Curiosity is a good thing because it allows you to discover more about yourself and other people. Dr. Diane Hamilton, the Founder and CEO of Tonerra which is a consulting and media-based business, lends her knowledge on this subject, tackling the question of what’s holding us back from being curious. As the creator of the Curiosity Code Index assessment and the author of multiple books including Cracking the Curiosity Code: The Key to Unlocking Human Potential, Dr. Hamilton shares some tips on how we can let curiosity influence us and others for the better and reveals some strategies for training our brain to more open, more curious, and multitask.
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What’s Holding Us Back From Being Curious with Dr. Diane Hamilton
I’m very curious and that’s what we’re going to be talking about, curiosity. I have with us a very special guest, Dr. Diane Hamilton. She’s the Founder and CEO of Tonerra, a consulting and media-based business. She’s also a nationally syndicated radio host, keynote speaker, former MBA Program Chair at the Forbes School of Business. She has her PhD in business management and she’s taught more than 1,000 business courses and authored multiple books including Cracking the Curiosity Code: The Key to Unlocking Human Potential. She’s the creator of the Curiosity Code Index assessment, which is the first and only assessment that determines the factors that inhibit curiosity.
Her groundbreaking work in the area of curiosity helps organizations to improve innovation, engagement and productivity. Her books are required reading in universities around the world. Some of the most respected names in leadership, including Steve Forbes, Keith Krach and Ken Fisher have endorsed it. She’s a highly sought-after keynote speaker who shared the stage with top speakers including Marshall Goldsmith, Martha Stewart, Daymond John, Travis Bradberry, Jeffrey Hayzlett and has been featured on Forbes, First for Women, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox. I’m so excited. Dr. Diane Hamilton, welcome to the show.
I am so excited to be here.
What’s the hubbub about curiosity? How did you get so curious about curiosity?
I’ve always been a curious kid. I was the why kid that drove the parents crazy. I’ve written other books in the past about personality assessments, reinventing your career and different types of things. I’ve always been curious about learning new things, but I hadn’t thought about writing a book about curiosity until a couple of years ago when I started the radio show. I’ve interviewed close to maybe 1,000 people in that show since I started it. Everybody I interviewed was so interesting and fascinating, the billionaires, CEOs and successful people. They all had this level of curiosity. They were all avid readers and they knew many different things. I still teach for several different universities. I compared that as a lot of my students didn’t embrace that same level of curiosity. They wanted you to answer stuff for them. They wouldn’t try to figure it out necessarily on their own. I started to think it’d be interesting to write a book about curiosity. As I was writing the book, I realized there are other books about curiosity, but they just all talk about curiosity. I wanted to go beyond that. I wanted to fix it.
That’s the biggest thing is there are a lot of books that tell you this is what’s great about this. Tell me how to do it. How do I class myself?
If you want to be innovative, you got to ask questions and explore. Click To Tweet That’s what I did. I thought you couldn’t do that without creating an assessment to measure where people are and what’s stopping them. There are assessments out there which are interesting to me. There’s the Big Five factors of personality and they have openness to experience, for example. There are other assessments from famous researchers, but they all measure how curious you are on a level, you’re super curious or you’re not so curious. I thought, “That was good to know, but it still doesn’t tell me how to fix it.” I created an assessment to determine the four factors that hold people back from being curious. I think that is why everybody’s focusing in so much on my research because there’s nothing like it. It’s fun because when people are on the show, they all talk about creativity or motivation, all these things. When I ask them what comes first, curiosity or whatever they’re talking about? They all say curiosity.
I love the whole sense of curiosity and I know that you talk a lot about this because it shifts our behavior. It shifts our performance. It makes us more detached so we’re not so impulsive and emotional about things. I talk about it a lot too and I think it’s powerful. I love what you talk about that it’s how to get past what’s holding us back, because that’s the key. It’s not just understanding how valuable curiosity is. How do we tap into it? How do we get past the behaviors where we are? What are those four behaviors that hold us back from our curiosity?
