The importance of being curious: The story behind this key skill

Jamie Sharp

Writer & Blogger

For decades we have been told that ‘the next essential skill to have is …’, which is often a technical skill like coding, engineering, or design.

However, employers have begun to recognise soft human skills are equally important if their business is to succeed. They need their employees to be good communicators, empathetic and able to think, though as an employee skill, curiosity is, at best underrated and generally not even considered.

So, what does it mean to be curious?

Curiosity is defined as ‘a strong desire to know or learn about something’.

As humans, we are hard-wired to understand, solve mysteries and remove uncertainty. This begins as children when we ask questions incessantly, needing to know the answers to everything. If you have children, I’m sure you’ve been bombarded with questions. For example, why is the sky blue? Or why can’t I drink the sea? And why are flowers pretty?

Childhood curiosity led to a revolutionary invention by Edwin Land. His three-year-old daughter was frustrated she couldn’t see a photograph her father had just taken so, she asked why they had to wait for the picture. Her question resulted in the Polaroid instant camera.

Though, as adults, we are less inclined to ask incessant questions for fear of looking ignorant, we can still be curious. Google used this to its advantage in 2004 when an anonymous billboard appeared on Highway 101, in the heart of Silicon Valley, posing this puzzle: “{first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e}.com.” The answer,, led the curious online, where they found another equation to solve. The handful of people who did so were invited to submit a résumé to Google.

Why is curiosity so important as a skill?

Throughout history, most of the remarkable discoveries and inventions, from striking flints together to start a fire to self-driving cars, have come about because of curiosity.

Someone asked the question – ‘I wonder what would happen if …’.

As the world of work continues to change and the skills needed to succeed evolve, the same curiosity is becoming increasingly important to employers. Research by SAS indicated that curiosity is now seen as an increasingly valuable skill.

51% of 2000 managers globally said curiosity was more important than five years ago, while 72% see curious employees as very valuable.

LinkedIn backed this increasing importance of curiosity, identifying a 158% increase in curiosity being mentioned in posts on the site and 87% of job postings mentioning curiosity as a skill.

Here are three reasons why curiosity is so important as a skill.

  • Curious people ask questions and search for answers. Their minds are active, and they have the desire to learn and grow.
  • They tend to be more observant and are good at recognising ideas related to the subjects they are curious about.
  • Curious people tend to see possibilities and opportunities that their less curious colleagues have.

How to develop your own curiosity

As curiosity is a skill that employers are crying out for, and this will only increase as the job market evolves, developing your curiosity will pay dividends in the future.

Here are some things you can do to improve your curiosity.

Question everything – the only way to learn new information is to ask questions. According to HBR, questioning is a powerful tool to unlock value in an organisation and fuel innovation and improved performance.

Treat learning as pleasurable – if you view learning as a tedious burden, you won’t want to dig deeper into a subject and enjoy exploring the area.

Read, watch and listen – don’t stay in your comfort zone but read in genres you hadn’t considered before and see if it sparks an interest. Listen to podcasts and watch videos that set you thinking, especially if they are on areas you’d never previously considered. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Overcome fear – if you don’t try new things because you are afraid, you may miss out on some amazing opportunities. On the other hand, curiosity reduces fear because your desire to find out more is more compelling than your fear of the unknown.

How to encourage curiosity in your workplace

New research on the benefits of curiosity in business shows that it is crucial to an organisation’s performance as it helps business leaders and employees adapt to uncertain market conditions. This is because when we are curious, we think more deeply about decisions and develop more creative solutions.

Though leaders claim to encourage inquisitive minds, they often stifle curiosity out of fear of increased risk and inefficiency in their organisations. HBR research highlighted this problem in their survey of 3,000 employees conducted by Francesca Gino of the Harvard Business School, only 24% reported feeling curious in their jobs on a regular basis and 70% said they face barriers to asking more questions at work.

If you want to reverse this trend, you need to encourage curiosity in your workplace.

1. Hire for curiosity

Eric Schmidt, Google CEO from 2001 to 2011, has said, ‘We run this company on questions, not answers. ‘Their desire to recruit curious employees is highlighted by the questions they ask at interviews. These include questions like, ‘Have you ever found yourself unable to stop learning something you’ve never encountered before? Why? What kept you persistent?

Other ways to assess curiosity could be to ask candidates about their interests outside of work or whether they read outside of their field and explore questions just to know the answer. Additionally, organisations can administer curiosity assessments to explore this more fully.

It’s often the questions candidates ask, more than the answers they give, that will signal a curious mind.

2. Have ‘Why?’, ‘What if’ and ‘How might we’ days

As I mentioned earlier in this blog post, Edwin Land’s daughter’s question resulted in the invention of the Polaroid instant camera. Asking these questions about an organisation’s plans can draw out your employee’s innate curiosity.

These questions can provide a welter of answers that can be evaluated, and the best questions could lead to improved efficiency and effectiveness.

Having ‘why’ days where employees are actively encouraged to ask questions can go a long way to fostering curiosity and improving overall business outcomes.

3. Leaders should encourage employees to question the status quo

If leaders want their employees to ask questions and be curious about ways to improve and evolve, they need to lead from the front. We can uncover challenges, increase innovation and growth by asking questions, and design better solutions.

When employees see business leaders asking questions, it encourages their innate curiosity and allows them to question how they work and explore whether there are more effective solutions.

4. Let employees explore their curiosity

In the 1930s, an employee of Olivetti, the typewriter manufacturer, was caught taking home machinery and iron pieces. His co-workers wanted him sacked for theft, but the worker told the Olivetti CEO, Adriano Olivetti, that he was working on a new machine but didn’t have time during his regular workday.

Instead of firing him, he was given the time to explore his curiosity, and the result was the first electronic calculator, Divisumma, which sold worldwide in the 1950s and 1960s. He was promoted to technical director.

By Olivetti allowing him the space to explore his curiosity, they achieved remarkable results.

How can being curious set you apart?

Unfortunately, telling a prospective employer that you’re a curious individual won’t be enough to set you apart. To do that, you’ll need to connect your curiosity with your impact and the outcomes you’ve achieved.

Here are a few ways to set yourself apart.

Highlight your desire to improve – describe how your curiosity pushes you to continuously improve and deliver results.

Demonstrate your ability to innovate – 62% of leaders believe curiosity is linked to creative thinking and developing new solutions. 55% consider curiosity essential in the ability to tackle complex problems. Give examples of your innovation and novel solutions to problems.

Show you’re a team player – curiosity is linked with empathy and positive relationships. 58% of managers believe that curiosity is related to effective teamwork and collaboration. Show that your curiosity has helped you build constructive relationships with colleagues

Highlight your commitment – business leaders believe that curiosity and greater engagement and satisfaction go hand-in-hand. This is borne out by data that suggests curious individuals are more motivated than non-curious (70% compared to 39%) and more engaged and satisfied with their work (71% compared to 54%).


As the job market evolves, strong technical skills are no longer enough for many forward-thinking businesses. Employers are following the research and data that shows that curiosity is an essential attribute for their employees to succeed and be an effective part of the business.

Developing your curiosity will make your skills infinitely more appealing to potential employers and help to make your work life more satisfying.

Find out how our award-winning, on-demand recruitment solutions can reshape the way you meet your hiring needs.

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