Professionals should play outside more

In collaboration, I published virtually the same versions of this blog about why professionals should play outside more  on the sites of Generous Minds (English) and Outside Inc. (Dutch). By now a follow up blog of the latter has also been published as of early May 2018.

Everyone is familiar with buzzwords like creativity and innovation, but what is the absolute core of both? According to Wouter Kersten of Generous Minds, The New ABC (Always Be Curious), and “Outlier” of Outside Inc., it is all about curiosity.

Asking questions, like it or not

In these dynamic times with a great demand for thinking differently, creativity and innovation are increasingly popular and necessary skills. Often ‘differently’ is associated with new ideas. And eventually that seems true enough. But what are ‘new ideas’? Almost everything is a remix, so we rather seem to be talking about new combinations. How do you create these? By asking different questions. And that basically means being curious.

So, asking questions. Typically, not something people do when they are efficiently developing solutions and making prototypes to test quickly. Still, it is very important to realise that even the best answer to a bad question or wrongly formulated problem in the end has little value.

My purpose is to encourage organisations to be more curious in their entire innovation process, but certainly at the start. Make sure you are starting from the right question. If you then involve others, also people outside of your inner circle, you create an even better breeding ground for this. Curiosity and combining perspectives, these are the core ingredients for progress as far as I’m concerned.

All entrepreneurship demands professional curiosity

Applications in practice: learn to “play outside”

I am involved with two organisations that apply these principles. While they have different core processes, organising intrapreneurship programmes (Outside inc) and supporting good business (Generous Minds), these revolve around the same themes. Employees, managers and even owners in fact learn to rediscover their organisations by means of reconnecting with their purpose and innate curiosity. Innate, because as children we were all curious. To prevent that this rediscovery is just a one-time exercise, “entrepreneurial curiosity” has to become part of the DNA.

In my mind, upgrading the relevance of questions instead of jumping to (often ill-informed) answers can be the engine for that. I call this the Inquisitive Organization. Consider “Not Knowing (yet)” as a reason to ask more curious questions instead of allowing it to become a source of panic and disempowerment. Two recent books that I read recently support this stance: A Curious Mind about the power of Curiosity and Not Knowing, about the beauty of “Not knowing”.

Application of playing outside to “good business”

When applying this type of thinking to transitioning to good business, what types of questions does that raise with me?

  • Who decides what “good” is? How will the process work if  it’s not just the core management team who formulate the call to (innovation) action?
  • What would happen if you would collect insights from a larger group with regards to the the focus for the organisation? A similar point is made in the recent HBR-article Better Brainstorming: “By making questions more important than (immediate) answers and ideas you can work around prejudice and assumptions better, providing openings to new ways of thinking”. And the latest issue highlights the “surprising power of questions” once more.
  • How do you create a good mix of not throwing overboard what you know with being inquisitive enough to critically ask yourself whether that still suffices to take next steps. And what if these steps would be a real departure from your first success? If you put “good business” high(er) on the priority list, what parts of the way you work and what you offer should really be reconsidered, sensitive as that may be?
  • Everyone knows catch words like “brainstorming”, “out of the box” and “free association”. How would you feel about working with principles like “stay curious”, “forget that box altogether” and “create noise”?

There are many more questions that I could raise. The pattern should be clear enough: to unleash (new) powers in an organisation, you have to think differently. If curiosity is a core asset, this will happen automatically, and continuously.

So: stop navel gazing, play outside, be curious, and talk to different people.