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Ben Aston Do you ever think to yourself, “There must be a better way of doing this? Why does this project, working with this team, with these stakeholders, have to be so painful?” Well, the good news is there probably is a better way. And your curiosity might just be the catalyst needed for making change happen. Samuel Johnson wrote, “Curiosity is, in generous minds, the first passion and the last.” And it’s certainly the passion of my guest today. So keep listening to today’s podcast if you want to know why curiosity matters and how to grow and cultivate it so you can become a better manager of people and projects.
Thanks for tuning in. I’m Ben Aston, founder of the Digital Project Manager. Welcome to the DPM podcast. We are on a mission to help project managers succeed, to help people who manage projects delivered better. We’re here to help you take your project game to the next level. Check out thedigitalprojectmanager.com to learn about the training and resources we offer through Membership. This podcast is brought to you by Clarizen, the Leader in Enterprise Project and Portfolio Management Software. Visit Clarizen.com. To learn more.
So today, I’m joined by Dr. Diane Hamilton, and she is the founder and CEO of Tonerra and Dima Innovations, which are consulting and media-based businesses. She’s a syndicated radio host, a keynote speaker, former MBA chair at the Forbes School of Business. She’s authored multiple books, including Cracking the Curiosity Code and her work in curiosity helps organizations improve innovation, engagement, and productivity. So hi, Diane. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Dr. Diane Hamilton Oh, it’s so nice to have you invite me. I’m very excited to talk about Curiosity. Thanks.
Ben Aston Well, yes. Diane’s written a great post about developing curiosity in your organization with a whole bunch of examples of how it can completely transform corporate culture. I’m not going to spoil the story shared in the post, but you can check it out at thedigitalprojectmanager.com. And like Sammy Johnson says, you’re clearly passionate about curiosity. I’m curious why that initially piqued your interest when you decided to start exploring it.
Dr. Diane Hamilton Well, you know, I have people asked me about how I got into this. I’ve always been super curious and I never really thought about it so much until I had my own radio show and started interviewing so many interesting people, billionaires, successful CEOs. You just need to name everybody who’s been on my show and every one of them’s super curious. And so I started to consider how that differed from the students I had in the courses I taught. Sometimes I have super curious students and others would be just, you know, mediocre. They kind of wanted you to tell them how to do things rather than discovered on their own. And that kind of led to my interest in what makes someone curious and what, you know, maybe slows it down. And as I started to write a book about curiosity, I started to realize that there wasn’t any way to really measure or determine these things that keep us from being curious. There wasn’t one instrument that did that. So that led to my creation of the Curiosity Code Index because I wanted to find out what stops us from being curious, because if you could find out what stops you and you can improve.
Ben Aston All right. I mean, let’s take a step back. And what is what’s your understanding of curiosity in what you’re talking about? You know, it’s so fundamental to the evolution and improvement or the building of a business. How do you define or explain curiosity?
Dr. Diane Hamilton You know, when I first started writing about it, it was just in general curiosity, the desire to know more about different things. And as I started to research all the issues that organizations have, I tied everything back to curiosity from emotional intelligence, leadership, innovation, engagement, all the issues that I get hired to speak about. And I thought, well, this is really fascinating because curiosity ended up being the spark to all that. And so what I found was my definition started to change to more getting out of the status quo thinking.
Ben Aston Right. So it is more than just a cerebral inquisitiveness. It’s a desire to change something.
Dr. Diane Hamilton Right? You know, I think in the business setting is really what I was looking at was, why did people just go along with the same old things? Why aren’t they wanting to explore? Why are they in jobs that they don’t find engaging? Why, you know, says asking all these questions, it all came down to people just accepting things as they are and not exploring. And I think if you ask more questions and you delve into more ways of sharing knowledge, it all comes back to the curiosity of wanting to know more, explore more and share more.
Ben Aston Right. And so is this why then you see as so important or foundational for that motivation, drive, creativity, innovation, productivity? Because it’s all about changing the status quo through curiosity for improvement, I guess.
