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More Curiosity, Less Cool: Healthy Organizations Value Curiosity

An orange background with a stack of books and a sign that says Stay Curious

What could more curiosity and less cool do for you at work? As a life coach, I see patterns, behaviors, and habits that serve outdated outcomes all the time. Playing it cool at work is one of them. Healthy organizations value curiosity over cool.

When we play it cool at work we act as if things doesn't bother us. We are flexible. Agreeable. We are people who can "go with the flow". We are team players, easy to get along with. People count on us not to make waves or extra work. We rarely voice our opinions. We often back down to keep the peace. We aren't roadblocks. We are cool.

The cool conditioning starts in preschool. Our parents, teachers, and guardians tell us to be nice, don't be selfish, and share- be cool. In other words, don't make a big deal out of this, because if you do it will be inconvenient for everyone.

By high school, we've learned to not speak up when someone is mean to another kid in front of us. Going along has become second nature. We don't study, or try that hard because it's not cool. We don't approach a teacher to advocate for a better grade. We wear clothes we don't like, listen to music we could care less about, hop on bandwagons.

We lose our curious voice. Our own ideas are redirected repeatedly by our friends, parents, teachers, and society in the interest of things going smoothly. We turn away from our own ideas, wants and needs and turn towards the ones of others so we aren't seen as difficult. We "be cool" to be liked and accepted. Then we grow up and take that lesson to work and it creates a hidden level of toxicity that invades every level of the workplace from connection to communication to performance. And it makes a ton of excess work.

What are your meetings like? Do you have a sense of ease? Eagerness to learn? If you have a thought, do you speak up- or do you overthink it for the rest of the meeting and then beat yourself up for the rest of the day for not saying anything? When you leave the meeting do you feel like it's been a good use of your time- or do you feel resentful of the time and energy you wasted because you really didn't need to be at that meeting in the first place?

Think about how many times you haven't spoken up in a meeting to offer a different opinion or option. Or senior leadership was in the room and you didn't want to make waves or look foolish. In other words: you wanted to be cool.

Cool is hijacking our work lives. Cool stops us from asking questions, or investigating deeper. It has created an insatiable meeting monster that eats up our work days. Cool keeps us in a persistently confusing environment of uncertainty and doubt. That environment translates into over working and perfectionism. We log on after we put the kids to bed "just to make sure". We interrupt dinner out to read Slack notifications. We work on weekends or on vacation so we don't miss anything. Cool steals our voices, our creativity, our choices, and our boundaries.

Now imagine this: You're in a meeting. Everyone is focused, the conversation is animated and respectful. Ideas are raised and then discussed, and if something isn't going to work for part of the group it's brought to the attention of the whole group. Conflict arises, and then, because conflict is information and not character judgement, no one at the meeting is worried about appearing cool because that isn't even part of the dynamic. Senior management presence is appreciated and invites ideas.The shame and embarrassment we feel at being wrong doesn't exist- because we work in a curiosity based environment rather than a cool one.

Work can seem like a bunch of adults who are still trying to uphold the childish rules of the playground or the mindless cliques in high school. It is vital to the health of organizations that they be more willing to be curious than be cool. That curiosity will make our work lives more interesting, more enjoyable, more effective, and more dynamic. It will create trust and confidence because by nature curiosity is a connector. Could it be awkward? Of course. But our work lives are worth it.

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