28 March 2018

Curiosity – a first step to changing thinking

The only way I've found that's worked to change management thinking is for people to go through a normative change experience.   This means that – rather than attempting to convince someone to change with well constructed arguments, people discover a new way of thinking for themselves. 

The video below gives – in less than two minutes – a great example of a US senator going through a normative experience.  It's a clip from the excellent documentary film Merchants of Doubt

By it's very nature, you can't make someone go through normative change.  As Chris Argyris says, people need to make a free choice.  They need to discover it for themselves.  One way to encourage them is to make them curious.  If they become curious then they may decide to discover more for themselves.

4 tips for making people curious

Here are few tips for making people curious.  They're in no way guaranteed to work, but at least give some structure to an approach.

1. Listen.  And be curious about the other person. There is plenty of information out there about listening skills  – I find Gerard Egan's Skilled Helper approach effective. Don't assume you know what the person's motivations, concerns, and assumptions are.  Find out from them by listening open-mindedly and without judgement.  This can take time – you may need to build a relationship over a number of conversations.  There are no 'quick wins' when it comes to changing thinking.

(The next three tips are taken mostly from the book Curious by Ian Leslie). 

2. Identify knowledge gaps.  Seek to understand the person's knowledge of the subject you want to make them curious about, and the gaps in their knowledge.  If a person already knows something about a subject, they will naturally respond my wanting to know more. When they know nothing about it they’ll find it hard to engage their brains – they can’t imagine finding it interesting or are intimidated. On the other hand, if they feel they already know lots about a subject they are unlikely to be interested in more information about it.

3. Use surprise  – but not too much.   Get the balance right between low and high surprise – when a violation of a person’s expectation is more than tiny and less than enormous. If the violation is minor, people ignore them. When they are massive they refuse to acknowledge them. 

4. Be like Agatha Christie.  Her books didn't tell you butler did it on the first page.  They make the reader curious to find out more and keep reading as clues are gradually revealed.  Likewise, don't try and tell the person all the answers straight away (this could also lead to information overload).  Instead, leave a few questions unanswered, prompting to go and discover for themselves. 

Remember that list in my last post?  Even though they may not change thinking, they can help make others curious.  Now, whenever I use these rational methods (reports, presentations, meetings, conversations, etc) I’ve given up on trying to change thinking. My aim is to tailor my message – using some of the tips above – in a way that gets people curious enough to take the first normative steps.

What has made you curious in the past?  Feel free to comment below, or share this blog with someone else who might be curious. 

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