Dr. Diane Hamilton Yeah, I think it was really interesting just to interview some of the leaders in different areas from Harvard professors like Francesca Gino, who wrote about Curiosity in HBR just anybody who dealt with some of those issues you mentioned: innovation, engagement, motivation, drive. Every time you ask them what comes first, it always came back to curiosity. And I often give the example of baking a cake for how I look at it. If you’re gonna bake a cake, you’re gonna mix ingredients like flour and eggs and oil, and whatever you’re mixing, you put it into a pan, you put it in the oven, and your outcome, which you’d hope to get, would be a cake. But if you don’t turn on the oven, you really don’t get anything right. In the working world, ingredients would be all the things you mentioned of innovation, engagement, creativity, all those things. The companies are mixing these ingredients. They’re just forgetting to turn on the oven—and the oven is curiosity the spark to all these things. And the end product, of course, is productivity and success in terms of, you know, financial rewards and all of that. That would be your cake. So to get that cake, you have to turn on the oven, which is to light the spark of curiosity.
Ben Aston Right. And so if that is if curiosity if we’re trying to light that spark of curiosity, how do you measure it? Because you’re talking about curiosity being that stimulus that helps us change the status quo. So is the status quo in your mind ever the way that things should be? How do you measure that change? Because, I mean, there’s changing the status quo. But then there’s that qualitative improvement as well, which is not necessarily change.
Dr. Diane Hamilton Well, you know, it is really interesting because when I first started to create the assessment to find out what stopped us. I had to explore a lot of different areas. I had to hire statisticians. I had to go out and do threads within social media. And I had to do factor analysis and all these different ways of looking at the data to see if you’re asking questions to get at what you’re trying to achieve, which is to ask questions that figure out what’s stopping people. And through doing all this, through thousands of surveys and years of research, it really came down to four things that inhibit curiosity. And those four things are really the things that are keeping us in the status quo. And if we can address those, then we can move forward.
Ben Aston Yeah. And so I know you talk about these impediments to curiosity being your FATE framework: fear, assumptions, technology, environment. Can you explain why you dial down to those? I mean, obviously, it looks good, but why fate? For me, I think it’s often if we’re talking about the impediments to the status quo or impediments to us changing the status quo. I think in my personal experience, I think probably it’s laziness. Where does laziness fit into your framework?
Dr. Diane Hamilton Well, some of the laziness comes from apathy based on your assumptions that something is going to be boring. And as you start to tell yourself, well, I’ve done that in the past, that teachers made it sound horrible, or you think of the monologue you have in your head, things that you talk yourself out of doing, things which make you lazy. I am lazy when it comes to wanting to clean my house because it’s just, you know—but if you spark some interest in something, if I clean my house and I found a million dollars doing it, I might not be so lazy.
So I think it’s all the way you present things. The rewards we see for things. The advantage we see for things. If we constantly have this voice in our head. And I used assumptions for voice in our head because it might make it sound better than FBTE But it’s basically the same thing when you make these assumptions. You talk yourself into or out of so many things. So that’s where I would say your laziness factor would come in. Some of these overlaps, though, as you can have an assumption that something is going to be too hard and then you fear doing it or somebody is going to say something. You’ve made this assumption they’re going to make fun of you. Then you fear it and then you’re not going to do it. So you can have fear of technology, some of them overlap. But in general, these were really strong categories when I did the statistical analysis, which was super exciting. But as far as like people would care about, it did come out very clearly that these four things were strongly associated.
Ben Aston These are obviously a framework for helping us think through those impediments. Do you then have a framework for overcoming them?
Dr. Diane Hamilton Well, what we do is, if people take the Curiosity Code Index, either, people can take it online at curiositycode.com or, you know, I have a lot of companies where they give it to everybody. That type of thing can be done in an overall group setting. But either way, if they go through the training program or even if they just want to, in their mind, think about this without taking any assessment, just kind of go through each one.
Let’s start with fear. As you talk about fear, maybe write down on a piece of paper things that you’re afraid of exploring—for fear of failure. Fear of embarrassment. Maybe loss of control. And as you list some of these things, you can create action plan items for how am I going to overcome these things now that I recognize them? Recognizing it is half the battle. I mean, you really a lot of people don’t realize that these things are holding them back. But when you spell them out and then you create kind of a personal SWOT analysis based on looking at them and create measurable action plan items, then you can overcome them.
