"What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant curiosity of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult," Freud once wrote. Sad to say, he's got a point.
Hire Curious People
How can you tell if people are curious? Easy. They've consistently avoided the mainstream: took a year off with pay to work in the inner city; keep bees as a lifelong hobby; set aside six weeks each year to travel abroad. If curiosity isn't on a person's resume, don't expect it to bloom tomorrow in your business.
The corollary is obvious: Don't hire incurious people. If they boast the solid-gold resume (right school, right grades, right first job, right year for first promotion), watch out - Honest!
How do you and I, as independent contributors on or off someone's payroll, stay curious?
Hire a few genuine off-the-wall sorts - i.e., collect weirdos. Besides seeking curious people in general, try to implant a few real head cases into your joint from time to time. Bankroll them until they can invent a wacky project that will spark the whole organization.
Insist that everyone takes vacations. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Worry if Jack doesn't want to take a vacation; his eye may be too glued to the brass ring. In short, curiosity doesn't flourish among the burned-out, greasy grind types.
Foster New Interaction Patterns
Space management is a potent tool. Create a physical environment that allows project teams to gather at a moment's notice, lets people clearly express their personalities, encourages getting together and hanging out, and aggressively ignores traditional functional groupings.
Consider having each employee submit a one-page essay on: the oddest thing I've done this year off the job, the craziest idea I've tried at work, or my most original screw-up, on the job or off. Using the answers to such questions, deal curiosity directly into the evaluation deck, near the top.
Seek out curious work. At Britain's Imagination (a marketing consultancy, more or less) founder Gary Withers dubbed Britain's Walt Disney by some pundits, says he won't take assignments that don't provide an opportunity to outdo the firm's zaniest prior performance. Beware of taking on the big, prestigious job assignment that is as dull as can be. Boring clients make for boring companies (which is not to say that you can't find a way to spruce up assignments that, superficially, look dull).
Model The Way
If the chief isn't curious, then the troops aren't likely to be (and that's an understatement).
Teach curiosity. Brainstorming is not the answer to creativity. But it is an answer. There are techniques that can milk people's wackier ideas. Invest heavily in making them the centerpieces of your firm's approach to solving all problems, mundane or grand.
Make It Fun
Change the pace. Go to work next Thursday and declare it miniature-golf day. Hey, why not? Showing a training film this afternoon? Order popcorn for every participant. Curiosity has a lot to do with looking at the world through slightly cockeyed glasses.