If there's one cliche piece of advice that has proven the most helpful to me over the years of building Triplemint, it's the classic Steve Jobs adage "stay curious." Learning is the key to forward progress, to moving forward, to always pushing yourself to improve.
I've always been curious, from picking up oil painting in high school to leaving college to join a startup, but I've found that "staying curious" in the working world is more challenging. You can't just change jobs, or go on a sabbatical every time you feel like you're not learning as much as you could be.
In the working world, staying curious has to be more refined. It can't be flailing in the dark, swinging at anything that seems interesting like it was when we were young. As the stakes get higher (also known as a financial commitments increase--your family is counting on you), careers tend to be more single-tracked than an exploration of learning.
But that doesn't mean you can't stay curious, it just means you need to "think differently" about how you do it on a day-to-day basis. I should really just write the whole article in Jobs-isms.
The longer you've been in the same job, the more "staying curious" becomes about challenging yourself to see something you've seen a hundred times before in a different light. It becomes more about trying to understand the intricacies of other people's perspective, their motivations and walking a mile in their shoes.
Here are three practical tips to follow Steve's advice and stay curious every day at work:
1. Replace "no" with a question
One of the best practical pieces of advice I have ever received that has helped me stay curious is simply replace "no" with a question. Whenever someone asks you something or presents an idea that you don't like, start asking questions instead of shutting it down. I am amazed by how many times my first thought has been "hell no" but after forcing myself to ask questions, I ended up learning so much more than I could have imagined.
Here are a few good questions to keep on hand to replace your knee-jerk "no's". To understand context better, ask "how did you first think of this?" or "what was the piece of data or information that gave you this idea?" To better understand motive, ask "why is that important to you (or the company)?" Also, make sure to always start with a positive affirmation like "that's really interesting" to set a mutual understanding that you're asking questions to genuinely understand.
2. Solve someone else's problem
This may seem like "how to get ahead advice", but it's one of the best ways to stay curious. Put yourself in one of your co-worker's (or your boss's) shoes and identify a problem that he/she is facing. Just that very act of thinking from their perspective will help expand your knowledge base.
Now take it one step further, and actually figure out how to solve that problem. Forcing yourself to act from someone else's perspective will give you a connection and level of empathy with him/her that will be hugely beneficial to you. As an added bonus, you'll feel great that you helped someone else out!
3. Ask people about their life goals
No matter how boring you think your job is, the other people that do it with you are not boring. Not even Dave.
People cannot be boring if you take the time to go a level deeper than "hello" and begin to understand what motivates them. One of the best ways to "stay curious" is to focus that curiosity on the ever-interesting people around you.
Maybe Sally jumps out of planes when she's not filling up test tubes. Maybe Mark from accounting is really a secret poet who can make you cry.
The is no limit to how much you can learn from other people if you only start a conversation. No matter how you do it, flexing your curiosity muscle on a daily basis will help you be happier at work and channel your inner Steve Jobs.