Do the same thing with assumptions. Think about what do you find? What are you telling yourself I’m not interested in? When am I apathetic that’s leading to my laziness or what do I see as unnecessary? And again, you’re going to come up with steps to overcome them. And then with technology, a lot of it is, “It does it for me. I’m not trained. I find it overwhelming.” Write down how you’re telling yourself these things. Is it that you feel like you can’t catch up? Is it that you’re not interested? And you go back to apathy and we’re back to assumptions. Some of these things we have to come up with Step-By-Step ways to see if we’re under or over-utilizing technology. Because if you’re relying on your device to answer everything and you’re not getting any foundation, you might have been the most interesting mathematician in the world if we just threw a calculator at you and you never understood it. I mean, there is a value to understanding the foundations behind things. And then, you know, sometimes you over-utilize it and some days maybe you have low tech days, have high tech days where you learn about things, and low tech days where you don’t rely on it. There’s a lot of different ways to overcome in that respect.
And then environment, really think about how your education, your teachers, your family, your friends, your workers, your peers, your leaders, any past leaders, current leaders, everybody you’ve ever interacted with, even social media and how they’re directing you in certain directions that maybe you wouldn’t have explored or even wanted to explore. But you’re kind of going along because it’s the right cool thing to do or that’s what everybody else does. Or if your teachers really couldn’t answer your questions about a subject you found really fascinating. Well, maybe it’s time to explore it. Or if your family told you you always had to go into this particular business. But maybe that’s not what you want to do. This is a time to face that and think, well, what could I do? And explore that maybe they talked me out of.
Ben Aston Yeah, I’m curious how well, as we’re talking about the environment, how you see this kind of operating within the kind of structure/agency debate in terms of how much agency does an individual truly have and to what extent are they constrained by the structure that they’re operating within? When we think about, you know, trying to battle against the status quo individually and I think this is why I’m interested in this, individually as project managers, which many of our audience will be, we operate within this structure or within this framework where maybe we can be as innovative as we like. We can try and challenge the status quo. But often there are people, you know, the key holders at the top of the chain, who are the ones who are actually the ones able to unlock change the status quo. So I’m curious as to how you kind of think about structure and agency and the kind of the role of the individual in facilitating change when we’re in these organizations often that have things, where every process is predefined or maybe we’re just not empowered to make the change. So how do you kind of think about curiosity within that context?
Dr. Diane Hamilton You know you bring up some interesting topics. I spoke at International Project Management Day and a lot of different project management sessions where we talk about, you think getting things done on time and you want to slow things down. But yet if you don’t have contingency plans, you get different issues to deal with. But if it’s project management or any other kind of job, if the leaders at the top don’t embrace the need for curiosity or any culture change, you’re going to have a hard time with it trickling down. And I think that that’s a topic I probably talk about a thousand times on my show because we get so many consultants. And I don’t know if I’ve ever had anybody say that if the leaders don’t buy in that it’s simple or easy to make these kinds of changes because the culture comes from the top. And that’s why we’re dealing with a lot of CEOs to recognize the value—that I’m working with Verizon. I’m working with Novartis— and right from the top, they’re saying, “we want a culture of curiosity.” Now, it could be an issue that a lot of leaders need data. They want to see that other people are doing it. And as other organizations are seeing big successes with what they’re doing, which, of course, Novartis is getting some great success with their 100 hours a year, that they reward for education, doing research with them and, did a lot of videos with Verizon for their people as we do these things where we’re getting a lot of great data that’s going to come out of this to be able to give to leaders. And if you work for a company where they value the status quo and they don’t see the value in this, you’re going to end up with the Blockbusters, the Kodaks, the companies that go out of business. The companies that see the value of going on to the next stage, the Ben and Jerry’s who have graveyards on their websites for the flavors they no longer have but were once great, they’d say, hey, look, this thing was great for this year to this year. But, hey, we were celebrating it and we’re going onto the next thing. That’s the kind of framework that I think is going to be really important. And unfortunately, with the Covid-19 crisis, we’re in such a bad situation because we hadn’t been very proactive and asked a lot of questions of how to be crisis ready. And I think that we’re going to see a lot more focus on the importance of asking questions because it’s status quo as led to us not being very prepared.
