A Critical Quality You Want in Your Employees? It’s Inquisitiveness

I want to buy a flip phone; I do not want one of those new phones. I do not text because it gives you carpel tunnel syndrome. I can’t be bothered to use that GPS system [even though he gets lost every day]. I do not do online banking.”

One of the main competencies that any company today should look for in any new employee is inquisitiveness. If you are looking to build a stable of expat-eligible employees, do yourself a favor and move inquisitive to the top of the list.

As I talk to executives across the globe, I have zeroed in on that and, like a pit bull, I will not let it go.

The drive to figure things out

We all have a certain elasticity to change. Some people have the bandwidth to be able to plop down anywhere, while others are like an aged rubber band — there is no elasticity left (if there ever was any).

Those quotes listed above have nothing to do with technology. They have all to do with just being inquisitive enough to try and figure things out.

My daughter told me one Sunday morning, “Let him sit there all day [Christmas Day] because you know he will not leave it until he has figured it out.” I had just been given my first iPod and I was determined to figure out EVERY feature. The elasticity that day was off the chart.

Innovation comes from being inquisitive

Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and others all had an idea and they would not give it up. Sure, there were some failures along the way, but they would always get back up and get back on it.

As a voracious reader of autobiographies, the constant thread I see in them is having the trait of being inquisitive. I have always been a big believer in the maxim that your reaction to a set of circumstances can greatly determine its outcome. That, to me, is what being inquisitive is all about.

One of the questions that I ask people is to tell me about their travel and vacation experiences. Are you are the type of vacationer that goes to Disney every year? Do you own a passport? Are you the guided tours type, or the one that buys the tickets and hotel and then just figures it out as you go?

My line of questioning and discussion goes down this road. You would be absolutely surprised at the answers that I get from some of these lines of questioning. However, asking these questions allow me to filter out the people who would not be a good candidate, because this competency is at the top of our list.

At my company, we are asking people to move 7000 miles away from home (to Saudi Arabia) and use their technical skills to be productive in a totally new environment. So yes, that is our main competency.

What is your inquisitive quotient?

This enables me to build a profile of someone’s ability to adapt to different situations. This is also important line of questioning based on our business and what we look for. This type of questioning may not be relevant in your line of business and your model, but getting to an inquisitive quotient is so very important in evaluating talent today.

I think this is one of the main competencies that should drive your talent search. If you are in a disruptive industry, that has to be the mainstay of what you do.

The meaning of inquisitive, by my definition, is a person that is inclined to investigate, eager for knowledge, unduly curious and inquiring.

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When a person has this trait, they inquire. They ask questions. They become relentless in finding out the answers. They try different things to get the answers they seek. By nature, this person needs to know as much information as possible.

Competencies are the components of the recipe

“All that separates you from your competitors are the skills, knowledge, commitment and the abilities of the people that work for you,” says Prof. Jeffery Pfeffer of Stanford University. That statement speaks to the importance of getting the right people in the door.

The filter that your organizations use will dictate your success. That is why we should all develop competencies based on our industry, our business model, our strategic goals, and the challenges that we are trying to surmount.

As a person that loves to bake, I know that  you should always use the best ingredients to get the best results. Competencies are the ingredients that you are looking for.

To find the best talent, your competency model should be constructed not from best practices or based on some list that you came across. It should be dictated by all the variables that your company and industry are facing and how you plan on working through them.

How inquisitiveness can help your organization

Choosing the right competency will allow your organization to

  • Recruit and select the best employees;
  • Plan how to organize and develop their workforce;
  • Manage and train your employees effectively;
  • Develop your staff.

As they say, yes, it is that important if it is success that you are after. If not, well, it really does not matter, does it?

Remember what Albert Einstein said: “I have no particular talent. I am merely inquisitive.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


3 Comments on “A Critical Quality You Want in Your Employees? It’s Inquisitiveness

  1. to be Inquisitive is an in-born quality or one has to adapt as a trait. Rest, we can train people but we can’t change their basic nature, that’s where the ground reality lies.