When I started to research this, I thought, “First, let me put a thread into LinkedIn to ask people what held them back.” One of the main things people were coming back with was fear. I wasn’t surprised to hear that. Nobody wants to ask the dumb question at that work meeting. You lean next to Bob and you go, “Bob, why don’t you ask?” Because you want Bob to look stupid, you don’t want to be the stupid one. It’s the thing where fear was something I wasn’t surprised about, but I knew there was more than just fear. People were giving me all these different ideas and I thought, “I want to create a valid assessment.” I hired psychometric statisticians and then they couldn’t even figure out how to do some of this. It was so complicated. For years, I sent out so many surveys. Thousands of people were studied and eventually we figured out. I did a lot of work with factor analysis and all the statistics to get it perfect for finding out what these four things were. The acronym is FATE. F was fear. It wasn’t surprising to me. A was assumptions, which is the voice in your head, “We’re not going to like. This is going to be boring. I’ve done it in the past. I’m not going to like it again. My family will make fun of me.” You’ve got all these things in your head that you tell yourself. T was technology and we under or over-rely on it.
That one I was curious about. We’d like you to talk a little bit more about that because I was like, “Technology, how is that keeping us from being curious? Maybe it adds to our curiosity.”
It can and I’ll touch on that. I’ll give you the last one which is the environment: our family, friends, social media, your peers, everybody you’ve ever known in your life. To get to the technology question, that was an interesting one to me too because I think that a lot of people rely on it too much. You ask Siri, your Echo or whoever you’re dealing with a question and you don’t think about the foundations behind things anymore because you want an immediate gratification answer.
We believe is that when we ask Siri or Echo that they come back with an answer and that we take it to be true, but there’s a lot of non-truths out there as well. Is that what you mean?
It’s the Wikipedia world. I have a lot of students who want to cite Wikipedia because they think everything on there is the answer to everything. It is not reliable all the time. It can be and a lot of times it is, but it isn’t always. That’s one of the things we teach students in my classes is how to do critical thinking, to analyze information, to be able to use technology to find peer-reviewed scholarly sources and all that stuff. Not to just go on face value, you have to look at multiple things and not just get it from one source. Technology is great and I use it to death, but I also want to know the foundation behind it. You can over or under-utilize anything. A lot of people will stay with the same cell phone or the same version or something because they just learned it and they don’t want to learn the next thing. It can be overwhelming to some extent to some people.
I give talks a lot of times about different generations in the workplace. The older generations freak out sometimes if you give them new technology because they’re afraid they’re going to break it. They don’t even try to figure it out. Crash your computer, you’re going to learn all kinds of things trying to fix it. I like that when you try to figure it out. You want to know the technology, but you want to know why the technology works. You don’t want just to take software that can run statistics without knowing what the statistics mean. There are all these other areas that it can lead to. Technology can be something that a lot of people avoid doing certain things with it or over-utilize it.
How do you find when people get this information to find out what’s holding them back for their curiosity? What do you find that people are learning most about themselves? How are they applying it?
I thought they would be quite different in the numbers, more fear, less this, more that. It was pretty even for the four areas. It wasn’t exact. Fear was pretty high. Some of them are very high and for some people and not for others, but overall they weren’t that different. I think what it does is it gives people the chance to look at some of these things that they didn’t even know were holding them back. There are 36 questions they take when they take the assessment. They get an immediate report just like if you took an emotional intelligence test or DiSC or MBTI. What it does is it shows you these 36 responses of how you came out. It opens up this like, “Maybe my family had an impact. Maybe my teachers couldn’t answer all the questions. Maybe I tell myself this is too difficult.” All these things you don’t even face on a day-to-day basis, now you’ve opened up this, “Maybe I need to look at this. Now that I know this, I can create an action plan.” It’s like a personal SWOT analysis. “How do I overcome this? What are my obstacles? What are my threats? How can I create an action plan that’s measurable to move forward?”
How do you measure curiosity? How do I measure the actions I’m taking to be more curious?
You can measure what’s holding you back. You’ve got your baseline measurements. Now you can determine, “I keep telling myself I’m not interested in certain topics,” for example. I can start exploring some of these topics. Maybe I used not to be interested in them and nobody’s saying that you’re going to love everything. I think we shut ourselves down from exploring this or that because in the past it wasn’t good. Some of it are baby steps. You go on to try reading this section of the paper and normally I would never even look at that section or I’m going to read a different book about this. You can reflect back. You can set goals for yourself every month. “I’m going to check how many of these different topics that I read this month.” You can quantify these things in a lot of different ways like that.
