From curious to competent

by Madelein
From curious to competent

Late last year, the Harvard Business Review launched an article collection of research with the spotlight on curiosity. In Journal 4 of Floors in Africa magazine (http://tiny.cc/wpc68y), we covered The Business Case for Curiosity by Francesca Gino and in Journal 5 (http://tiny.cc/8q4hbz), The Five Dimensions of Curiosity by Todd B Kashdan, David J Disabato, Fallon R Goodman and Carl Naughton was covered. In this issue, we take a look at an article by Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, Andrew Roscoe and Kentaro Aramaki.

For three decades, the authors’ executive search firm has been in the business of assessing leaders along two broad dimensions: potential and competence. A key conclusion is that you can’t have either without curiosity.

Although the authors found that high potential also needs insight, engagement and determination, curiosity – defined as a penchant for seeking new experiences, knowledge, feedback and an openness to change – is perhaps most important. The executive search firm analysed exactly how leaders develop and found that curiosity, which they assessed on a four-point scale – from emerging to extraordinary – is the best predictor of strength in all seven of the leadership competencies measured (results orientation, strategic orientation, collaboration and influence, team leadership, developing organisational capabilities, change leadership and market understanding). They also found that executives with extraordinary curiosity are usually able, with the right development, to advance to C-level roles. However, development is critical.

To help people make the leap from curious to competent, organisations need to provide the right type of stretch assignments and job rotations.

All the managers were rated as extraordinarily curious, yet only half reached the top level of competence. What separated the two groups was the complexity and breadth of the opportunities they’d been given, as shown in the first graph below. The top 10 executives had worked for more companies, been exposed to more diverse customers, worked abroad or with colleagues from other cultures, dealt with more business scenarios and managed more people. When curious people are given these experiences, they shine. When they aren’t, they either stagnate or jump ship. While most of the low-competence managers had worked for just one company, the outstanding ones had worked for more than three.


Although the authors’ potential and competence models hold true around the world, not all cultures achieve the same competence return on curiosity, as depicted in the graph above. Although the Japanese are curious, their competence scores are barely average. The British, by contrast, are less curious but more competent. Why these differences? The authors believe that Japan’s cultural norms limit people’s development by rewarding tenure above all and by discouraging big job moves. Meanwhile, British firms embrace company and role changes along with coaching. This is yet more evidence that although curiosity is a necessary ingredient for executive success, in itself it’s not enough.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to www.hbr.org for some of the information contained in this article.

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