Cats are curious creatures. Perhaps you’ve seen the saying that distinguishes dogs from cats: “Dogs have owners; cats have staff.”
Well, my wife, Kathie, and I proudly serve our Tonkinese cat named Winston. Now 4 years old, he is still “kitten curious” about so many things from a bump in the night to a cardinal landing on the window sill.
We of the human species are, like our feline friends, insatiably curious. We want to know far more than is actually knowable; we ask questions of our existence that often have no answers. Surfing channels one evening, I stumbled on the show How It’s Made and have been a fan ever since. I’ve learned how they make tractor trailer rigs, golf balls, frozen pancakes, recreational vehicles and so much more. Like you, I’m simply curious.
Our clients have a curiosity about so much that has to do with how best to manage their lives. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, they want, and perhaps need, to peek behind the curtain taking in how all the gears and levers of an ever-complicated world work. They are curious, but often do not ask questions because they do not want to feel either unsophisticated or ignorant when it comes to their wealth.
If unchecked, we can play a high-level cat-and-mouse game where gnawing questions, fears and insecurities tease an already vulnerable mind.
How do advisers create curiosity in their clients, helping them feel more confident in asking questions? How do we encourage those we serve to push back when they really do not understand a term or concept? Who do we respond to their curiosity with respect and even delight? How do we shape what I call a “climate of curiosity” with people that build new bridges of communication?
I discuss this at length in the book mentioned below, but here I offer three simple steps.
First, you must tap your own sense of curiosity before you can create curiosity in anyone else. What do you want to know or know better? Are there concepts where your head may nod while inside your mind is unsure?
Find at least one facet of your work that interests you and then learn that one thing well. It may be a chart or a two-page article on the energy renaissance in our country, but go to school on that one thing where curiosity knocks on the door of your mind.
Then find a way to share what you have learned in conversation with someone else. Consider using a visually interesting chart or graph you can show someone. In the course of a visit say, “The other day, my curiosity about ‘the cloud’ got the best of me. Here’s what I learned.” People hear the word “cloud” and every head nods, but may not have a clue what it means or how it works. Show your knowledge by first admitting you didn’t know much about a topic. Then share what you have learned in a way that shows the learning journey you took.
Finally, weave curiosity into most if not all of your conversations. It’s OK to say, “I need to learn more about that topic and will back to you soon.” We teach best when we lead people down the road that begins with our own curiosity. In doing so, we affirm the curiosity “gene” and become learners with our friends and acquaintances.
There is no better way to stimulate conversation and grow intellectually as part an advisory practice. When you create curiosity and learn with the people you work and interact with, you will go with them to new places brimming with new opportunities to serve them better.
The writer, who lives in Augusta, is the author of Cadence of Care: Imagining a Transformed Advisor-Client Experience and can be followed on his blog at www.timowings.com.