It’s like training habits like it might be the newspaper. You’re not interested so you don’t get into it. You’re going to challenge yourself in different areas to train your brain to open up, be more open and more curious.
That’s part of it and with fear some of it are baby steps. We train organizations. I certify people to give this CCI, consultants for example can go through this program. We train them on how to help employees go through their personal action plan to set these goals. Not unlike what you do maybe with an engagement survey. You’re not engaged. What can I do to be more engaged? You go through all these personal steps. We also have them do another exercise to help leaders for overall organization action plan. They create two action plans, a personal one for all their individual steps. Consultants find out what’s going on within the company. Maybe low engagement. Maybe innovation is a problem. Maybe people aren’t critical thinking, whatever their top issues are. In these training sessions, once we’ve worked on all individual curiosity-based issues, we work on the overall corporate problem.
It’s like when Disney went to their workers in their laundry and asked them, “How can we make your job better because we’re losing all of you and nobody’s staying do this job?” They got back simple answers that made them be able to make it better for them. That’s the same thing we’re doing with this. We’re giving back simple suggestions. Now that I understand about curiosity, what you can do to help me be more curious. This is what it would help me be more curious to help in innovation, if you would help me by doing this. Let’s say I figure giving presentations, maybe allow me to do one on something I like that I already feel comfortable doing. Give suggestions like that. This is what would make me be less fearful. A lot of leaders don’t even think to go to their employees for the solutions. They’re usually the ones who have some of the best ideas.
They don’t go to the employees for solutions. What I found in my leadership and coaching is that people don’t ask their customers either. In general, we are not curious enough. It speeds the collection of the best answers and the answers that we’re looking for without us trying to figure it out and assume that we know the answers.
I had a guy on my show, The Undercover Millennial, and he would go into organizations as a consultant and wear a pen that had a camera. They would hire him to do this and that. A lot of these leaders would say, “It changed my organization. I’m keeping up with everything,” and then he’d ask them, “Are you changing the way you lead people?” and they’d say, “No.” They all made these assumptions that everything should be the same and that I should lead people the way I always lead them. He would get out and ask people and with his camera, he record all this and show the leaders, block out their faces and all that.
You sometimes find answers from the strangest places. Click To Tweet They would be saying, “It’s awful here. The culture is this and that.” They had no idea because they never would do that. He felt that a lot of people would talk to him because he was a Millennial and Millennials felt comfortable talking to other Millennials. There’s some information and sometimes it’s harder to get because if you’re older, you’re talking to them, they may shut down a little bit. You have to find roundabout ways like that sometimes to get feedback. In these training sessions, they’re not talking right to the leader. They’re talking to the HR or the consultant person in a private way. All of their feedback would be going back anonymously.
They then feel safe to share whatever it is that they think.
It’s usually not what leaders think they think either.
We talked about all the benefits where we touched upon that other people are talking about the benefits. I would like for the readers, because this might be a new topic. They might go, “I never thought about curiosity at all.” By changing your behavior around curiosity, how does that affect performance? What areas do you see are increasing in performance and productivity?
A lot of it ties into a few areas, everything from creativity to emotional intelligence to communication to innovation and engagement.
It’s all of those things that make companies successful.
Look at it like this. You’re going to bake and you want to mix the ingredients. You’re mixing flour, eggs and water, whatever it is. You mix it together and put it in the oven. What happens? Nothing is going to happen if you don’t turn on the oven. The ingredients in the workplace are creativity, innovation, engagement, all of those things. We’re mixing them together. We know they’re important ingredients. The oven is curiosity. If you don’t turn on the oven, you don’t get cake. That’s the problem that we’re seeing. It definitely ties into a lot of this. When I talk about emotional intelligence, it’s very near and dear to me because I wrote my dissertation on it.
If you look at empathy, interpersonal skills and all these things, to empathize with other people, have good interpersonal communication and interpersonal skills, you have to ask questions. You have to listen. You have to do a lot of these things that require curiosity about the other person. I was into my research in perception too. Sometimes our perception is our reality and we don’t look outside. We need to realize everybody else sees it their way as well. Empathy is one of the hugest things that you can do in terms of building emotional intelligence skills. Yet if you don’t ask questions, if you’re not curious, chances are you’re not getting that empathy.
