Curiosity killed the cat and satisfaction brought it back
My company often describes itself to people as “your marketing department,” because you can’t hire us to create one graphic or one email. Typically we need to be invited into your company or nonprofit so we can learn about the organization, its culture and people. What I’ve learned these last five years since founding Leading With Nice is the further a person is from the decision-maker (whether that be the president, founder, CEO or otherwise), the less likely they are going to be well-aligned with their vision and passion.
So as I’ve worked on defining my NPO, I’ve begun to understand it is all about helping organizations keep an alignment tight around the decision-maker’s vision and passion. The research shows when there is tight alignment there is better efficiency, higher morale among staff and ultimately greater profitability.
One of the insights Leading With Nice is able to bring to the organizations we work with is a unique inside-out perspective. Usually a few of our team work closely with a few people at an organization and where we work hard to embed ourself and learn as much as possible about them, ultimately we have our own corporate culture that prevents us from becoming a full doppelgänger. And its this piece – being part of a community but not being fully committed to only their objectives – that provided some clarity while reading Greg Satell’s chapter on Networking the Movement in Cascades.
Satell explains in the chapter that social movements are complex and interlinked, and that having good networking strategies is vital for success. This realization isn’t groundbreaking as you’d be hard pressed to find someone who claims social movements are easy but the nuance behind this includes his theory behind effective networking in social movements involves three key components: connectivity, coordination, and communication. However, I feel there is a fourth “C” that needs to be at the front: curiosity.
We see this early in the chapter as Satell tells the story of Rick Warren’s founding of Saddleback Church in a suburban California town. In preparation, Warren went door-to-door asking people what they didn’t like about church while taking extensive notes of their answers. He discovered there was a range of reasons including the outdated music, the constant asking for money, sermons that didn’t apply to their current life situation and more. He never would have had success in the rest of Saddleback (including the Life Groups) had he not first been curious.
We see this in Bobby Duffy’s Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything as well. He argues that curiosity is a crucial skill for understanding the world and avoiding cognitive biases. Duffy notes that people tend to seek out information that confirms their existing beliefs, rather than exploring new ideas or challenging their assumptions. He suggests that cultivating curiosity can help individuals to overcome this tendency and broaden their perspective. In particular, Duffy recommends being open to different viewpoints, asking questions, and actively seeking out new information.
Being curious can be frowned upon. Personally, I ask a lot of questions because I like to get to know people. I’m often retorted with “Why are you asking so many questions about me?” which I’m not surprised at anymore because of the popular saying “Curiosity killed the cat,” which has been around since the 1500s when playwright Ben Johnson wrote that “care killed the cat” in reference to a father who was suspicious of his son’s morale compass. There is a conditioning in Western culture to mind your business, not ask too many questions and to keep your nose to yourself. But these are horrible pieces of advice to follow. It’s no surprise an oft cited refute to curiosity killing the cat is “but satisfaction brought it back.”
Instead, I like what Eve Poole says about curiosity in Leadersmithing. She more aptly describes curiosity as a leader’s “superpower,”that can help leaders to identify new opportunities, solve problems, and make better decisions. They suggest that cultivating curiosity involves asking questions, seeking out new perspectives, and being open to feedback and criticism.
My takeaway from Cascades and other selections we have read this semester is my NPO has to begin with an internal curiosity. If a decision-maker wants to bring her colleagues and staff into greater alignment they they first have be curious about themselves. Satell tells of Mandela’s need to first overcome himself before he could overcome the government that backed Apartheid. The first step in any meaningful exploration will always be asking yourself important questions … now just to figure out what those important questions are.
 Duffy, Bobby. (2019). Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding. Basic Books, 147
 Ibid., 149
 Chivers, Tom. (2014). How to Read Numbers: A Guide to Statistics in the News and Knowing What to Trust. Overlook Press.
 Jonson, Ben. (1598). Every Man in His Humour. London: William Holme, 20
 Poole, Eve & Knights, John. (2018). Leadersmithing: Reveal Your Leadership Potential. Lid Publishing, 98
 Duffy, Bobby. (2019). Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding. Basic Books, 151
6 responses to “Curiosity killed the cat and satisfaction brought it back”
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I’m with you, curiosity is a superpower. Not sure if you have ever heard of Chris Voss but he is was a negotiator for the FBI. He has a TED talk and book, Never Split the Difference. He says that curiosity was the attitude that would short circuit his nervousness when he was about to interrogate or negotiate with someone intense. He went in with a posture of curiosity which helped his questions flow naturally. Your posts also reminds me of Ted Lasso when he said, “Don’t be judgmental, be curious”. Have a great summer man! See you in Oxford!
Matthew, curiosity is one of my favorite ideas. Along with joy I believe it’s essential in a leaders toolbox. And I find if a leader is curious, they are also humble (being curious means you know you don’t know it all) and engaged, which are two more values I want in myself and look for in leaders I work with.
I’m so glad we ended up in this cohort together. Over this semester I’ve realized there is a lot I can learn from you. Looking forward to talking 80s music in a pub in Oxford.
“Internal curiosity”. There is much to think about regarding this. Becoming more intentionaly self-aware, not only of how one acts but what one thinks and why brings inner clarity and transformational power. Daily reflection and contemplation and asking the Holy Spirit to bring things to light are so needed but is often hard to work into the busy day. Thank you for your focus on this important area. Gleaning much from your blogs.
Thankful for how much you add to our cohort!
See you this Fall!
This is a great post! Curiosity is so helpful. I always think of the clip from Ted Lasso when Ted quotes Walt Whitman while he’s playing darts with the bad guy.
You write, “Being curious can be frowned upon. Personally, I ask a lot of questions because I like to get to know people. I’m often retorted with “Why are you asking so many questions about me?” I noticed you asking a lot of questions when we first met and I really appreciated your curiosity! It made me feel seen and interesting. So, I do not frown upon your curiosity but think it is one of your many gifts.
Good stuff Matthieu! You might be surprised (or maybe not) how appropriate your comments regarding curiosity are to the future of church and not just business organizations! As I read your post I couldn’t help but think, “If the church (particularly the Leadership and older demographic) could approach the younger generation with this kind of curiosity and interest and create the space for them to talk and wonder and doubt, we might actually be able to help them stay connected with God and His community.” If more people were like Mathieu the church would be better for young people. And with that bold encouragement….I sign off! Have a great summer!
What I’ve learned these last five years since founding Leading With Nice is the further a person is from the decision-maker (whether that be the president, founder, CEO or otherwise), the less likely they are going to be well-aligned with their vision and passion.
That statement stopped me in my tracks and now I will work hard to make sure this is not true in our organization! Thanks again for your insight sir!