Is Curiosity the Next C-Suite Driver?

If you are aiming for a C-Suite position, recognizing and navigating change should be at the top of your skills toolkit. How do you do that? With a healthy sense of curiosity.

In their 18th annual Global CEO Survey, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) took a hard look at the challenges facing the corporation—and the CEO—of the future. With rapid technological development, political flux, and global economic instability, the traits of future business leadership must adapt to change.

I work with executives and professionals looking for, and managing, job transition. A required quality for handling change—and an employment search—is strategic, curious thinking. According to PwC, these same characteristics are the kind that will get you ahead in the C-Suite of the future.

Leadership capabilities for a changing economy

Strong strategic skills are always in demand. By any economic measure, instability—like VUCA—is likely to become a constant condition. According to PwC, creative, informed thinking is key: “The crucial thing a CEO has to be capable of is to think strategically, which means to recognise changes in the market early and then formulate the consequences for their business.”

Some of the value of the Global CEO Survey is its cultivation of thought leaders to access trends and provide opinions on successfully guiding organizations through choppy waters. Consider these remarks by Dr. Vishal Sikka, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Infosys.

“If I was to point out one thing, that CEOs need to have, to be successful in the future, I think, it is a characteristic of being a student and a teacher. CEO’s simultaneously, I believe, especially in…the world of tomorrow…have to be lifelong teachers, and lifelong students—in having a curiosity. The day we stop being curious is the day that we stop growing. In effect, it is the day we die. Therefore, I think for the future, especially for CEO’s, given the rate of technological change and the rate of innovation that is happening all around us, in order to be relevant, we have to constantly have the sense of learning, of curiosity, the sense of fostering our imagination.”

In the same report, Michael Dell, Chief Executive Officer of Dell, Inc., talked about future business growth and the capabilities of up and coming leadership: “The one attribute CEO’s need in the future to succeed, I would place my bet on curiosity. Because from curiosity comes learning, and new ideas, and in businesses that are changing very rapidly, if you’re not curious, you’re not learning, you don’t have new ideas—you’re going to have a real problem.”

Curiosity—What’s in it for you?

In a thoughtful piece in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), Warren Berger coins the term, the “curious leader.” If Mr. Berger, and PwC are to be believed, we are heading into an era that belongs not just to those who build, or intuit, but those who retain a characteristic lost to most of the population by the age of 25—curiosity.

The genius of curiosity is not new. Curiosity, along with resilience, gave rise to humanity’s greatest achievements. But such lofty qualities are not often found in a skillfully written resume for a professional seeking a top-level corporate position.

Curiosity is a ceaseless quest to learn, to understand, and to connect the dots. Once connected, the new form gives rise to yet more curious thoughts and goals. Usually the domain of dreamers, this is also the realm of corporate and organizational influencers who are able to grasp perspectives unavailable to others—because of their desire to learn.

Dr. Sikka believes the day we stop learning is the day we stop growing. For Mr. Dell, the urgency of curiosity lies in its ability to deliver new ideas. Growth and new ideas are a product of learning—and learning is driven by the innate energy of curiosity.

In another piece, August Turak discusses the curiosity of Steve Jobs, of his interest in calligraphy that later gave him fonts famously associated with Apple. Notes Mr. Turak, “Jobs wasn’t curious about things that would make him successful. He was successful because he was so curious.”

How do you get curious?

While inborn, curiosity is also a quality to be cultivated. Almost all people, at some point in their lives, were curious. Think of curiosity as a characteristic to be recalled, rather than the topic of your next Webinar. Some tips for nurturing your own sense of curiosity include:

  • Keep an open mind: Wonder, wander, and keep in mind, “what if?”
  • Go somewhere new: Take the road less traveled. Trust yourself to find one thing of new interest to you. New interests inevitably spark curiosity.
  • Meet others: Break out of your crowd. Diversity—of person, place, or industry—offers an opportunity for synthesis and new perspective.
  • Remember: Recall the things that interested you once and try to remember why. When you find that passion, you may find curiosity, too.

Curiosity is not a soft skill. As Mr. Dell notes, if you don’t have new ideas, you are going to have a real problem.

When you are looking for the C-Suite position right for you, engage your curiosity to explore all of the options—and land the job you want.

Be Well!



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