Ben Aston Yeah, definitely. And I think that’s I think there’s probably two levels which we can think about curiosity and challenging the status quo. One might be on that macro-level at an organizational level where we’re thinking that in terms of overall process and delivery, there are different ways that we can deliver projects. There are different approaches we can use. And on that very macro level can maybe be challenging to change if we’re in an organization that doesn’t value that. But then there’s also the more micro-level where we can be curious, even within our own projects. As with asking questions, I’m being curious about the approach we’re using within our projects that we do have control over when we can be curious and be asking questions when it comes to the estimating process when it comes to challenging the timeline when it comes to. interrogating the scope when it comes to being curious about risk management, asking lots of questions, and being curious to try and understand the project better. But also using it as a lens through which to view the project and view challenges from a different angle. I think that is something that we as project managers can take away, that I think sometimes we can become complacent and think, hey, well, this is just the way we’ve always done it. I’m sure the team knows what they’re doing. But actually, if we add in that “oven” of curiosity to our projects and use that as a catalyst for thinking, okay, well, how can I innovate even within the projects organizationally, I might not be able to change much but hey, as a project manager, I’m a leader on this project and I can innovate and I do have the agency to do that within my project. So I think that’s certainly challenging for us.
Dr. Diane Hamilton Well, I think you bring up some really important points because if you’re modeling curiosity and you’re demonstrating that no question is a dumb question and you say you ask questions, say, you know, this is something I normally wouldn’t ask because, hey, I don’t know the answer. And I want to look like I have all the answers. But if you show that vulnerability, others will be more likely to follow suit. And as you say, at the micro-level, you do have that control of making sure that what you’re working on can have that feel, you know, where everybody has that confidence that they know that you’re going to be accepting of questions, accepting input. And it’s all what leaders model, of course, you know, if you’re in a meeting and everybody is in agreement, that’s not a good thing. You want a debate.
Ben Aston Right.
Dr. Diane Hamilton Some people say, well, you know, they don’t want too much debate. But, you know, there’s got to be some. And you have to get to the point where people feel comfortable. And I recognize that every meeting I’ve had if you’re telling yourself that everybody is thinking this is such a great idea, well then, maybe they just don’t want to ask. They’re afraid. And those are things you really need to recognize.
Ben Aston Yeah. And so in order to help us kind of get out of our status quo and move forward, how do you encourage people to become more curious if they’ve kind of identified, “Well, I know that I’m kind of wearing these impediments to curiosity. I’ve got fear. I’ve got assumptions. I’ve got technological challenges. My environment is challenging, too.” How do you encourage people to move beyond those impediments to start kind of rebuilding that curiosity?
Dr. Diane Hamilton Well, there’s a lot of different things they can do. I mean, as we mentioned, you know, writing down those things, coming up with action plans that are smarter, goals of overcoming some of those things, maybe reading about some of the topics you found interesting when you were young, but maybe your environment has slowly kind of talked you out of or recognizing the voice in your head what it’s telling you and coming up with what you’re going to do the next time you tell yourself this. And in just becoming very aware of these things based on recognizing them, it can help you create these action plans. I train companies. We do a personal action plan. So everybody keeps their personal information personal, but they know the things that they want to overcome. And we can get into really great discussions, we whiteboard ways, you know, that this is working for us and what’s working for you. And people get all kinds of great ideas when you’re in a group. But that’s a very safe environment where you get to keep your own results. But what also comes of those training sessions is an overall action plan that we give to leaders based on the input we get from the course participants. And those questions we ask them is, how can your leaders help you develop a curiosity to improve in critical thinking or leadership or all the issues that the leaders want to improve within the organization? When we do that, we brainstorm again. We create this great plan that we give to leaders. And it’s basically, this is how we want to build our curiosity. This is what you can do to help us.
It’s kind of like when Disney had problems in their turnover and their laundry division. They really thought, well, it’s a crappy job. I mean, I don’t want o do this. So maybe, you know, let’s ask them, what can we do to make your job better? Well, they thought they’d get really difficult things that they couldn’t solve. But really what they got back were some really great ideas that maybe you could put an air vent over my desk, it wouldn’t be so hot. Or if you had my table desks go up and down, my back doesn’t hurt. They got real-world practical solutions to problems and their turnover decreased dramatically. And that’s basically what we’re doing in our second part of the training with people is we’re getting the answers from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, giving it to leaders. And this is what it’s going to take to help everybody be more curious. And this is how you can help them.
Ben Aston Cool. I think that’s great advice and I’m curious for you in terms of developing your own curiosity, where do you go to get inspired? What are you reading or what are you kind of investing in kind of to continually inspire yourself?