The whole idea of basing because it’s a skill that encompasses being curious. It encompasses all those things. It’s brilliant because it’s about making things simple. We talk about emotional intelligence, that sounds complex. There’s a lot that goes into that and so forth. The key to emotional intelligence could be curiosity?
I think it’s a big part. I had Daniel Goleman on my show who I studied all of his work for my research years ago when I did my research originally. No matter who I talked to, from Harvard I’ve had Francesca Gino on my show who wrote a great piece about curiosity for Harvard Business Review. I highly recommend reading that. All of them I’m asking, “Where does this all begin?” They all think it begins there. I thin even driving motivation. Daniel Pink’s book is great. Simon Sinek’s Find Your Why, Carol Dweck’s Mindset. I recommend reading all of those books. It all begins with curiosity. That’s why I was so stunned that there was no way to measure this in any other way other than how curious you were or not. It was a good challenge for me.
I loved it going through all the different scenarios, trying to figure out how to do this. It was a lot of fun. I got to talk to a lot of interesting people about this because consultants love this because they’d given a DiSC to the death. They’ve given Myers-Briggs and they’re like, “I want to be relevant.” This is the time, everybody wants to be innovative. If you want to be innovative, you got to ask questions, you got to explore. Some companies like the Kodaks and the Blockbusters are afraid to give up their old model because it works. Marshall Goldsmith was right, “What got you here won’t get you there.” If you’re afraid to explore, you’re going to end up not relevant anymore. That’s why this is so important.
I’m excited about you bringing this to corporations and to people because as we raise the level of emotional intelligence, then we improve our relationships. Relationships are everything. I want to relate this to a lot of the entrepreneurs who might be reading this. Improving those relationships in the organization makes people collaborate better together. It makes people more innovative. Thinking about the marketplace with more curiosity than the #MeToo, here’s how I show up in the marketplace. That opens up that blue ocean thinking about, “What are we missing in the marketplace? Who are we not capturing? What is a different way to look at things? How can we speed things up? How could we offer something different?” It gets them out of that box, to think outside the box, and they can apply that in many different areas of their business.
It’s important for every group. I gave a talk, I think it was 50,000 project managers. That’s a huge problem for them to think outside the box because sometimes they come up with their plans, but they don’t get the feedback first. They’re looking in the same old places trying to fix things. Their whole thing is to have contingency plans so they have to think in a curious way. If they’re not going out and asking for feedback from different areas, you sometimes find answers from the strangest places. I wrote about it in my book. There’s this hospital in England, they were having unusually high number of casualties after transferring patients from the OR to recovery.
They did all their normal ways of contingency plans for how they handled things. They tried everything and people were still dying. They were still having problems. A couple of the leaders were watching a race car event one night and they watched them take apart the Formula One race car. The guys put it back together, everything was perfect. They’re like, “How can they do that? We can’t just move a patient from here to here?” They asked them to come, see what they’re doing and talk to them to see if they could help. They gave them a few suggestions and they improved their efficiency by 50%. You think about how we talk about thinking outside your cubicle or outside your silo. This is outside your organization, outside your industry thinking is what we need to do.
I get so many different ideas. I love working with people in different industries because you can cross-pollinate. Something that works in another industry brings new ideas, fresh looks and approaches to another. That’s valuable. What’s your definition of productivity?
That’s an interesting question because each organization finds it a little bit differently. Some of it is sales and units sold, some of it is how much money they’re saving based on communication-based issues. There are a million different ways.
In an earlier radio show, I asked every single guest and not a single guest gave me the same answer.
I’m on target by saying there are a million different answers.
To me, it’s based on what your job is. In sales, if you sold X units last year, then if you sold more units this year, you’re more productive obviously. It can be bottom-line sales in certain industries and certain situations. A lot of it, the people I deal with, are consultants and speakers. For them, that’s how they measure their productivity. You have to think in terms of bottom-line what your value is to shareholders, stakeholders and everybody that you’re dealing with. What’s valuable to one person’s perception is different. For the salesperson, it’s all how many widgets they sold. I think it’s all based on your perception, which position you’re in, how you would define that.
