Why Curiosity Matters with Sarah DaVanzo Chief Curiosity Officer at L’Oréal

In this episode of the Masters of Data podcast, I sit down with Sarah DaVanzo — VP of Consumer and Market Insights and Foresights at L’Oréal (also referred to as a Chief Curiosity Officer), for a captivating discussion on some necessary concepts relating to data and curiosity. Sarah takes exploration and curiosity extremely seriously and has applied data science and analytics to her field in an unprecedented way. On top of that, she is an extremely interesting person to talk to. She sits down with me to discuss data science, analytics and why curiosity matters in today’s business (and global) landscape. One thing she makes clear is to not allow her title to fool you. Sarah clarifies that she is often internally referred to as the Chief Curiosity Officer because her job is to ask questions and to promote intellectual exploration, experimentation, physical exploration and even visual exploration in service of innovation. And as she reveals, this reality has had a tremendous impact in many ways.

While discussing her background Sarah highlights how she came to embrace such an intriguing title. As she shares, she has always been in business somewhere between innovation, marketing, branding, insights, and trends. Between working at agencies, consultancies, Fortune 500 companies, and then eventually starting up her own businesses, the common motivator has been a hunger and drive coming from a deep place of curiosity. As her career path has developed one of the big differentiators in her transitions has become the idea of being data-driven and looking at data to quantify and predict trends. Having come to L’Oréal, Sarah shares that her focus now has been building the foresight and futurism capability within the organization and also experimenting with a lot of very cutting-edge data collection and foresight, and innovation methods. But as Sarah and I discuss, one of the opportunities she saw at L’Oréal was that even though the future is in data, the data world doesn’t have a lot of women or even female voices. Therefore, as she candidly shares, she wanted to be a voice in that space and attract women, experiment and represent the female viewpoint of what the future could be.

This alarming reality of the gender gap in the industry is exactly what continues to motivate Sarah. As an anecdote to this Sarah shares how for The New York Post, 54% of the readers are male, yet they represent 75% of the comments. While this may seem to some to be insignificant, the implications are undeniable as it reveals just how powerful the loudest voice can be. They also touch on studies that show that the female voice is often under-spoken and that there’s more of a domination of the male voice in a lot of platforms around commenting, about projection, and about futures. The bigger issue here, though, is really the issue of bias and how it has a tremendous impact in how things are shaped, which is why attracting women to the sector is so incredibly important for Sarah. While the topic of bias is a common theme here at Masters of Data, the talking points Sarah and I touch on are fresh. Bias relating to gender, academia, language, and even personalities have a tremendous influence on the future. But as they discuss, the key is being aware of the biases to begin discussing the steps toward actually changing the way people think about the future.

Another related set of ideas discussed are the concepts of the styles of curiosity and the current state of curiosity. Sarah, who does a lot of research in the fields of curiosity and exploration, touches on the four styles of curiosity as the four different ways people explore the world. Simply put, people discover through seeing, feeling, thinking and doing, or as Sarah has coined them, the lookers, the licker’s, the thinkers and the pokers. The idea is that if your role is to build a data team, a research team, a foresight team, or an innovation team, to make sure that there is a healthy mix of pokers, and lickers, and lookers, and thinkers because they are going to explore the possibilities, the world, and the data. The reason this is so necessary is to make sure that we get diverse viewpoints and bring people in for co-creation that come from all different backgrounds. While many are curious and are looking for ways to utilize their curiosity to shape the global good, the challenge, as the two discuss, is that curiosity is declining these days. In fact, as Sarah shares, 36% of Americans are passionately curious about nothing. As she shares, “While we have fervent fighting and discourse on television, and in the media, as a cultural strategist, as someone who reads the pulse of humans and looks at data all day long, I don’t see that in their behaviors in the past 10 to 12 years, [rather there is] a massive decline in inventiveness and exploration.” Unfortunately, though, this decline is not limited to adults but also impacts our children. The answer? “Parents will have to take it into their own hands to help their children, coach them, and encourage them to explore in all its messiness, to experiment…and to ask hypothetical questions [for] sensory stimulation.” The bottom line, as they review, is that even though there is currently a disparity between curiosity and innovation, there is a solid path towards an answer by getting back to a love of curiosity in all people.

Outbound Links & Resources Mentioned

Follow Sarah on Twitter @culturecartog

Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn:

Check out a TEDx talk she gave — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEIq8XNCpKk