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In 1973, Steve Jobs got curious.
He was a dropout still hanging around Reed College in Portland, and he began noticing that every poster on campus was beautifully hand-calligraphed. He wanted to learn how to do this, too, so he audited a calligraphy class. In that class he became fascinated with the art of great typography—and this all came back to him as he designed the first Mac a decade later. Jobs credits the Mac's beautiful typography, a unique selling point, to this single class.
If he hadn't gotten curious about some posters, the Mac—and Apple itself—might've turned out very differently.
The lesson here is that great insights often can't be planned. They happen by chance when someone's curiosity leads them down a new path. To keep your team innovating, you're going to need curious employees. Here are three ways you can foster curiosity on your team.
It's hard to follow your curiosity if you have to be focused on your current assigned task at all times. Letting everyone explore projects is much better than assuming that the team's current priorities are optimal—because side projects don't always remain on the side.
Consider Crew, whose CEO, Mikael Cho, said, “side projects saved our startup.” The company, which connects projects to freelancers, was struggling until they hired a photographer to take new photos for their homepage. They only used one photo, so they decided to create a site, Unsplash, to make the rest publicly available. It became a huge success, and one little backlink generated a huge surge in traffic to the main Crew site.
And even if these side projects don't end up overhauling your company, or even being completed, they can improve your team. A San Fransisco State University study from 2014 found that workers who pursue creative activities have increased levels of creative problem-solving on the job.
As your company grows, there's going to be some siloing. It simply isn't feasible to know everything that's happening across teams.
But this siloing means that employees don't have access to projects they're not a part of, even if they might be able to provide a much-needed alternative perspective. Without inter-team communication, employees can't explore and be curious about each others' work.
This is a huge problem when you're trying to create a cohesive product. An engineering team could put a whole lot of time into expanding a feature that the customer success team knows users hate. A design team could waste a week detailing an idea that just isn't feasible given the size of the engineering team.
Many have hailed Satya Nadella's decision to break up the Microsoft's sales silo last year as a positive turning point. Beforehand, the Microsoft sales division was so disconnected from the engineering and product teams that sales reps didn't understand the products they were selling. And there was no channel for getting customer feedback back into product design.
When teams are expected to take an interest in each other's work, however, these problems can be mitigated. When teams work together, they create solutions that take everyone's needs into account.
You shouldn't just hope that individuals on different teams will reach out to each other on Slack. And all-hands meetings aren't always enough to spur curiosity in everyone else's work, especially if your company is large. Instead, you can think about having a dedicated time on the schedule where different teams can co-mingle—like an inter-team lunch outing or coffee break.
When the only people who can query data are the members of your high and mighty data team, no one can learn anything from your product unless they go through them. It could take a few days to communicate with a data specialist, and then an additional 5 hours for them to carry out the query.
If people can't get answers without putting in a lot of time and effort, they'll stop asking questions. People don't stay curious when they know the data team will have moved on to a new topic by the time they have a new question. People are constricted by the need to formulate the perfect question; they aren't willing to bother the always busy data team with questions that seem insignificant, or tangential, or only half-formed.
And when your people don't get their questions answered, they operate with less information. They can't make informed decisions. They can't understand user behavior either, like what triggers users to increase activity, or what gets them engaged in your product.
With tools like Scuba Analytics, everyone can dig into user and device behavior—not just the data nerds. Our living dashboards let you flip through charts and instantly explore anything that peaks your interest. Perform or alter queries in seconds without any code—and receive results in seconds too. That way, once you have a partially-formed idea, you can quickly iterate on the query composition until you have exactly what you need.
Once you empower everyone to investigate data, their curiosity will be freed, not stifled. When you can easily get answers to your questions, you'll be a lot more interested in asking them.
In today's world, markets change constantly. You can't just rely on previously successful strategies to keep your company thriving, or even afloat, in the future. Measurement and innovation are key.
Unfortunately, innovation can be pretty hard to plan out. You can't simply instruct your team to come up with brilliant ideas on the spot.
But what we know does help with fostering innovation is curiosity. Curiosity leads teams down paths management never thought to instruct them to go down. You have the power to build a curious team by providing employees with the tools, time, and teamwork to exercise their curiosity.
Curiosity brought us to the moon. It can bring your team to the future.
Tony Ayaz | CEO28-01-2021
I am excited to be part of an amazing company with proven technology that is redefining what “analytics” really means to business users. Scuba Analytics was founded by a team from Facebook responsible for building behavioral analytics for the ...
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