I was thinking that you were going to come from a curiosity perspective and that the more you implement and embrace curiosity, the more it’s going to show up in all of those bottom-line areas.
I agree with that, but I don’t know if I would say that’s the overall definition. People all define it so differently, but no matter how you define it, curiosity will help it.
You had done a number of work and projects around personality types. Have you seen any correlation with personality type and curiosity?
I haven’t done any studies as far as comparing for extroverts or introverts. In the data as far as gender and all that, the women came in a little higher initially. We have some data out there, but since it’s just launched, I’m hesitant to give, “This is what all women or all men or all extroverts or all introverts.” You’d have to do an actual clinical study on it. I’m not sure what personality traits you’re considering. Do you think about the DISC personality or do you think about emotional intelligence?
What's valuable to one person’s perception is different for another. Click To Tweet It’s all of them. I’m curious what correlations, but I get it. You’re collecting more and more data.
When I studied emotional intelligence and its correlation with sales performance, you have to give the emotional intelligence test and then you have to have the sales results to compare. You have to do a study like that where they would take Curiosity Code Index and then they could compare it with their sales results and do correlation studies. It would take research a lot of time to go through all that. I think all those studies should be done. The only research that I’ve had formerly peer-reviewed published is how the assessment was created and that’s out there. It’s like ScienceDaily and all the other magazines. They have it all out there peer-reviewed. What we looked at there was how to create the assessment, how we validated it and all of that. All the correlation studies, I’m excited to see what they can be. That will be fun. I’ll probably doing all of them, but I hope a lot of researchers are.
You’re kicking it. It’s relevant and I’m sure that there will be much more coming out in that arena.
I think it’s going to be a hot topic for a long time because innovation is everywhere and everything now. Everybody’s worried about AI taking over jobs. If people are disengaged, we know because of Gallup that less than a third of the workplace is engaged. It’s the worst numbers ever. We’re losing $500 billion a year. How many times have we all heard that? If everybody knows these numbers, everybody wants to fix that. We have to look at what would help with engagement? Wouldn’t it help if people were aligned to jobs that they cared about, liked and were interested in? How can we do that if we’re not even asking people or they’re allowing them to explore things? The thing is that’s the key because people are going to be moved, not only manual labor-type jobs, but some of these other higher-level jobs. People are going to get displaced and we know that. If we could start asking questions, allowing people to explore and find out what they would rather be doing. Maybe they just got this job and they didn’t want to do it and they’re putting up with it. I want to use this to help people find what they are passionate about so that we improve engagement and get them into jobs that are more appropriate.
It’s a key issue that needs to be resolved. I think based on what I’ve seen and talking to people that the fact that people are so busy and leaders are even more working on this disengagement or they’re more engaged in many different things. Maybe there are fewer resources and that’s why people seem to be busier or were impulsive and distracted and that’s part of what adds to it. It was making me think that curiosity might be going down maybe with technology, but also with the whole distraction, busy and the challenge that people are in with this tug of war with time. That their excuse is we don’t have time to ask questions. We don’t have time to focus on studies and that type of leadership. Do you hear that at all?
We hear bandwidth, “We don’t have time to give another test. What if we train people and then they leave?” All of those what-if questions. What if you don’t train them and they stay and they’re not very good? There’s the opportunity cost. What if you don’t take time to give them the assessment and develop them? What if you don’t let people ask the questions? What if you end up being the Blockbusters and Kodaks because of that? I think a lot of it is time management skills and ability. It’s a lot of the things that you help people with to be more efficient, effective and all that needs to be worked on. A lot of people don’t ask questions. How can I be more efficient? How can I do this a different way? That falls down to curiosity.
When I was in sales, they had contests. I was super competitive. They’d have us dial for dollars basically, they threw you the phonebook and you had to dial for all day long. They would track your phone time on their computers of how much time you spent on the phone. In an eight-hour day, they’d like you to do two to four hours, it was somewhere in there. I was always like four hours because you had all the other stuff you had to do outside the phone so you couldn’t spend the whole day on the phone. No one got more than two hours and I’d be always around four hours. They’re like, “How are you doing this?” because no one else could do it. It came naturally to me to type my notes of what I was saying while I was talking to them. If I got off the phone and typed later, it will be twice as long. I guess it wasn’t intuitive to other people to do that. Some things are not intuitive to people that they just think, “I have to do them separately” or maybe they can’t multitask as well.
