A Leadership blog may seem like an unusual place to share an article about child development but push on my friend and explore why even those at the Harvard Business Review believe fostering it in your organizations is , “worth the effort”.
In 2001, Scholastic republished an article titled Curiosity:The Fuel for Development, introducing the work of child trauma expert Dr. Bruce Perry. The article stated, “children are curious creatures”, and it centred on the notion that young children learn best when given opportunities to explore, ask questions and in general, be allowed to “exist” in a state of discovery. Curious George is a great example of such experiences and according to Perry natural curiosity is fuelled and reinforced by a child’s feelings about their experience. He further explained that exploration and discovery are relatively predictable through a “Cycle of Learning” and that once initiated and repeated, positive experiences lead to personal mastery, new skill development and the confidence to complete the cycle with a desire to act—curious enough to try exploration again in the future–it certainly worked for George!
Perry’s “Cycle of Learning”(see image below) is always fuelled by curiosity, which then leads to stages of explorations, discovery, pleasure and repetition. Once the child develops a desire to repeat the experience, new levels of skill, mastery and confidence eventually lead to more exploration.
Now, we couldn’t help but notice how Perry’s learning cycle still applies to the needs of adults and the quest for creative solutions to solve growing complex problems. Walt Disney, one of the world’s greatest innovators once said, “Around here, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” What would the workplace look like without curiosity? Disney knew, his company’s success hindered on a culture that was collaborative and nurturing; a workplace that supported curiosity and creativity from the top management team down.
Perry’s (2001) research also identified that a child’s developmental potential (emotional, social and cognitive) is “expressed through the quantity and quality of their experiences”, and highly influenced by the level of encouragement and support received from significant adults. Key to success is the adult’s role to encourage curiosity by fanning want and avoiding the three most damaging adult behaviours of fear, disapproval and absence.
Fear: Fear kills curiosity. When the child’s world is chaotic or when he is afraid, he will not like novelty.
Disapproval: “Don’t touch. Don’t climb. Don’t yell. Don’t take that apart. Don’t get dirty. Don’t. Don’t Don’t.” Children sense and respond to our fears, biases, and attitudes.
Absence: Present, caring and invested adults provides two things essential for optimal exploration: 1) a sense of safety from which to set out to discover new things and 2) the capacity to share the discovery and, thereby, get the pleasure and reinforcement from that discovery.
As a leader, your role is to encourage your followers to explore in a fashion similar to a “significant adult” in child development. Your team requires a hefty dose of encouragement to continue to share ideas and attempt new things–a benefit to your organization in the form of new skills and knowledge. Perry’s (2001) work should serve as a simple reminder of those benefits–the potential to grow in nurturing environments as opposed to the damage caused from fear and disapproval. When dealing with adults, providing ideal environments is not as simple as child’s play but there could be undiscovered value in Perry’s Cycle of Learning for the organization that embraces the learning hidden inside The Adventures of Curious George.
Wouldn’t you rather be the spark for innovation and build a reputation for “playing nice with others” than be the one extinguishing INNOVATION?
Editor-in-chief Mike Prokopeak looks at how leisure and play can impact learning…read it here
And a more recent HBR article on the importance of Curiosity in the workplace- Companies Value Curiosity but Stifle It Anyway by Todd B. Kashdan October 2015.