“Curiouser and curiouser”

What we can learn from Alice in Wonderland, in our own age of disruption

Those were the words of Alice, as she found her body growing taller and taller, being stretched further and further. It can feel like that in our age of disruption, as Alice is stretched, so are we bent out of shape by the bewildering array of technologies, which are transforming the world we live in, economically, politically, and socially - in fact everything that affects how we work, and how we live.

“In times of turbulence, the biggest danger is to act with yesterday’s logic.” (Peter Drucker)

The ground is shifting beneath our feet, as old certainties are dying away. We are at the frontier of organisational and social change, and see some of the seismic shifts that are reshaping work, jobs and careers today. We feel the stresses and frustrations of dealing with an unpredictable world, with organisations and cultures that seem too big to change. We experience not knowing and loss of control, not able to look to the past for guidance, unsure who to trust. And there’s a new generation, wanting a new way of working, a balance between work and life, demanding learning, inspiration and challenge.

Faced with the turbulence in the scale, speed and breadth of change that is the fourth industrial revolution, we, as leaders, need to disrupt our own behaviours and capacities to embrace disruptive change.

Curiosity holds the key

The ground is shifting under Alice’s feet too! Her curiosity, as she begins to wonder how she will manage with her feet so far away, is a lesson for us all. Curiosity allows us to suspend judgement, and instead to seek options, possibilities, and a creative way forward. Being curious means we can seek out new perspectives and experiences, and can draw on these to stimulate our thinking, to learn and to innovate. It takes us away from feeling the pressure of needing to deliver a “quick fix” solution. 

The detachment that comes with curiosity gives us space to seek to understand, to reflect and think. It allows us time to see the bigger picture, as well as to take note of the important details. Our curiosity creates space to play with ideas, come up with hypotheses. It creates room for empathy - to step into the shoes of others, to understand their needs and motivations. We have the freedom to explore new possibilities, and to give ourselves a reality check.

Being curious is an acknowledgement that we don’t have all the answers, and helps us take the first step to finding out. It is an invitation to those we work with to join the collective effort required to puzzle out what’s needed, to develop new strategies, propositions or ways of working. Instead of shock and denial, being curious allows us to engage more confidently with the uncertain world that is unfolding. Being curious means we can ask questions, and engage others in sharing and learning.

Moving to a new logic

As Peter Drucker notes, our biggest danger is to act with yesterday's logic. As a leader, you can move to a new logic, with curiosity at its heart:

  • Acknowledge that you don't know. Open the door to new possibilities, by suspending judgement;
  • Ask questions. Seek to understand, creating space and time for the bigger picture, and the important details;
  • Invite people to be curious with you. Inquire, collaborate, and co-create; build trust and confidence through your shared endeavour.
  • Be curious. Imagine what might be going on, what might be possible, and be open to what you might learn.

Like Alice, I say “curioser and curioser” - let’s be curious about what’s unfolding around us. Let's develop a new way of thinking and acting, that helps us to surf the waves of turbulence in our world today.

Willson Hau