To support today’s warp speed of business, most people must dramatically accelerate the pace and volume of their learning. We need to learn more, faster, in the face of:
- New technologies and systems
- Changing demographics and customer expectations
- Uncertainty and volatility at every turn
- Exponential access to information
- Innovations on all fronts
The half-life of today’s knowledge is shrinking quickly. And in the end, the winners will be those who can facilitate and sustain rapid, ongoing learning.
Unfortunately, cramming more training into limited time is not the answer—even if it were an option. There is, however, one quality that, when applied to workshops, mentoring, coaching, or any sort of developmental activity, has the potential to exponentially grow the ROL (return on learning). And that quality is curiosity.
It all starts with curiosity
Think about it. A child’s insatiable curiosity yields tremendously swift learning early in life. One study (McCrae et al., 2002) found that, on average, curiosity increases from age 12 until attending college.
Then, something happens to many of us. As we start to know more, we start to wonder less. Fears about looking competent and being credible crowd out our comfort with asking "why?". (Ironically, this slows learning and diminishes the very competence we're striving to protect.)
Cultivating greater curiosity can accelerate learning… and it’s not reserved for youth. Curiosity can be cultivated at any age. Just try these strategies for getting smarter, faster.
Be curious before formal learning experiences
- Learn about the purpose, intended outcomes, and how the upcoming event connects to your own work or challenges. The learning management system you use to register for a course often holds this type of information. This proactive curiosity creates context for the experience to come and helps you wring the most value from it.
- Reach out and meet the instructor and other participants if appropriate. This not only makes for a more comfortable learning environment, but it also expands your network, an invaluable workplace learning resource.
- Generate a list of questions you’d like to get answered. Actively wondering about the topic in advance provides focus and ensures that your time in training is well-spent.
Be curious during a workshop, class or seminar
- Suspend your need to look smart. Ego and curiosity cannot co-exist. Rather than using the event to show off what you know, actively use it as an opportunity to take in new information and perspectives.
- Ask questions. Since questions are the currency of curiosity, spend them liberally.
- Use breaks and lunch for learning. While it’s tempting to spend down-time checking your phone, instead connect with others. It’s an ideal opportunity to explore other parts of the business, share challenges and acquire new best practices.
Be curious after formal or informal training opportunities
- Keep a keen eye out for ways to apply what you’ve learned. Practicing a new skill or using information shortly after acquiring it helps to build habits and drive knowledge deeper. So curiously seek out these opportunities.
- Look for different applications for what was learned. Curiosity enables the heightened awareness of the environment required to discover how many different uses a new tool might have.
- Uncover your next level questions. Learning is a lot like peeling back layers of an onion. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Identify the deeper unknowns and seek out resources that will help you.
Be curious after mistakes, missteps or setbacks
After all, these have the potential to be the greatest of all teachers. Pause to ask:
- What did I learn?
- What will I do differently next time?
- Who else has a perspective on this that may help me improve?
Be curious always
Allow yourself to wonder. Ask "what if…?" Transform casual interactions into powerful learning with simple prompts like:
- What’s your experience…?
- How would you…?
- How would it work…?
Shift your learning into overdrive
So, if you’re curious about how you can turbo-charge training, extract insights from the environment, and optimize your return on learning, try curiosity… and get ready to learn a lot more… a lot faster.