That’s a great point is that things that some people find intuitive, other people do not and we take that for granted.
They say don’t multitask, but I’m the queen of multitasking, but only when it’s things that you can multitask. It’s not like taking a science exam where you can’t do anything else but do that. If I could type and talk at the same time and it doesn’t interrupt those things, I multitask all the time. I teach for several universities and sometimes I’m grading different things all at the same time because I have to wait for the computer, the hourglass going round and round, I’m like, “Why am I going to wait for that when I could be doing this?” Where other people sit there and stare at the hourglass. Why are you staring at the hourglass when you could do something else?
I definitely think there’s a time for multitasking and it depends on what the tasks are and things like that, but we do know that the studies say that it’s not good. As a productivity person, I do not want to encourage anybody who’s reading to multitask. Thank you so much for being here. I’ve enjoyed the conversation around curiosity. I think it’s a brilliant concept and basis for everything. Where can people find out more information about you and take the index?
Thank you first of all for having me on the show. This was so much fun. I would say the best way to reach me is my website DrDianeHamilton.com. You can get directly to it from my site, but you can also go to CuriosityCode.com to take the index. Either one will get you there, but if you go to DrDianeHamilton.com, you can also go find the radio show. You can find my consulting, speaking and everything else I do. The curiosity is right at the top, you can go right there. The book, the Curiosity Code Index and the certification training is there. If they do the certification training, they get five hours of SHRM recertification. That’s nice for anybody trying to get their HR credits in. Everything is available there and you find me on social media @DrDianeHamilton everywhere.
If people were aligned to jobs that they cared about, liked, and were interested in, there would be more engagement. Click To Tweet Thank you so much for being here.
You’re welcome. Thank you for having me on the show.
Thank you all for being here. You were curious and it paid off. Continue practicing being curious and go check out Dr. Diane Hamilton’s content. It’s amazing and it’s definitely going to open your mind, change your behavior and improve your performance. Thank you.
- Dr. Diane Hamilton
- Cracking the Curiosity Code: The Key to Unlocking Human Potential
- Curiosity Code Index
- Find Your Why
- @DrDianeHamilton on Instagram
About Dr. Diane Hamilton
Dr. Diane Hamilton is the Founder and CEO of Tonerra, a consulting and media-based business. She is also a nationally syndicated radio host, keynote speaker, and the former MBA Program Chair at the Forbes School of Business. She has a Ph. D. in Business Management. She has taught more than 1000 business courses and authored multiple books, including Cracking the Curiosity Code: The Key to Unlocking Human Potential. She is the creator of the Curiosity Code Index® assessment, which is the first and only assessment that determines the factors that inhibit curiosity.
Her groundbreaking work in the area of curiosity helps organizations improve innovation, engagement, and productivity. Her books are required reading in universities around the world; some of the most respected names in leadership, including Steve Forbes, Keith Krach, and Ken Fisher have endorsed it. She is a highly sought-after keynote speaker who has shared the stage with top speakers including Marshall Goldsmith, Martha Stewart, Daymond John, Travis Bradberry, and Jeffrey Hayzlett, and has been featured on Forbes, First for Women, ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox.
Diane is an experienced leader, serving on multiple BOAs including Docusign, RadiusAI, Global Mentoring Network, and LeaderKid Academy. Her experience on boards included working alongside top CEOs from Adobe, McDonald’s, General Motors, Yahoo!, NASA, North Face, Oracle, Salesforce, Cisco, United Airlines, Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary, and many other top brands.
Diane has a history of award-winning performance; the creator of multiple behavioral assessments and a Forbes brand publishing course; decades of top-performance within billion-dollar organizations; developer of partnerships; a seasoned professional within education, software, banking, real estate, and pharmaceuticals; an expert in sales, marketing, online training, assessments, curiosity, perception, innovation, culture, HR, engagement, EI, soft skills, networking, influence, and social media.
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