CEO Coaching: Allowing Curiosity

I’m on a flight with my window shade open, looking at clouds, field patterns, a river, and communities. I wonder where the roads go, which community that is, what their major industry is, whether that river has trout. I also wonder why only one other person in my section has their window shade open. I guess they’ve seen it all!?

I’m no longer a current pilot but have logged many hours of flight time. Although I enjoyed mastering complex flight systems and dealing with weather, my favorite flights were on a clear day when I’d cancel my flight plan, get closer to the earth, turn on the autopilot, and look out the window.

We’re born curious, but life gets in the way. In some respects, it has to. Staring out the window and daydreaming doesn’t fit well in our academic environment. Our parents demand that we do our work, clean our rooms, and stay focused. I know I did when my kids were little. I wish I’d allowed for a bit more daydreaming! Now that our kids are adults, the best conversations we have are about things of “wonder”—not rules and known facts. Two of my kids have children, and they do a much better job than I did of asking questions and showing curiosity with their kids. They got that from their mom; I was a late bloomer when it comes to wonder and curiosity. I grew up in a family where rules and facts dominated, and daydreaming was seen as silly.

Some work is highly structured and doesn’t allow for “daydreaming.” Questions that start with “I wonder what would happen if…?” aren’t so appropriate in a nuclear power plant or an operating room. However, more daydreaming and curiosity would enhance business. “Stay in your lane” is a phrase that people should perhaps use more judiciously.

If you’re a senior executive with the flexibility to do so, block out time to be curious. If you can, let your team members do the same. Keep an “I wonder…” list, and explore it weekly.

There’s another river down there. I wonder if it has any trout?

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