While many recognize and appreciate the value of curiosity in the workplace, Becki Saltzman has made a career of teaching people how to leverage it. Though she has had a variety of life experience, from undergraduate and graduate studies in behavioral science to fashion buying to real estate brokerage, she grew up in a family of auctioneers who instilled a propensity for questioning. “I was constantly being challenged to ask good questions, starting with challenging assumptions about people,” she explains.
As her thinking progressed, she noticed a differentiation between “free-range curiosity,” or stereotypical childlike openness and questioning and “applied curiosity.” After recognizing an opportunity to teach the latter strategically, she decided to do just that. Saltzman has written two books, is conducting her own research and travels often giving speeches and teaching applied curiosity workshops.
While the obvious assumption about a “curiosity workshop” might be inspiration and encouragement to be more curious, Saltzman takes a different approach: Applied curiosity is not an ingredient but a device to combat things like cognitive biases, assumptions, judgment, criticism, fear and complacency.
At a workshop, she can set a new tone among a group by first asking absurd questions: “I can ask, ‘how does a circus elephant affect your recruiting process?’ There’s something this does to the brain that opens it up to preposterous things,” she explains. “Then, when I ask a different question, there’s already a playfulness and curiosity in the space.”
“It’s really question-based consulting compared to answer-based,” as she puts it. She opens up company cultures to the spirit of applied curiosity by creating a space for them to ask each other what might ordinarily seem like risky questions. In this way, “it allows them to blame the questions on the culture of curiosity, allows them to ask questions that they would otherwise not ask or be afraid to ask.” And it is in this space that the status quo can be changed and improved.