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It’s all around us

What have your leaders done to impact whether you go along with the status-quo at work?
Hello. I’m Dr. Diane Hamilton. And I am the CEO of Tonerra. And I’m excited to talk to you today about the importance of curiosity. I’m going to start by telling you a story about how a thought experiment about conforming to status quo behaviours helped us understand a little bit more about curiosity. Investigators actually set up a hidden camera experiment to see how quickly can people go along with the norm of a group. A woman thought she was actually just going in for a sample exam. But unknown to her, all the people in the waiting room were actually actors. And they weren’t patients. So every once in a while, while they were sitting there, a bell would ring in the room.
And every time this bell rang, all the people around her, who were actors, would stand up and sit down without explanation. So after just three times of hearing this bell ring, and without knowing why she was even doing it, the woman stood up and sat down along with everybody else, conforming perfectly with the group. Eventually, they would call all the patients back, which she thought were patients– actually actors– one by one. She thought they were getting their eyes examined. But they were actually just leaving her alone in the room to see what would happen when the group was gone. Once everyone was out of the room, they continued to ring the bell. And what do you think she did?
She stood up, and she sat down. She conformed with the rules of the group without even having them be there. Then they thought, well, wouldn’t it be interesting to actually introduce patients who were actual patients into the room instead of actors to see what they would do? So the bell went on and off. And she stood up and sat down. And one of the new patients who was sitting next to her watched her do this kind of befuddled. And he asked her, why did you do that? And she said, well, everybody else was doing it. So I thought I was supposed to.
So what impact do you think that had on everybody else in the room and especially that guy when the bell rang? Well, he stood up and sat down with her. And that’s what they all did. They all eventually stood up and sat down. And that was really fascinating to see how they conformed with this because, slowly but surely, what began as a random rule for just one woman became a social rule for everyone in the waiting room. Now, this internalised behaviour is called social learning. And when we see other people do certain things– a task– it just makes our brains reward us for doing the same. Nobody wants to be excluded. We get this dopamine rush. And conformity is comfortable.
But going along just for the sake of going along creates bad habits and can stunt growth. So status quo thinking is what we’re worried about in organisations. It can be their downfall. When we do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done, we don’t progress. And we don’t look for other ways to approach problems or devise solutions. So we need to go beyond. We have to ask why. Why are we doing this? Why are we standing up and sitting down? Why is this important? What area are we striving to accomplish? And I think that this is important because curiosity is responsible for just the most incredible things to change our world.
You can go back to the Model T or ahead to self-driving cars. And the foundation behind them is this passion for curiosity, for innovation. And we know leaders believe they encourage curiosity and exploration. But the reality is, when they study this, only half of employees really believe they’re rewarded for it. If we want our organisations to generate innovative ideas, we must not only provide rewards, but we have to find out how do we get them to that exploration, that desire to be curious about the next big thing? And the reason I’m interested in this is because my job is to be curious. I ask questions and share knowledge for a living.
Whether I do it through my radio show, my research, or my teaching, or my speaking, I obtain information to share. And that requires that I ask questions. So I learn a lot from interviewing people. I found it really interesting, whether they’re Harvard or Stanford specialists or billionaires or top CEOs, when I asked them, what came first, curiosity or creativity, curiosity or innovation, you name it, they all said, curiosity comes first. So my goal here today is to help all of you explore the value of curiosity and determine ways that you can overcome the things that hold you back and your organisations back from developing it.

In this video we explore status-quo behaviours.


As we listened to the story about the ‘thought experiment’, where they rang the bell, what kinds of activities came to mind that you do without knowing why?
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Innovative Leadership: Developing Curiosity

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