How to Make Curiosity a Priority for Innovation

Jen McFarland
The Startup
Published in
4 min readOct 2, 2018
Curiosity killed the cat but not your business
Curiosity may kill the cat (sometimes) but it won’t kill your business. Photo by Dmitriy Karfagenskiy on Unsplash.

Curiosity killed the cat.

Did you know the full phrase is “curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back?” Changes things a little, doesn’t it?

If you go back further, it gets interesting — particularly in the business context.

“…Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care’ll kill a cat, up-tails all, and a pox on the hangman.” — Benjamin Jonson, 1598, Every Man in His Humour

Jonson’s play was initially performed by William Shakespeare, who used ‘care killed a cat’ in Much Ado About Nothing. In today’s terms, care kills a cat is like saying worry kills a cat.

Worry killed the cat. Worry killed your business.

Nothing crushes your soul, stifles creativity, and blocks innovation like fear, worry, and anxiety.

Curiosity allows you to think outside the box
The best thing about asking questions? It thinks outside the box for you. Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky on Unsplash.

Curiosity is How We Innovate

Curiosity’s making a comeback. It hasn’t been an easy road.

If questioning everything causes you discomfort, it likely has something to do with Western culture. Asking questions has been condemned since AD 397 when Saint Augustine claimed God created hell for the inquisitive.

Resistance comes easy.

Why would you ask questions? With questions come risk. And yet objectively you know that asking questions may also lead to great reward.

Alexander Graham Bell. Albert Einstein. Steve Jobs. These guys knew how to ask tough questions. They knew how to fail. And how to begin again — with even more questions.

New research shows curiosity is vital to an organization’s performance. Did we need research for that?

And then I started to reflect on some of the resistance I’ve experienced working with businesses — large and small. I’ve been known to ask questions almost to my detriment because I know the answers are what lead to the most significant breakthroughs.

If you don’t ask the hard questions, then you don’t get to the hard answers. It’s in the hard answers where we find new ground to break. That’s how you build long-term, sustainable solutions that differentiate you from your competition.

You need to be getting curious about yourself, your employees, and your customers because curiosity killed the cat but it absolutely did not kill your business.

Comfortable with the status quo? That's a bad habit you can do without.
Comfortable with the status quo? That’s a bad habit you can do without. Photo by Manan Chhabra on Unsplash.

You Are Never Too Busy for Curiosity

70 percent of people say they face barriers to asking more questions at work.

Are you putting up barriers to your employees asking questions?

If you work alone, do you spend time questioning your assumptions?

It’s scary, right? Letting go. Admitting you might not know the best way. The right way.

If you start to question things you might realize you have more work to do. Or that things aren’t going well.

Maybe the answers to those questions will lead to actions that scare the shit out of you.

Good. That’s called growth.

As a business owner curiosity is a huge part of your work.

So what do you do? Block out time on your calendar for personal development — reading, researching, evaluating. Don’t worry about how you’ll do it, get curious about what’s working. And what isn’t.

As a leader, curiosity starts with you. Do you want to create a curious organization? A learning environment? Model it.

Think about what you can do to model being inquisitive.

What can you do to find people who will ask questions and make you create or help you create a learning environment? Because innovation comes from curiosity. Change doesn’t come from sitting around doing the same thing over and over again.

You have to be curious enough to innovate.

Get Curious About Your Customers

You have to be curious enough to serve your public. Curiosity is what enables you to keep pace with all of your competitors — if not one step ahead.

That starts with asking past, current and potential customers for feedback. Revenue comes from customers. What’s keeping them up at night? Have you met their needs? How can you improve?

Yeah, these questions can be scary. Especially if you fear you’re falling short in key areas. At the same time, maybe you excel at something unexpected. If you don’t ask your initiatives might be missing the mark.

Asking questions may save you money. Or make you money.

For all of your fears about asking questions, you need to be curious enough to evaluate what it takes to improve. That’s the key.

Ask measurable questions. The answers will lead you to tactical actions.

Because the key to questioning everything is about what comes next — deciding what action you will take.

Prefer to listen? Check out this podcast episode on curiosity and imperfect action.

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Jen McFarland is a business owner, business advisor, podcaster, blogger, and project turnaround artist. She’s helped hundreds of businesses and thousands of podcast listeners make better business decisions. Jen’s passion is helping women business owners overcome leadership and technology struggles.

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Jen McFarland
The Startup

Passionate about women-led businesses. Advocating leadership, project, and digital marketing best practices.