2 August 2018
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"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change." - Charles Darwin

History serves the greatest lessons when assessing how important curiosity has been to the success of business development and the progression of the entire human race over the past 300,000 years. The question, ‘What if’, has shaped our evolution and cognitive growth, before we even understood what language was or what the very concept of a question was, demonstrating the importance of a trait which has been hard-coded into the very foundations of Homo Sapiens.

‘What if I use this sharp rock to hunt with?’

‘What if I put this meat over this fire to make it easier to eat?’

‘What if I stopped hunting and gathering and started farming and cultivating?’

‘What if I made a new weapon to conquer my enemies?’

Despite the fact that we may disassociate ourselves with such ‘primitive’ thinking, the truth is that this type of curiosity has been the driving factor behind the success of our species. In more recent history, the very same question has been responsible for the creation of every great; invention, revolution, a moment of societal progression, medical discovery and scientific breakthrough.

‘What if phones didn’t have buttons?’ – Steve Jobs would have asked himself.

‘What if there was a force which was responsible for this apple falling on my head?’ – Isaac Newton would have asked himself.

‘What if I threw myself in front of the king’s horse?’ – Emily Wilding Davison would have asked herself.

Now consider what the world would be like if people didn’t ask ‘What if?’

Unfortunately for you, we’re not going to give you any credit for that ‘life hack’ you came up with at Uni. Asking yourself, ‘How long can I get away with not paying the TV licence’, doesn’t count for the type of curiosity we’re talking about. No, we’re talking about the endeavour to imagine better futures and better possibilities which have defined our evolution. We’re also asking, what is the danger of failing to act upon curiosity? And what happens in an age of hyper-digital evolution, where competition to survive is fierce and unforgiving?

Simple, extinction (Maybe life DOESN’T find a way, Jeff Goldblum).

The failure to be curious about shifting trends, new competitors and the possibility of changing one’s own behaviours, has caused the downfall of countless household names, such as ­Blockbuster, who’s famous refusal to alter their digital strategy to match changing consumer behaviour, sealed their fate. In the early 2000’s Netflix CEO and Co-Founder, Reed Hastings offered Blockbuster the opportunity to buy his business for $50 million, something the chiefs at Blockbuster scoffed at and ignored. And as they say, the rest was history, as failing to be curious about shifting consumer behaviour, cost Blockbuster everything. Specifically, $1.1 billion, as well as the opportunity to own Netflix, which was valued at $13 billion by the time Blockbuster closed its doors. Now, just because Blockbuster had an almighty cock-up, doesn’t mean that you will suffer a familiar fate and lose billions, hopefully….

The point is that curiosity and the power of ‘What if’ is critical to survival in life and within a business environment which changing faster than has ever before. The digital world has already transformed how humans interact as the fundamental expectations of how businesses should operate are evolving at an exponentially increasing rate.

A not too distant future… Users will crave mobility, flexibility, and uniqueness; they will demand speed, transparency, and control; and they have enough choice to avoid any company that doesn’t provide what they want across every sector. We’ll be in the midst of remarkable change not seen since the Industrial Revolution, and a noticeable gap will grow between what consumers want and what traditional companies will be able to provide.

So, PANIC STATIONS! EVERYBODY IT’S HAPPENING OH GOD IT’S ACTUALLY HAPPENING.

No we’re just kidding, gather round children, here’s the scoop…

The P's - Processes, Platforms & People

For ongoing digital transformation and the stimulation of curiosity to happen within a business, it has to be systemic, flowing from CEO to intern to the office pup (Ok maybe the French Bulldog gets away with it).

This can be encouraged in four distinctive steps:

1. Education – Teach employees about technological advancements such as AI

2. Information – Provide resources to access knowledge

3. Distribution – Share content across the workforce efficiently

4. Collaboration – Encourage project collaboration between departments

Create clear and regularly updated workflow processes so the business can develop in conjuncture with trends such as the rise of blockchain technology. Additionally, make use of emerging third-party technology such as digital asset management platforms which improve productivity and reduce the reliance of storing digital assets locally.

Create a stimulating environment

In ‘A Rational Analysis of Curiosity’, Rachit Dubey and Thomas L. Griffiths, summerise; “If we want to make people curious about tasks or activities for which they have little confidence in, perhaps subtle changes in the structure of the environment will be a step towards greater interest.”

Psychologist Susan Cloninger writes; “Novelty seeking is one of the traits that keeps people healthy, happy and fosters personality as we age. The combination of this adventurousness and curiosity with persistence provides the kind of creativity that benefits society as a whole.” Therefore, fostering an environment is not only beneficial for a business and the individuals employed within it, but society as a whole.

You don’t have to be in charge of the company, you don’t have to be in charge of your team, you don’t even have to be in charge of the TV remote at home (Please Sophia, just let me watch ONE episode of Queer Eye for God’s sake!!!) but you can still inflict change and instil a culture of curiosity by asking questions, by thinking outside of the box and challenging the status quo. Don’t you think Blockbuster wished they had?

Our curiosity is an intrinsic part of who we are and neglecting our instinct to imagine new futures for ourselves, our companies and our societies could damage our potential for advancement. Whether you’re an artist, architect, accountant or creative marketer, staying curious isn’t just something to think about every now and again, it’s a complete mindset which will be critical for flourishing as the world continues to transform.

It’s not hard, just never stop asking, ‘What if?’, you never know where it could lead.

Article by
George Brown
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