There was a fair amount of skepticism when we launched our company Enolytics a little more than two years ago.

"The wine world isn't ready for big data," people said.

"Wine people are farmers, and they're in it for the lifestyle," people said. "They just aren't interested in technology."

"Technology in wine is so fragmented," people said. "Good luck trying to get any of it to work together."

Not gonna lie. There were some really good reasons for this skepticism and "breaking through" with data in the wine industry has proven to be a challenge.

And yet.

Our business is still in the game, happily so, and the "wins" we've experienced so far have been invigorating, hard-won, and worth every moment.

So what is it that transforms skepticism to a "win" in the wine world or, frankly, for entrepreneurial ventures in any category?

A new article by Francesca Gino in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review offers a solution that resonates with us, and it's a curious one.

In "Why Curiosity Matters," Gino points toward three important insights about curiosity, as they relates to business. Pay special attention to the third point, which nails the discrepancy between leaders who value curiosity (albeit passively) and those who actually enable and advocate for it to happen.

  • "When our curiosity is triggered, we think more deeply and rationally about decisions and come up with more-creative solutions," Gino writes. "In addition, curiosity allows leaders to gain more respect from their followers and inspires employees to develop more-trusting and more-collaborative relationships with colleagues."
  • By making small changes, leaders can encourage curiosity and improve their companies.
  • Even leaders who say they value inquisitive minds tend to stifle curiosity, fearing it will increase risk and inefficiency. In her survey of more than 3,000 employees from a wide range of firms and industries, Gino found only about 24 percent reported feeling curious in their jobs on a regular basis, and about 70 percent said they face barriers to asking more questions at work.

We all know the value of curiosity. It's driven breakthrough discoveries and remarkable inventions throughout history. There are fewer decision-making errors and less group conflict. There is more innovation, more open communication and better team performance. Yet most of us are afraid to ask questions at work, and our bosses are afraid to rock the boat despite the rewards that curiosity can yield.

So what gives?

Two main tendencies that cause leaders to restrain curiosity (that we have definitely seen during the launch and early stages of Enolytics) are the wrong mindset about exploration, and seeking efficiency to the detriment of exploration. Or, to put it another way, "The way we've been doing things for 30 years is still working. Why would we want to change it now?"


Here are five strategies Gino recommends that leaders can employ foster curiosity. I've adapted them for entrepreneurs specifically.

1. Hire for curiosity.

Gino's findings, particularly that about 70 percent of employees she surveyed said they face barriers to asking more questions at work, translates into curiosity feeling like a fairly lonely road to travel. It doesn't have to be, not when you actively seek out the trait of curiosity in the people you hire and, also, in the people you spend your recreational time with, which includes valued advisers at work and your close network of friends outside the office.

2. Model inquisitiveness.

Make being curious a "safe space." If the people around you see that you ask questions, they register a level of humility in your personality that welcomes inquisitiveness on their own part when they're around you.

3. Emphasize learning goals.

Do you already enact a policy of professional development? Is it clearly stated and, more so, encouraged? Are learning goals articulated and reinforced during performance reviews, and do you hold yourself or your managers accountable for their completion? These are all ways to emphasize and prioritize curiosity in learning.

4. Let employees explore and broaden their interests.

Despite very visible models to follow in this area, from Patagonia to Salesforce, this can still seem like a tricky road to navigate. You're paying people to do the job you hired them to do, right? Right. But there's a but, and it has to do with happy employees being recognized that "employee" isn't their only identity. Enabling curiosity and the exploration of interests other than what they were explicitly hired to do is validating of the whole person.

5. Have "Why?" "What if...?" and "How might we...?" days.

"Imagination" isn't exactly a synonym of curiosity, but the two go hand in glove. Proactively designate and design days where both rule the roost.