Boss Lady

Why we all need to be more curious


In a recent Harvard Business Review study, Are You Solving the Right Problems?, 85 per cent of 106 C-Suite executives agreed their organisations were bad at diagnosing problems, with 87 per cent of them believing this flaw carried significant costs.

Businesses are under incredible pressure from constant deadlines and the need for short-term results. Their leaders want immediate outcomes, which creates a culture of ‘doing’. When a problem arises, leaders quickly jump to solution finding, without isolating what the real problem is. If they don’t initially take the time to dig deep, to observe and figure out what is really going on, then they will most likely waste time, money and resources on a solution that will have little impact.

Daryl Bussell was once a shift manager in Ballarat, Victoria, for the global family-owned confectionery company Mars. Every year, owner John Mars would travel to Australia and visit local operations. On one such tour, John identified an issue and challenged the team to find it and report back within 24 hours. He offered a reward of $5 for spotting the problem.

Daryl was always up for a challenge.

“We went around the factory and must have changed 20 things and found 20 different small issues,” he said.

When John returned the next day, Daryl and his team shared their many discoveries and the results from their problem finding exercise – and were given $5. They framed the note on the wall, but everyone (including Daryl) was still in the dark about the original problem.

“We suspect we may not have found the exact issue. He was just challenging us to be better.”

What John Mars did was show his employees they always need to be curious and on the hunt for problems to solve. He opened their minds to looking at their familiar work environment in new ways.

A curious reward

Curiosity arises where there is a gap between what we know and what we want to know. It is a state where we anticipate an intrinsic cognitive reward. When we are curious, our brain lights up. We feel good! Curiosity stimulates the ‘pleasure and reward’ system of the brain.

Cognitive neuroscientist Dr Matthias Gruber and his colleagues conducted an experiment in 2014 to better understand the effect curiosity has on the brain.

Participants were asked to rate how curious they were to learn the answer to a series of trivia questions. Their brains were scanned both while they were exposed to the questions, and while they waited 14 seconds for the answer.

This experiment revealed the more curious a person is to know the answer, the more their brain activity lights up the pleasure and reward parts of the brain. This is also known as the dopamine circuit or the ‘wanting’ system.

The dopamine circuit of the brain also lights up when we receive extrinsic rewards such as money or treats. Think about a kid in a candy store or when you are anticipating a bonus payment.

And yet, we are not always encouraged and/or rewarded for being curious at work.

Get curious

Curiosity is the tool we should use to find our customers’ most valuable problems; to turn our insights into opportunities. In a business, you need to be curious to identify what matters most.

The business leaders that cultivate a culture of curiosity are more likely to understand the problems they’re trying to solve. This results in better innovation and greater success.

About Evette Cordy

Evette Cordy is curious – and she’s passionate about making you curious too. As an innovation expert, registered psychologist, chief investigator and co-founder at Agents of Spring, she identifies opportunities and facilitates new ways of thinking in organisations. Evette is also the author of Cultivating Curiosity: How to unearth your most valuable problem to inspire growth. Find out more at

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