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Archive for May, 2011

How does curiosity get piqued? What is the value of being curious? And, most importantly, what can you do to become more curious?

Wondering why I ask these questions? It’s because I’ve noticed a paradox in my work facilitating innovation and change leadership: Professionals who are considered experts, are naturally evaluated by what they already know. The prevailing thought is, “Experts get paid a lot of money to know, so it might look bad for them to question their own knowledge.” Perhaps they consider questions the sign of a novice; or worse yet, something over which children obsess. Expertise and knowledge, then, can be a barrier to curiosity; yet, curiosity is what built the knowledge and expertise in the first place.

Here is what I mean by curiosity being at the root of knowledge and expertise, as well as the driver of innovation and change leadership:

1. Curiosity drives active learning.

As a way to illustrate the potential power of curiosity on our proclivity to learn, I can imagine this difference between a naturally curious person—or active learner—and myself in my usual reactive learner mode:

ME: I touch a hot stove and I learn to never do that again. It hurts!

NATURALLY CURIOUS PERSON: Learns the same thing I did when touching a hot stove, but then asks, what makes the stove hot? How do people feel pain from heat? How does the skin heal itself? What are the common factors that make people touch hot stoves? And on and on! These questions could lead to learning about physics, medicine, psychology, risk management—curiosity naturally opens up new avenues to knowledge. Because of curiosity, maybe someone will invent a stove top that cooks food without being hot to the touch. Maybe we’ll get an instant burn-healing ointment—or some sort of smart-alarm that senses when a cook gets too close to the burner.

Active learning drives innovation.

The point is, innovation, itself, is a learning exercise. In other words, innovation doesn’t come from knowing, it comes from asking. There’s a risk to this when you have to ask, “Have I been defining the right goal? Have I been solving the right problem? Do I understand the nuance of context? Are there motivations I haven’t yet considered? All of these are hard questions for an expert to ask. Still, you must be curious and open to exploring all the uncharted paths on which your questions take you—even if (and here’s your second risk) you have no assurance it will lead you to the promise land of innovation. Albert Einstein is a great endorsement for following curiosity’s many paths. When asked about his work process, he said, “How do I work? I grope.”

Curiosity drives engagement (which drives change).

Here’s something else I’ve noticed: When I’m naturally curious, I  become naturally more engaged. Sometimes it’s a desire to fill gaps in my knowledge. Other times, my curiosity is piqued by a problem to be solved…something to figure out. So now, if I’m not feeling engaged in something that I know I should be, I try to become curious. What is the one question I can ask that will invest me in a meeting, in a task, in a conversation? How can I use my curiosity to engage in and lead change?

This all leads me back to one of my initial questions: What can you do to become more curious? I know I could do better, so I’m just asking…

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Nation…Recently, I finished Stephen Colbert’s book, I am America (And So Can You!) Like Mr. Colbert, I’m no fan of reading books, but this one has a lot of pictures, so I made the exception. It has a lot of opinions, too. And I am a big fan of opinions, because if there is one thing I’m absolutely certain of, it’s my opinions. (My opinions, death and taxes.)

It’s my opinion that we can learn about brand building by watching Mr. Colbert. Here is a man who has been able to match his not-so-hidden agenda—Mission, Vision, Values and Purpose—so purely to his powerfully cohesive Look, Message and Actions. What is his agenda, you ask? (I’ll ask for you.) My opinion tells me that his agenda clearly is to realize a world driven by the free market so that he can use his self-promotion talents to build his power-base and monetize his fame. (Who wouldn’t want this?)

Let’s start with the Look. He is consistent: Dark suit, white shirt, power tie, wire-rim glasses, and well-coiffed mane (nice job of hiding the gray, sir)—the uniform of a free-market zealot. The Look is reinforced on his website, over and over again in his book and at his public appearances. He only varies it to prove a point, which makes that point all the more noticeable and powerful. For example, when he went to Iraq, he wore camouflage and got his head shaved. This proved the point regarding his unequivocal support of the troops. (Also made the point that he looks better with longer hair.) Then every night thereafter, when we saw him with short hair, we were powerfully reminded of the point he made when he had it shaved. (Short hair takes awhile to grow back.)

Next, let’s examine his Message. Again, he’s consistent both in content and in tone (and by content and tone I mean so close to the edge of satire that you might even think he leans to the left). Free market… support of the Republican agenda…doesn’t see race…doesn’t read books…afraid of bears…believes in a Christian nation…a mistrust of science are all familiar themes (and by familiar I mean excrutiatingly monotonous.) We know where Stephan Colbert stands. (In high regard with his banker.)

And his Actions match his Look and Message. He walks the talk (pays illegal immigrant to walk; he just talks). He puts people on notice, points out threats, give a tip of his hat or wag of his finger, challenges all his interview guests with his right-wing perspective (pistols at dawn might be easier) and otherwise offers his opinions unabashedly. (To his guests it may seem to be more bashedly).

How do you measure the success of the Colbert brand? His Facebook page has nearly 2,000,000 fans. His show is immensely popular, he spoke at the White House Correspondent Dinner, His book was on top of the New York Times Bestseller’s List, and by his own admission, Stephan is incredibly wealthy.

I choose to measure it by the impressive (in its odd range) list of other “brands” that wanted to affiliate with Stephan to receive his famous bump. From his website:

Colbert has literally made a name for himself with “The Colbert Report.” The following have all been named in honor of the host: Steagle Cobeagle the Eagle, the mascot for the minor league hockey team Saginaw Spirit; Stephen Jr., a bald eagle at the San Francisco Zoo; Stephanie Colbertle the Turtle, a leatherback turtle in the first Great Turtle Race; Aptostichus Stephencolberti, a trapdoor spider; Air Colbert, a Virgin America jet; American Dream, a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor; Esteban Colbert, a very virile falcon in San Jose; Stelephant Colbert, an elephant seal tagged as part of a study by University of California Santa Cruz; Agaporomorphus Colberti, a diving beetle from Venezuela; and a NASA treadmill called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistant Treadmill (C.O.L.B.E.R.T.).

Stephan Colbert is an authentic brand. He has translated his agenda into a compelling Look and Message. He remains consistent in his Actions. This has earned him brand zealots—something to which all brands aspire.

Finally, to Mr. Colbert: You’re welcome, sir. You’ve just received the GPS Creative bump.

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