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Curiosity is the desire to learn more, or the state of dissatisfaction with a lack of knowledge. It is also a fundamental part of any problem solving mentality.

Curiosity provides the drive to follow up on an issue once it is identified. It gives the spark that makes people continue to question what is going on even after the surface answer has been found. It also prevents accepting a “brush-off” answer to a question.

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Curiosity is a sort of fuel to continuous improvement. Kids have it. Most adults don’t. When kids see something like a remote controlled car, they want to take it apart and learn how it works. They want to see how the wheels turn, what the motor looks like, and how the signal gets from the controller to the car.

But at some point, the knowledge gained from ripping apart a toy becomes less valuable than the toy itself. Often the quest for information is pricey. The car doesn’t always work after it has been inspected. For adults who are in static jobs, the cost of curiosity is likewise high. It takes effort to spend time reading, participating in projects, finding a mentor, and watching DVDs.

Plus there is risk as an adult. Curiosity often exposes ignorance. People see asking questions not as an indicator of someone seeking knowledge, but as a red flag that someone doesn’t know something. It can be safer to just quietly tolerate not knowing an answer.

Unfortunately, that attitude makes it extremely hard for Lean to prosper. Companies that are strong at continuous improvement cultivate curiosity.

The good news is that Lean efforts challenge everyone, and people have to ask questions to learn enough to hit their goals. Sitting quietly is not an option. Red boxes will fill up KPI bowlers. Frontline employees will start being assigned improvement tasks. Getting rid of the red and completing the assignment will both eventually require a rekindling of the curiosity of youth.

Once the company is well along its Lean journey, curiosity and questioning will be a way of life. Until then, it is up to you to create an environment where people have to challenge themselves to learn, but in a safe manner.

A Few Curiosity Building Ideas:

  1. Ask people their opinions about why problems are happening. Challenge their assumptions, and push them to confirm their theories.
  2. Have team members teach small Lean topics. Nothing makes a person study as hard as having to teach a class. Want to get more people to work hard? Tell multiple people to prepare to teach the same class, and swap them through.
  3. Make a game of it. Ask improvement oriented questions to a team, and give a reward for the first correct or best idea. 

Lean Lego Flow Simulation

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