Case Study: Curiosity killed the Cat – or did it?

Over my years of coaching I have met a lot of clients who have come to me for help in a variety of areas, from looking for a promotion, to feeling demotivated and wanting a change. Others are looking to improve team dynamics within their division to board members wanting to communicate better with their colleagues.


I want that promotion but everything I do seems to be overlooked’


In each of these situations, the individuals are smart, intelligent and ambitious professionals who have a strong desire to succeed and to contribute to their businesses. Most want more than their current circumstance and intellectually, they know that they need to do something to bring about change. Yet, they are unable to bring about the transformation they are require. In fact, as is the habit of human nature, we tend to keep repeating actions and habits that have proven favourable in the past, possibly doing even more of them more frequently, in order to keep producing winning results. The problem is that more isn’t always more, unless it’s a fabulous pair of shoes or ice cream. The strategy undertaken was relevant for a particular time and situation but the circumstances today might be similar but are not exactly the same. We have all heard this quote being attributed to Einstein:


‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results’                                             Albert Einstein (not confirmed)



The Expert


As with all coaching mandates, each situation is different and everyone’s personalities are unique. However, something I have noticed about every client is that the longer they have worked at a particular role, the more of an expert they become in that area. To the point where they could turn up hungover and tired and could still do their jobs with their eyes closed, per Patricia Benner’s Clinical Model of Skill Acquisition (1984). Not a bad place to be huh?


‘The Expert operates from a deep understanding of the total situation’

           Benner, P (1984)


And yet…


The Expert now assumes he/she has ‘deep understanding of the total situation’ and therein lies the problem. She may conclude that by doing her job really well, that’s all she needs to get the promotion. He presumes to know what his fellow team members are thinking and so continues to behave as before, possibly ordering them around even more. She thinks that the board members will agree that following the same strategy will yield improved returns for their P&L.


By not thinking curiously about oneself and one’s actions, as well as being curious about the thought processes, feelings and behaviours of others, things will not change. Making assumptions (‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’) and preconceived judgments about people will merely keep you in a state of stagnation and worse still, a deterioration of relations.


Take the lady looking for a promotion. Her bosses are impressed that she is doing her work superbly but they are not incentivized to promote her. She has not shown any interest in doing anything different than for her current role. By portraying a more inquisitive outlook to leadership eg taking a greater interest in the wider organization, launching new initiatives for the benefit of her team and the firm, networking with others internally and externally, she is demonstrating that she is more than her current role. The first step to this is curiosity.


When there is a communication breakdown such as in the scenario above with the board members, the CEO assumed that he knew what his colleagues were thinking and that they would continue with the strategy as has been for the last five years. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. However, your results will be the same, if not worse. Your shareholders are expecting better and more. Not more of the same.


‘I think we need a 12-step group for non-stop talkers. We’re going to call it On and On Anon.’ (We’re curious only when we’re listening and genuinely interested in understanding what the other person means – not when we’re talking).                                                                                                         –Paula Poundstone


Curiosity leads to innovation and change.

Virtually all entrepreneurs will tell you that they came about their ideas due to their innate curiosity – eager to offer a unique and different experience, or to improve a legacy and sluggish system. When accessing successful CEOs and entrepreneurs, one of the items most common to all is that of ‘Openness to Experience’ (Big 5 Personality Traits – Goldberg, L.R 1993). One of the tools I use most whilst helping my coaching clients, is curiosity. The more inquisitive and less judgmental I am, the more I will get from my clients. By not being wedded to preconceived hypotheses, the better I can help the individual self-reflect, change their assumptions and take the necessary steps to moving forward.


For most, people have honed their beliefs and values over several decades. It takes a lot to change this ‘expertise’ of themselves. Instilling a sense of curiosity in thought process is a step in the right direction. All changes of mindset, even seemingly insignificant ones, will reap new habits and big changes.  And while you’re there, think of all the new, exciting and different things you’ll learn on that journey! This is the objective of the coaching session.




#tbt #casestudies #curiosity #transformationalchange #executivecoaching #thrivewithkaren