In the financial world, curiosity carries negative connotations. But asking an extra question as an accountant isn’t always going too far. Often, it is the best way to break boundaries and discover better practices.
By Ronelle Richards
The philosopher William James called curiosity “the impulse towards better cognition”. Not only does it inspire a hunger to learn, but it forces us to question the status quo, and throughout history has led to countless innovations and technological advancements.
While in childhood we are encouraged to be inquisitive, we are often trained to display more know-how by the time we get to higher education. Most will agree that curiosity has its place in business, however it is often misunderstood or discounted as wasted time. Why is this the case?
When we follow our curiosity, we can push beyond the expected, and in turn achieve some incredible feats. Take the case of Leland Melvin, who became the first professional athlete turned NASA astronaut. In his TED talk that has been watched more than 1.7 million times, Melvin describes how it is curiosity that drove him to pursue new, otherworldly careers.
If you’re looking for more evidence, Albert Einstein credited curiosity with his greatest intellectual feats: “I have no special talent,” Einstein once said. “I am only passionately curious.”
Fostering the creative mind
Curiosity is what drives serial entrepreneur Ian Hopkinson, founder of Mad Scientist Digital and co-host of the Human Hackers podcast. Hopkinson tells INTHEBLACK that being curious is the first step to success, and a leader needs to be able to synthesise the results of their team’s curiosity to produce innovative outcomes.
“There’s a pressing of the reset button, not just in our everyday lives but in our businesses and that means asking our people where they’re at, what their ideas are for the vision of the business moving forward, dialing up collaboration and just being a really bloody good listener,” he says.
“If you’re not curious, you’re not growing, you're not leading, and you’re not succeeding.”
How curiosity benefits business
Tim Garth CPA, the director of CATS accountants, is co-host of the Australian podcast Two Drunk Accountants and is based on the Central Coast of New South Wales.
“It’s an interesting one, curiosity, that historically in accounting has potentially been a bit of a dirty word or a dangerous topic,” says Garth. Rather than something to avoid, Garth encourages his workers to apply curiosity when most applicable.
Curiosity and creativity are perhaps not a good approach for tax and compliance matters, he jokes. At CATS, twice a year the team has a planning day to bring, share and debate new ideas. They also take off one afternoon a month for team events like gin tasting or bowling to foster their curiosity outside the office setting.
When to ask the question
Before blindly following your curiosity, it’s critical to first assess if it is a healthy or unhealthy pursuit, says psychologist Julian Tatton, director at The Mind Group.
“If it’s a healthy curiosity, you can end up with better client services, higher sales as you connect more with your clients, and a much better product and service to suit their needs,” Tatton says.
“But a simple (misplaced) question can go into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of wasted dollars,” he says. Unhealthy curiosity can be seen in questions that annoy, intrude or frustrate and such curiosity can be detrimental, and obstruct a business’ ability to produce a positive outcome.
A good leader will be able to reflect upon questions, says Tatton. Taking the time to consider if their team’s curiosity is healthy and being clear to their team that questions need to contribute to a shared goal.
Curiosity ‘critical’ post-COVID
Leaders may be concerned about bottom lines in a post-COVID-19 world, questioning whether their firm can afford the hours needed to be curious. For Garth, it’s the opposite.
“Yes, you might be worried about shrinking returns, less profit or less time or tighter margins on your jobs but if you’re not approaching things with curiosity or innovation front of mind then that’s always going to be a problem,” he says.
“I’d argue it’s the people who aren’t curious or innovative, not asking difficult questions of themselves or their team will be the ones that see diminishing returns.”
Tatton agrees, believing COVID-19 has created a need to innovate, rather than the luxury it was once thought to be.
“It’s not just valuable, it's critical for business survival. If you weren't curious about your clients’ needs at this time, you’ll probably lose them to firms who are interested.
“It’s only a matter of time before a lot of professional services are automated. Unless you’re constantly curious about those changes, what clients need and where you can keep adding value, you’re going to end up being the next Blockbuster Video.”