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The PPS Value of always staying curious


Thu, 10/06/2021 - 14:24
Izak Smit

One of our three values at PPS is being curious. This supports a learning culture, an innovative spirit, a licence to question and to experiment, to improve. Here are some thoughts around this.

Try to let go of “being right”. This is difficult, because it is in our human nature to be proven right, isn’t it? But let us try to be curious instead. Let us replace defensiveness with genuine interest. We might just see something from an angle that we have not entertained previously. Be open to being surprised, to discover something that we did not know before.

First seek to understand before being understood. This is one of the seven habits of highly effective people. Why? Because it saves so much time. We often tend to rush in and try to fix things with good advice. But we often fail to take the time to diagnose and understand the situation first, realising only later, after wasting much time and energy, that we are climbing the wrong tree. This principle is key to effective interpersonal communication. And communication is the most important skill in life. It starts with emphatic listening, being really curious to understand the other position. When we really, deeply understand each other, to such an extent that we can be an advocate of the “other” side, then we open the door to creative solutions and third alternatives. Our differences are then no longer stumbling blocks, but stepping stones to synergy.

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Zoom out when necessary. If we are really curious, we would try to understand not only the micro detail, but also the macro bigger perspective. Sometimes a solution might make sense in a smaller environment, but not in a wider domain. Do not win the battle and then lose the war. At times, give away to get more. Take a broader view.

Be open to change. Almost everything changes over time. Life changes. Circumstances change. We change. What made sense in the past might not be so great today or in the future. At times we need to let go and move on, to new solutions, to new ways of doing things.

Grow. Have the courage to invite new learning and challenges that take you to the edge of your comfort zone. An interesting thing then happens: your comfort zone grows. Learning and challenges that might have been daunting in the past, become trivial.

Become comfortable with failure. This is another difficult one. Nobody likes to fail. But new discoveries and breakthroughs can usually only happen after many failures. It helps if those failures are in a confined and safe space, one cannot bet the whole franchise. The lean-start-up way of going about it is to continuously learn what customers really want with small experiments, testing your vision continuously, adapting and adjusting and constantly innovating before it is too late. Small failures in controlled spaces validate learning, assisting you to discern between persevering and pivoting.   

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What good is an idea if it just remains a good idea? Good ideas need action to make dents in the world. Try, experiment, fail, adjust, try again. And again. Then change the world.

Make space for new learning, as it needs slack. Learning can only happen if there is capacity for it to fill. Running at breakneck speed, being very busy, is not conducive to experimenting and learning. Reserve time and space for it.   

Curiosity should be a lifelong trait. One of the best definitions of becoming old is if the hunger for new learning disappears. That can happen at any point in life, and sadly, for many it happens when they are still very young. Old people in their forties and fifties are usually those who have stopped learning, who are set in their ways, who have not stayed curious. And many young eighty-somethings have managed to remain extremely curious about life. Stay young by staying curious.

Then, as we all know, learning often takes a bit of effort and energy. This makes it a vulnerable endeavour which can easily be bumped by other things. Strengthen it by vesting good habits. Habits take some time to vest, typically a few weeks or even months. But once it is vested, the discipline comes automatically. It may be the discipline to read, to listen to recordings, to attend classes. Once it is a habit, it sticks.   

So, to summarise, here are ten guiding principles around our value of remaining curious:

  1. Let go of “being right”. Choose curiosity instead.
  2. First seek to understand before being understood.
  3. Zoom out at times and take a broader view.
  4. Be open to change. Life changes. Circumstances change. You change. Know what to grit and what to quit.
  5. Have the courage to invite new learning that takes you to the edge of your comfort zone.
  6. Become comfortable with failure.
  7. Don’t let a good idea just remain a good idea.  
  8. Make space, as learning can only happen if there is capacity for it.
  9. Curiosity should be a lifelong trait.
  10. Strengthen learning by vesting it as a good habit.   

May we enjoy our learning journeys. Stay young, stay curious, stay students, and may PPS in its spirit and DNA remain a young eighty-year-old startup!

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