  2. Good article Ron. Thanks for sharing. However, after studying curiosity for the last 15 years, and having what amounts to a PhD in curiosity, I believe you’ve overlooked the same things that our schools and society has overlooked for far too long.

    We are all born with curiosity and a “sense of wonder” – it is absolutely an innate human trait. It is what propels us to learn and grow, as individuals and as a species. Without it, we wouldn’t even “wonder” why our stomach was grumbling, and what if anything we should do about it. And we would have perished long ago.

    Yes, Einstein said he had no special talents, and that he was only passionately curious. However, what he and many others failed to realize is that he wasn’t passionately curious about everything! He wasn’t curious about fashion, he wasn’t curious about interior design, or architecture or a great many other things. And, although you could argue he was passionately curious about many things, he was “most passionately curious” about “the structure of our reality” – things like space and time. And it was because of his focused, passionate curiosity that he left his mark on the world.

    Einstein also said; “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

    Curiosity, our sense of wonder, exists to “advance our learning and understanding”; individually and collectively as a species. THAT is why it exists. It’s our innate “desire to learn.”

    However, we don’t “desire to learn anything/everything.” Do you?

    Sadly, we talk about curiosity much like creativity; that some have it and some don’t. But it’s simply not true of either; we’ve simply failed to realize where their curiosity and creativity lies. And this is where we loose sooooooo many children in schools and in life.

    I was an incredibly curious child – I absolutely had a “child-like sense of wonder” – we all do! But I simply wasn’t curious about what our schools were trying to push/encourage me to be curious about. The fact is, I was “indifferent” to most of what they wanted me to be curious about. I was most curious about human nature. But, they weren’t teaching that in grade school and in my high school. And, instead of asking what I’m curious about or helping me figure it out, they called me lazy and all kinds of things because I didn’t care about what they wanted me to care about.

    I was always “wondering” about things; just not what they wanted me to wonder about! So that sense of wonder was squashed by my school system and society for many years. And, instead of “wondering”, I spent most of my life “worrying” for many years!

    And sadly, it took me many years and an early mid-life crisis to figure out what I was profoundly curios about and passionately curious about as a result. Prior to that, I was just trying to get by like most other people.

    But I finally realized that; although I am absolutely curious, I am not curious about everything – I am in fact indifferent to learning about many things. As an example, I have a brother that LOOOOOVES cars – he always has, and he can’t get enough information on the latest sports car. But I could care less. The same is true of me for fashion, furniture, architecture, Opera and a great many things. Does that make me lazy or “not curios” or “inquisitive”? Of course not – i’m just not curious about those things!

    We have an amazingly infinite number of things to be curious about, but our schools push us to be curious about a handful of things, and we scratch our head and wonder why we lose so many children and why some are “inquisitive” and some aren’t based on whether or not they’re curious about what you are? Really?

    Some are curious about HR/Organizational Development, but many could care less. And, if you ask me about human nature, sociology of philosophy, I am “interested”. However, I am not interested/curious about all aspects. But if you touch on something like “curiosity”, which is an area that I am clearly passionately curious about, then I will ask you questions and talk about it until the cows come home!

    Therefore, it’s not that some are “inquisitive” and others are not; they’re just not curious about what you’re curious about, or what they’re company and colleagues are curious about. And that’s why they’re not engaged.

    So, instead of assuming that some are not inquisitive/curious, help them discover their most profound curiosity, and then encourage them to turn it into their most passionate curiosity, to find answers that can help change the world, and you will help them find meaning and purpose to their life! Talk about engagement!

  3. You seem to equate being inquisitive with being an early adopter, but I don’t think that really gets to the heart of the matter. If it did, your interview process could involve one question: show me your phone. But I know deeply inquisitive people who don’t care about their phones, and many shallow people who care a great deal about their phones.

    I think at heart I agree with your sentiments, but I think it deserves a greater variety of examples.

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