Empower Employees to Be Curious
First, create a culture of accountability so you can trust employees to make good decisions. This differs from a culture of blame. You can tell which culture your firm has by walking into a meeting and asking in neutral tone, “Who wrote this contract?” If people are quick to disavow their work, you have a culture of blame.
A culture of accountability motivates employees to overcome obstacles to find the right solution. It comes from giving employees experiences that reinforce trust and freedom to try new things. A culture of blame discourages employees from taking risks, speaking up, or sharing knowledge. It comes from micromanaging and top-down changes to actions that aren’t motivated or supported by experiences and beliefs.
Second, encourage your employees to be — and to think of themselves as — curious. This is natural in a culture of accountability. So focus on the benefits. We need curious employees to help uncover — and then solve — the right problems, to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty during change, and to be self-motivated to build broad and deep knowledge. Broad and deep knowledge helps employees break down silos and is more likely to lead to important insights.
Curiosity Feels Accessible and Achievable
If curiosity and creativity are both important factors leading to innovation, why focus on curiosity? Notions of creativity are bogged down with myths about who can be creative. People often believe that one must be born a creative genius and cannot grow into one. But that’s not true. Rather than fight the myths about innate creative abilities or the stigma among many professionals that creativity is frivolous, it’s easier to focus on curiosity (which often leads to creativity).
Smart people tend to believe that they are curious or can become curious. This trait can be cultivated by tying it to identity. When connected with identity, curiosity contributes to seeing oneself as multifaceted and connected to great thinkers. This makes it easy to embrace the “curious” descriptor. When employees adopt curiosity as part of their identity, they feel authorized to question the status quo. They also generate and ultimately share more ideas, which is key to finding new solutions and driving change.
Infuse Expertise with Curiosity
But don’t overestimate the importance of constant learning combined with creative jolts from outsiders only to undervalue expertise. These elements actually work together. And acknowledging their connection might encourage more professionals to accept curiosity initiatives because it won’t threaten their sense of self as expert.
The truth is that deep expertise is essential for creativity. While it’s true that random outside insight may spark an idea, it’s usually the expert that sees the connection and knows how to apply the insight to the domain. Creativity depends on the ability to connect different types of knowledge. Curious people are more likely to make those connections because of their insatiable need for silo-busting knowledge. So encourage curiosity as a way to leverage legal expertise.
Promoting curiosity as a stepping stone to creative problem solving and then to innovating is palatable, achievable, and strategically savvy. Executives and firm managers already embrace the importance of curiosity in employees. So part of the battle is already won. And people who view themselves as experts can simultaneously see themselves as curious. That’s another important win. Plus, curiosity isn’t bogged down with the baggage of innovation or the myths about innate creativity. A focus on curiosity is a great way to build a culture ready for long-term change and its attendant challenges.
This article was originally published January 15, 2019 on Above the Law.
About the Author
Ivy B. Grey is the Chief Strategy & Growth Officer for WordRake. Prior to joining the team, she practiced bankruptcy law for ten years. In 2020, Ivy was recognized as an Influential Woman in Legal Tech by ILTA. She has also been recognized as a Fastcase 50 Honoree and included in the Women of Legal Tech list by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. Follow Ivy on Twitter @IvyBGrey or connect with her on LinkedIn.