bregman, the CEO of Bregman Partners and best-selling author of Leading with Emotional Courage, describes it this way: “… before demonstrating my understanding, I have to develop it. I need to ask questions and be open and listen and learn. Which takes humility. Humility is not knowing.”
- Identify your assumptions. This isn’t easy but can be achieved with practice. Keep asking yourself, “What don’t I know?” Often discovery calls reveal what your prospects and clients are currently doing; your curiosity can reveal why they do it. This is the knowledge that makes you a storyfinder.
- Ask open-ended questions … and keep asking. The universal question that always helps find the bigger story is quite simple: “Tell me more …”
- Be generous with your time. Schedule a time cushion around discovery calls that gives you the room to follow your curiosity.
- As you review your conversations, more questions may arise. Your curiosity may be sparked in new ways. This means you should follow up with more thoughts and questions. For the client/prospect this indicates you are thinking about them and focused on excellence. Linda Daley expresses this as “getting the opportunity to point my curiosity to an individual. It’s not about what people like them need; it’s about what they need.”
- Listen more than you speak. This is the hallmark of excellent storyfinding.
P.S. The ‘killed the cat’ proverb originated as ‘care killed the cat’. By ‘care’, English playwright Ben Johnson meant ‘worry/sorrow’. Over the centuries, like a long game of Telephone, the phrase has been distorted.