The importance of curiosity in the workplace

Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back.

I like to think of myself as intellectually curious though like many things it is dependent on a number of different circumstances. Sometimes the factors are obvious. When I am tired, any curiosity is replaced with a deep desire to crawl into bed.

Sometimes the factors are not as obvious.

In my previous life, I worked in a law library. I felt consistently valued and I was regularly asked to do new tasks. If someone indicated that they wanted to add a new element to a web form, I would just read the code and try it before going to the vendor and asking for a customization. It was faster than asking an overworked tech to look into something for us. I became pretty good at looking at the bones of something and modifying it to do additional work.

Hey, every post I read on curiosity had one!
Hey, every post I read on curiosity had one! Saru-chan is a champion box sitter!

Curiosity about any one aspect of my job made all of the others better. In transitioning to tech, that is one aspect of my job that I am glad I can retain. Engaging and learning during the work day provides joy and reward that go past just the money necessary to live outside of the work force.

However, in every job environment there are some common issues that can destroy creativity and curiosity.

Poor morale. When workplace morale goes down, productivity is one of the first things that suffers. In my last position, the entire office was told that we would not necessarily have jobs in 6 months and an entire team was let go that day. You could see people stop caring about making good choices for the team and the company, and with that came a lot of poor decisions all around.

Micromanaging. One of my first managers spent a lot of time checking on what I was working and directing how I should complete tasks. This was fine as I was learning the systems, but became more of a problem as I worked in the department over time. My best managers have been those who assign projects and check in every week to see if we were on target combined with those managers who were accessible for additional conversation between meetings.

“That is how we’ve always done it.” Nothing stifles creativity and problem solving as much as being told that it isn’t wanted. Going through process improvement was a great opportunity to showcase alternatives and work through on paper whether or not a new process would improve productivity.

Productivity is not curiosity, but it is often a byproduct of curiosity. I used this opportunity to create a matrix of services, allowing anyone in the department to see what services we had, how much they cost (and how they were billed), how to request or create a login, and some of the more common troubleshooting solutions. But this never would have succeeded under the status quo even though it provided ample benefits when I went on maternity leave.

Some interesting articles on curiosity and the workplace environment:

A story for my boy

Come Out Squirtle - Japanese cover

I don’t know if this blog will exist when you are a teenager. Let us assume for the minute that it will. This is a story for you about now when you are still a small boy.

I read this book to you nearly every night. It is part of our ritual. Recently the ritual changed. We still go upstairs and you pick out books, but now you lie on your stomach and turn the pages too fast for us to read to you. As you lie there, I can see the little person you are becoming. It is beautiful. Then we read the bedtime book and settle you into your crib.

Only a short week ago, you would go to the bookshelf and take your book to me. Plop! into my lap and we would read the stories together. I admit that I miss your weight in my lap. However, while things are changing, some things are still the same. After you are settled into your crib, I sit in the rocking chair and I read Dete Oide Yo. It is our time together. Dad has usually gone downstairs to do chores or work.

I could read other books, and sometimes I do, but this one has a heavy familiarity. I know the words by heart, and the text if I falter is easy to read even in dim light.

Tomorrow I will be away. A class project. There are bound to be more of them, but this is the first time away and so it feels heavier and more important. I know already that I will miss my time with you. But I wanted you to have this here, so you could hear my voice as you go to sleep. I love you and will see you soon.