The Importance Of Being Curious

Author: Joy Huang

So what do the resumes of top CEOs have in common? According to a new study by Healthy Companies International, the commonality lies in international business experience. Among participants of the study, the percentage of Fortune 100 "C-level" executives who have had senior responsibilities overseas has jumped to 71 percent from 48 percent 10 years ago. No longer is the belief that corporate America has all the answers. In its place is the recognition of the importance of global perspectives and that they can add versatility and creativity to leadership. Separately, the Kozai Group conducted extensive research on global leadership. The study synthesized all existing literatures and researches on global leadership in an effort to find the top leadership qualities in global organizations. The study concluded that of all global leadership qualities, curiosity tops the list. Yes, curiosity, inquisitiveness, and a motivated interest in all things foreign.

If this surprises you a little bit, here is what curiosity means in the context of intercultural competence and global leadership:

  • The ability to suspend judgment
  • The ability to develop multiple perspectives
  • Tolerance of ambiguity
  • Perceptiveness

Once in a while, we meet a person who’s travelled widely and views himself as a “global citizen”. But once we start conversing about his experiences, we notice that his viewpoints on the many foreign encounters would not match very well with the original intentions from those cultures themselves. The person makes a quick judgment of what he experiences, usually seen not from the perspectives of those cultures, but from the lens of his own values and customs, shaped by his own cultural background. He is doing, that is, the exact opposite of the number one rule in practicing curiosity – “suspend judgment”. Suspending judgment, unfortunately, is often easier said than done. We are busy, we have things to do, and most of the time we feel that we must make quick calls and move on. We also want to feel in control and secure. And what makes us feel more helpless than not being able to comprehend reality? So we run to make a judgment call and retreat to our comfort zone where everything can be reasoned and explained.

You might ask, “So? What’s wrong with this?” What is missing is an opportunity to learn something new, to see the same picture from a different perspective, and to grow the ability to effectively solve complex problems on a global scale. This attitude and skill has proven to be most critical in global business. Regardless of one’s actual experience living overseas, it is the attitude and mindset that ultimately set one apart in successfully managing global initiatives in the long run. A person who hasn’t actually lived extensively overseas can, in fact, outperform another who does. The difference lies in, among other things, his innate level of curiosity towards all things foreign and his skills to develop multiple perspectives.

So, if one day you find yourself in the middle of a situation, resist the temptation to make a quick assumption and judgment. Instead, be curious. Pause, ask questions and observe. Try to see the perspectives of others. And in doing so, chances are you will be saving time reaching for the goal without worrying about repairing the damages later.

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