(To be fair, the description of this post gives away the answer -- it is curiosity.)
You probably could have guessed it on your own though. Successful people know how to gather the knowledge and information necessary to generate ideas and solutions. This is true no matter your title or where you are in your career.
I am the co-founder and CEO of Aha! -- one of the fastest-growing software companies in the U.S. We have been able to grow as fast as we have because of our framework for personal and business success, which we call The Responsive Method. "Wow, curious!" is actually one of the core tenets.
The advantage to being curious is obvious. Ask questions, get answers, learn. And one study shows that testing for curiosity traits may be useful for employers, especially those seeking to fill a complex role, like one in product management, marketing, or customer success. It turns out that if you are the sort of person who likes exploring new topics and learning, you are probably also great at creative problem-solving.
Of course, even really smart people sometimes fail at curiosity. There might be times where you are not sure of the right questions to ask. So consider it an ongoing effort. You should always be seeking and exploring.
Get started by regularly asking these curiosity questions at work:
Why is this the top priority?
Do you know if the work at hand is actually the highest priority? More importantly, why is it a priority? Digging into this will help you understand the goals. In particular, if the work you are doing is in full alignment with the overall company strategy and vision. If your company does not have a strong strategy, asking this question can help define what matters most.
What do customers think?
Not everyone works with customers directly -- but no matter your position, you should be thinking about the customer and how you can help solve their problems. Seek out insights from teammates who interact with customers every day. And if you are one of those teammates, you should regularly go to customers with open-ended question -- focus on what problems they need to solve and what their ideal solutions look like.
What can we do better?
Some of the answers to this question will be quantifiable. For example, learning where the team is experiencing inefficiencies -- or where your product or service is falling short in meeting customer expectations. That is just the starting point. From there, continue asking questions: What needs to change for us to do better? What challenges would we face? And why did we not do it that way in the first place?
What will happen next?
You may not think you can see the future -- but you can start to if you continually seek out information on your industry. Maybe it is news on competitors, technology, or the latest market trends. Staying on top of this will help you spot threats and opportunities. The more insights you have on the market, the less surprised you will be by the direction it takes. Be comfortable asking questions that may not have definitive answers yet.
There are risks to not asking questions. Without the right knowledge and context, you cannot make the best possible decisions. In the short term, your work will suffer if you are not operating with the full picture. In the long term, so will your career.
The more open-ended questions you can ask, the more possibility you will find.
How does curiosity help you stay successful at work?