Despite the cultural barriers that urge you to suppress it, curiosity may be one of the most important competencies that you will need to thrive in the Digital Age.
"It’s Not Your Job"
It may be the very first thing you learn when you enter the workforce: just do your job. Asking someone about how or why they do their job the way they do is a guaranteed way to get a dirty look (or worse). While I think that most of us are naturally interested in learning as much as we can about all sorts of jobs when we get started, the constant reminder to mind our own business eventually wears us down. We slowly tire of the constant rebukes and we put our curiosity aside. But as we enter the Digital Age, the idea that we have one simple job will disintegrate. We will be expected to have a breadth of knowledge across a wide swath of jobs and disciplines. There will simply be no other way to survive. You will need to reawaken your curiosity about every other job and function within your organization—and ignore those dirty looks.
"No One Ever Got Fired for Buying IBM"
I often wonder how much money IBM made solely on the value of its brand. I’m not saying IBM wasn’t or isn’t a great company, but the reality is that this oft-repeated phrase was less a reflection on IBM's inherent quality than it was on the risk-adverse nature of corporate cultures. IBM—no matter how good or bad its solution—was always the safe bet. If something went wrong, but it was an IBM product or service, you had some ground to stand on. But if you selected a different company and things went badly, you were doomed. Today, playing it safe may be the greatest risk of all. You will need to be insatiably curious about everything, constantly seeking out unique and innovative solutions that will enable you to leapfrog the competition. And you will need to be confident enough (there’s David Kelley’s balance) to act upon wherever your curiosity leads you.
"We’ve Been in Business Since…"
The Industrial Age ushered in an extremely long, sustained period of growth and prosperity for a large number of companies. Many of them are in existence today and are still relying on the very legacy that got them this far. They are proud of their history and their longevity. And that business longevity will be trotted out as a reason to stay the present course and keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. There’s no point in being curious in these types of environments in which there is no appetite for anything new or, God forbid, innovative. But whether they know it or not, companies like this have pretty much run their course. The old rules will not apply in the Digital Age—and these companies will need digital leaders that are brave enough to reshape those rules before it’s too late. You will need to reawaken your curiosity to examine everything about how your company operates, particularly those that are the most cherished legacies of your organization’s storied past.
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but there’s a very good chance that curiosity will also be the thing that gives birth to a new generation of digital leaders: the Digital Renaissance Men and Women of our time. As strange as it may sound for something so natural and innate in many of us, curiosity may be one of the most important competencies that you need to thrive in the Digital Age. You must let go of the historical cultural barriers that tell you to suppress it. Go ahead, be curious and explore—and be brave enough to follow your curiosity wherever it leads you.
About the Author
Charles Araujo is a recovering consultant and accidental author of the book, The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change. He is an internationally recognized authority on IT Leadership and liberally shares his message of hope about the future of IT and what it means for all of us. He is the founder and CEO of the IT Transformation Institute and serves on the boards of itSMF USA and the Executive Next Practices Institute. You can follow him at @charlesaraujo.
Editor's note: This is the fourth installment of a six-part article series titled "What It Means to be a Digital Renaissance Man." To read the third installment, "An Important Lesson Most IT Leaders Have Forgotten," click here.