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One of the most beneficial skills entrepreneurs can develop is how to apply intelligent curiosity to everyday situations. Even better is to develop situational awareness alongside the skill of intelligent curiosity. Situational awareness is commonly taught in law enforcement. It’s where you are consciously aware of what’s going on around you. It’s a 360-degree awareness of both threats and opportunities. An example of this strategy is to sit with your back to a wall or in a position where you can see everything and everyone around you.
With a high level of awareness, you are more prepared to recognize opportunities others will walk right past. However, “seeing” opportunities is not enough. Being curious enough to investigate those opportunities is where entrepreneurial success is often found. This is where the application of intelligent curiosity comes into play.
Intelligent curiosity is directed, focused, strategic, and intentional. It is not conventional curiosity where we find things to be “interesting.” It’s where we become deeply interested in not only what’s directly in front of us, but pay attention to the periphery — the edges around the focus of our desire that very likely impact or influence it. This is called edge learning, and intelligent curiosity is a key element of it.
As an example, an entrepreneur’s focus might be on the development of a single product or service. An edge learner widens their lens to see what other opportunities this product or service might create or what threats there may be against the development of the product or its need in the marketplace. This wide-angle lens creates situational awareness. Are there accessories that might make the product or service more useful such as protective cases for mobile phones? Are there other uses for the product that requires a different type of marketing?
Proctor & Gamble launched Febreze as a spray that could remove bad smells such as cigarette smoke or pet odors from fabric. It bombed. People who live with bad smells every day aren’t often aware of them. Developers decided instead to add a perfume to the product and market it as a spray to be used after cleaning. Instead of an “odor eliminator,” it sold well as an “air freshener.”
Those who develop and use intelligent curiosity are more successful entrepreneurs and they often become recognized as thought leaders. Having worked with and studied dozens of thought leaders in today’s marketplace, I’ve noted their high levels of intelligent curiosity. They’re always asking questions, seeking knowledge from everyone they encounter. No matter their industry or level of financial success, they’re always on the alert. They tune in to what I call their “frequency of greatness,” their ability to dial into the problems and solutions, and ask questions such as, “What caused that to happen?” “Why was that the best solution?” “Who or what was impacted by that situation and in what ways?”
Legendary thought leaders like master sales trainer Tom Hopkins and business expert Sharon Lechter dispense volumes of wisdom to entrepreneurs worldwide, but when I first sat down with them, they wanted to know about my experiences and what I was focused on and why. They exercise intelligent curiosity in every encounter. Working with Tom taught me that he practices what he teaches, “When you’re speaking, you can only deliver what you already know. When you ask questions of others, you are learning — gaining new knowledge that allows you to better understand them and their needs.”
Implementing strategies of intelligent curiosity can help entrepreneurs more fully enjoy the roller coaster ride of business. It allows them to open their minds to new ideas, to pivot, transition and adapt as the marketplace requires. In fact, the edge learning skill of intelligent curiosity will lead them to celebrate the inevitable challenges or failures and capitalize on them.
Rather than walking away from stumbling blocks, they’ll learn who put the blocks there and why. The knowledge gained from intelligent curiosity will help them to move the blocks out of the way, climb over them or, on some occasions, choose an entirely different path.
As a former private investigator, intelligent curiosity was instrumental in my success. When I would get a case, I would work diligently to explore multiple avenues to get the answers I needed. I’d allow myself to fall down the occasional rabbit hole in doing so. Being open to many different possibilities helped me to uncover the truth. My law-enforcement background taught me to tune in to valuable information through my eyes and ears. I discovered more through listening and through what is known as kinesthetic sense — how our muscles and organs of our bodies react. Heightening awareness allows us to quickly understand much about how others are feeling and how they might react to situations.
Intelligent curiosity is a learnable skill; it requires a commitment to the craft and ongoing practice. But do not mistake it for an add-on or luxury skill. It’s vital to your success in all areas of life. It provides the insights necessary for envisioning innovation. It will help you recognize when to put ideas across, when to act and when not to act.
Intelligent curiosity goes against the grain of our own tendencies because of the depths it can take us to. Our innate curiosity desires quick answers and simple solutions. But that is not often what’s required of success. More often, success is not a product of doing what everyone else would do — success is mutant behavior. You cannot follow normal processes and become largely successful. Those processes may work for a short time, but without constant innovation, they will inevitably become outdated and fail or fade over time. Intelligent curiosity drives people to act and think creatively, be more attentive and thereby create new ways of knowing. Ultimately, the results of intelligent curiosity are the origin of success.