It can be argued that no two qualities are more fundamental and important to the pursuit of innovation than curiosity and risk. Nearly every good idea, and insurtech startup, begins with the curiosity that asks ‘can we improve or fix this?’ and courage required to take the risk and just do it.
After initial success, which often time takes years of effort, risk taking, and some degree of perfect timing or luck in the market, sustaining these qualities can be challenging, especially when a company scales. But there are wonderful benefits to doing so, regardless of how large the company becomes. In fact, fostering active curiosity in a workplace, though it requires no small degree of support and effort, can prepare companies to become agile and ready for future working environments.
The impact of curiosity in a company and workplace
Curiosity is so important because it means looking for opportunities before they necessarily present themselves. Encouraging curiosity in the workforce, and incorporating it into recruitment/interview strategy, helps create an energetic team whose approach to projects and problems is to question and experiment. This constant experimentation creates a flexibility that allows a company to adjust to unexpected changes or developments in a ready and thoughtful way, rather than getting caught up in the little things.
Perhaps most importantly is curiosity’s impact on the innovation process within a company and teams. It’s a proactive approach to innovation rather than a latent one, allowing for increased opportunities and the open mindedness to ask ‘what if’ rather than be satisfied with 'well, this has always worked.'
The impact of risk in a company and workplace
Curiosity is a fantastic quality to encourage in teams and workplace, but it means little if it doesn’t come with the ability to take risks. Mind you, risk doesn’t mean making rash decisions, or taking risks for the sake of it. But trialing new ideas and testing hypotheses, even and especially small ones, can lead to significant improvements to products and processes over time.
Perhaps the most valuable thing about risk taking is the opportunity to optimize and really find the subtle changes to become as proficient as possible. The more a company takes advantage of the small opportunities to try something new or different, the better performance becomes. What’s more is those small changes and opportunities over time amount to significant change and efficiency, whereas passing them by has the opposite effect. In insurance, this can be switching up an outdated process, encouraging a new cross-team collaboration, trialing a new price or product in the market, or adjusting to a new distribution method.
Encouraging risk taking in a workforce means employees understand that trying something to see if it could work is worth the risk rather than letting it pass by on the off chance it doesn’t. It is, however, important to understand taking risks and trying new things is not an excuse for poorly executed attempts or rash decision making.
Easy to find in a startup, harder when a company scales
As a startup, risk and curiosity are absolutely fundamental to getting off the ground. Startups constantly work to become better, more successful, more innovative, and this can change as they scale. But as a company grows, so does its approach to development, innovation, and culture.
The bigger a company grows, the more there is at stake, which typically means increased hesitation to take risks and question the status quo, even at a small scale. Despite the avoidance of risk common in larger companies, there are ways to remain pragmatic and organized while scaling, without dulling the innovative spark.
Fostering these qualities as a company grows and evolves
Curiosity and the desire to take risks, push limits, and ask questions are all valuable characteristics in any size company (if you doubt this, take a look at Google’s approach to culture).
The key is to approach these two qualities, curiosity and risk taking, in a very structured way, while encouraging teams to continue sharing ideas, concerns, and suggestions freely. In order to do this in a structured way, there are a couple of things you can do:
- Ensure managers and team leaders are actively supportive but not overbearing on their teams, providing guidance rather than rules, and solutions rather than answers.
- Create a system that allows you to consistently measure the impact and results (good and bad) from the different changes you make. Collect feedback and analyze these results in order to continuously improve the process.
- Incorporate this priority on critical thinking and curiosity into your hiring and interview process, keeping an eye out for individuals who work independently but value a collaborative approach.
- Host ‘hackdays’ where employees can spend the day working on a project or testing something new that’s not directly tied with their day-to-day tasks and assignments. Challenge them to collaborate and think outside the box.
- Allow people to work in a way that helps them be their most productive, whether that’s fully in the office, half from home, or some combination.
These examples are only a few in a wide variety of options companies have to encourage an innovative and curious approach to problem solving. Finding the ones that work for you will require their own version of trial and error, which isn’t a bad place to start. The key is not to shy away from risk or dull curiosity, but encourage them constantly in small ways, taking advantage of all the small opportunities to improve your company, culture, and products.
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