The Performance of Curious Employees Is Higher

Curious Employ­ees are more efficient

Dr. Patrick Mussel on the Value of Curiosity at Work

Curiosity is a motivational force for learning on the job, and is thus a decisive factor when recruiting new personnel. This is one of the findings of Dr. Patrick Mussel, a psychologist and researcher at the Julius-Maximilians University in the German city of Würzburg. In our interview, Dr. Mussel tells us how we can train our curiosity and how companies successfully promote the curiosity of their employees.

What Motivated You to Begin Your Research into Curiosity on the Job?

The idea came to me when I was advising a company on the development of new staff selection procedures for trainees and interns. In the course of this, we first discussed the character traits and skills that were important for the positions to be filled – and soon got around to the subject of curiosity. One employee with numerous years of experience as a personnel trainer had noticed that curiosity is a motivational force for learning on the job. In his view, colleagues who were curious and maintained an open mind were most likely to be the best performers. This is the reason why we attached such importance to curiosity in the personnel selection process.

To Make Curiosity on the Job Measurable, You Developed a Test by the Name of WORCS (Work Related Curiosity Scale). What Surprised You Most in Your Analysis of the Results?

The biggest surprise was discovering just how diverse curiosity can be. Looking through a keyhole, being a spectator at a traffic accident, or the fascination of finding the solution to a mathematical problem – all of these behavioral patterns are equally at home in the category curiosity. OK, what you are saying is that there are any number of definitions of curiosity. These behavioral patterns can be subdivided into various different flavors of curiosity. At a practical level, it surprised me just how important curiosity on the job really is. Several of our tests revealed that curiosity has a significant effect on personal behavior in the workplace. Traditional measuring procedures are unable to provide meaningful conclusions about this aspect of curiosity on the job.

   Portrait of Dr. Patrick Mussel    Portrait of Dr. Patrick Mussel

What Benefits Can an Employer Expect When Employees Are Curious by Nature?

People who are naturally inquisitive tend to learn more – and faster. This automatically has effects on job-related knowledge and, in turn, on the performance of the particular employee. This brings enormous advantages not only during training, but also with regard to the lifelong learning process. What’s more, curiosity can also make it easier to adapt to changing environments – for instance, when starting out in a new job or in phases of organizational change. People who are curious also tend to ask more questions. This is a factor that often makes it easier for them to understand people and problems.

How Can Companies and Organizations Foster Curiosity?

That is something I can only speculate on at present. Research into the fostering and development of curiosity has not yet progressed that far. It is, however, almost certain that organizational culture and leadership play a significant role. Many people at management level would rather see fast solutions and stick to established procedures than permit a thorough, time-consuming search for alternatives. Instead, they could begin to think about the factors that suppress curiosity within their organizations and make an attempt to reduce them. 

How Can Adults Train, or Revive, Their Curiosity? 

Reading almost everything you can get your hands on is certainly a very good way. On top of this, we should always actively question our established ways of thinking. Strongly target-oriented people, for instance, must first shift into a different mode. This makes it easier for them to ask questions and learn something new.

About Dr. Patrick Mussel

The areas of research of particular interest to Dr. Patrick Mussel, research assistant at the Institute of Psychology of Julius-Maximilians University in Würzburg, include the exploration of the specific differences in the personality structures of individuals. Mussel concerns himself with the influence of personality traits on behavior, whether in decision-making scenarios or in the context of professional conduct. In the course of his work, the psychologist has dedicated himself not only to research into curiosity, but also, for example, into intellect and greed.

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