If you stop and think for a moment, how unhelpful is the expression “curiosity killed the cat” for children’s development? Why would you want to encourage someone to be less curious?

My nephew, when he’s over, frequently wakes me up at 7am (my wife provides the essential tea and biscuits) to ask me all his burning questions; why this and why that. There is nothing nicer than watching a brain grow. 

Just think of all the things that wouldn’t have been invented, created or discovered without curiosity. The benefits created by inquisitive minds are all around us, from the first person to try boiling an egg to the technology that can send a probe to Mars. Research is now emerging that reveals there is a range of benefits not only to the individual but also to organisations.

Curious people ask questions

A study by Dr Maria Kangas, associate professor of psychology at Macquarie University, Sydney, has identified that, at a basic level, “curiosity promotes an openness to unfamiliar experiences and information. Curious people ask questions, they read more and, in doing so, significantly broaden their horizons and has a huge impact on the way we learn and remember.” Kangas adds that curiosity has an enormous impact on memory. 

If your curiosity is engaged, not only will you remember the subject of your inquiry but you’ll also absorb significantly more peripheral information without even consciously paying attention to it. Think of all the times you have researched something and then heard that word, seen that car or dress and wondered why you had never noticed them so vividly before.

Curiosity also has enormous potential in enhancing interpersonal bonding. “Curious people connect with others on a far deeper level, including strangers,” says Kangas. “They ask questions, then actively listen and absorb the information instead of just waiting for their turn to speak. The result is they become more empathetic and better able to understand and accept different viewpoints.”

Research published in the Harvard Business Review also shows curiosity is vital to an organisation’s performance. When we are curious, we view tough situations more creatively and we’re less defensive and less stressed, which leads to improved group performance.

Recent research

This dovetails nicely with some research the AAR Group has just undertaken. I have written in the past about a growing concern for the diminishing investment in the role of account management and how that’s affected agencies’ ability to retain clients’ business. In response, we co-created, with agency leaders, a list of five key attributes of an account manager – leadership, passion, entrepreneurship, curiosity and the ability to collaborate – and got them validated by clients.

And here’s the thing. The overwhelming outcome was that curiosity, above all the others, was seen as the foundation stone; something that instinctively feels focused and valuable to the role.

All the clients we spoke to said curiosity sounded incredibly positive and forward-looking: “Supportiveness and curiosity is a winning combination.”

They felt it tapped into a number of positive emotions and associations, and bypassed cliché and lack of specificity: “You need curiosity to be innovative, but just being innovative could sound a bit gimmicky.”

They thought it suggested ongoing dynamism, looking out for the new ideas and not being complacent, meaning “you are pondering things and not satisfied ... wanting to interrogate stuff, to be interested, rather than just accepting everything we say”.

They also saw it as indicative of a desire to go deeper and further, which is usually true of the best creative brains (and everyone aspires to creativity). But they felt it could also be translated into a desire to deliver the best of the agency: “This means they can unlock other areas of the agency for you that are relevant to your challenges.”

About the author: Tony Spong is managing partner at AAR Group. Picture: SUPPLIED/IAS
About the author: Tony Spong is managing partner at AAR Group. Picture: SUPPLIED/IAS

Real barrier

Despite the well-established benefits of curiosity, the Harvard Business Review found that organisations are set up more often to discourage it than to nurture it. This is because leaders often think that letting employees follow their curiosity will lead to a costly mess. They fear the organisation will be harder to manage if people are allowed to follow their interests. This mindset is a real barrier to unlocking the power of employees to question the status quo and come up with better ideas to drive commercial performance.

Our conclusion is that if we can develop a culture of curiosity within the account management team, focused on the client’s business, we will not only engender a value in the role that has been eroded over recent years, but also start to attract the type of talent that will help to grow both the client's and the agency's business.

Learn more at the next IAS Masterclass

If you are curious about why clients told us curiosity was the most valuable attribute their account lead needs to have, then come along to the next IAS Masterclass where we unpack our latest research into how you can reinvigorate the role of account management.  

Save the date

Date: February 11 2020 
Venue: Gordon Institute of Business Science, 26 Melville Road, Johannesburg

These masterclasses are free of charge to subscribing agencies and their staff. All names and titles of staff members must be registered with IAS before attendance is approved. For non-subscribers a cost of R3,000 excluding VAT per person attending applies.

Visit the Independent Agency Search & Selection Company website for more information.

This article was paid for by the Independent Agency Search & Selection Company.