Dr. Diane Hamilton You know, I tend to like to do things that I think I’m not going to like just to ensure that I really I’m not going to like it. Like, if I don’t really think I’m interested in a particular topic, I might read a little bit more about it, or I might do an I’d like stretch goals quite a bit. I tend to speak at conferences that are really challenging or I tend to read different sections of papers that I normally wouldn’t read. I think a lot of us always read this. We always drive this way. We always do this thing. And once you recognize that, you do that. And just stepping out a little bit, start baby steps. Just read a different section of the newspaper, go a different way to the grocery store, take a look at different things, just kind of get yourself out of that same groove that you’re always doing the exact same things. Right. I think it helps to look at what other people do. For me, my podcast is something that really helps me explore if I’m interested in something I don’t know a lot about. I might interview the top Bitcoin expert or whatever it is, and sometimes just going to people and asking them, what do you know about this? Because I know you know a lot about it and you can learn just amazing things and things that you think you might not be interested in. You might be.
Ben Aston Yeah, I think about some really good advice. And I think I was actually watching a masterclass yesterday, which I think is a great source of random inspiration for if you’re looking for things to increase your curiosity. I think Masterclass is great because it presents all kinds of different things—ballet, cooking, Mexican cooking.
Dr. Diane Hamilton Steve Martin.
Ben Aston Yes. Storytelling. Yeah. Yeah. If you’re if you want to broaden your interests, I think it’s a great place to go. But one of the things they were talking about was actually about copywriting. And I think they were talking about how people often think, “oh, well, this is my voice and this is the way that I write. And I always write that in that particular way.” And they were just challenging that kind of assumption in that we don’t always have to write or have the same kind of mono interest. And I think what you were talking about in terms of diversifying our interests in trying out different things is super helpful in terms of increasing our exposure because we’re going to carry on thinking the same way we always think if we’re still consuming the same kind of ingredients. If our brain isn’t going to start thinking about things in a different way. So things like Masterclass, I think is super helpful. I also use Blinkist as well, which is an app that gives you summaries of different books and in terms of piquing your interest in other areas as well. I think that can be super, super helpful.
Dr. Diane Hamilton You know, there are so many great sites like Udemy, you know, you name it. You can teach yourself so many things online. I actually have done the Masterclass stuff, and I think it’s wonderful. I was on a Udemy course this week on learning script, writing for movies, you know, just unusual things. Just kind of spin the wheel maybe every week and see what’s on there and what whatever your learn just listen to a lot of them are free, you know, and if you don’t like it after an hour or two, you know, just, go into something else. But give it a fair shot.
Ben Aston So is The Curiosity Code: The Film coming out soon?
Dr. Diane Hamilton You know, somebody did ask me to create a video of this. But, you know, I don’t know that it would translate to a film, but, hey, you never know.
Ben Aston You never know. So I just want to close by saying for someone who’s thinking, hey, well, this is all great. But what’s my first step? I know I need to be more curious. What do I do today? Well, what would you suggest?
Dr. Diane Hamilton I would suggest writing down those few things that you think might be holding you back from being curious and consider how happy you are doing what you do in your job. How could fear assumptions, technology, and the environment maybe have an impact on your engagement? Would you be happier if you could ask more questions or maybe be a line a little bit differently on the team or in other aspects of what you do? I think just asking yourself some questions can be a good first start.
Ben Aston And I want to close by reading Albert Einstein’s quote. And he says exactly that. He says, “the important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” And I think that is so important as we think about how we apply that to projects, how we apply that to the businesses or organizations that we work in. If we just keep on doing things the same way, we are never going to improve whenever we can increase the value that we’re delivering. So be curious and ask lots of questions. And I think we’ll see change happen. But, Diane, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been great having you with us.
Dr. Diane Hamilton I really enjoy it. Thank you so much for having me on the show. I loved our conversation.
Ben Aston Great. And if you want to learn more and get ahead in your work, come and join our tribe of DPM Membership. Head to thedigitalprojectmanager.com/membership to get access to our Slack team, templates, workshops, AMA sessions, office hours, ebooks, and more. And if you’d like what you heard today, please subscribe and stay in touch on thedigitalprojectmanager.com. But until next time. Thanks for listening.