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Ep 465: Curiosity At Work


Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talent; I am only passionately curious”. I like this quote so much that I use the phrase “Passionately Curious” as the tagline for my consulting business. So you can imagine my delight then when I came across a book on workplace curiosity written by Stefaan van Hooydonk, the founder of The Global Curiosity Institute, who is my guest this week.

A former Chief Learning Officer, Stefaan has done some pioneering work on the science behind curiosity and why improving the skill of curiosity is essential in the modern world of work, both at an individual and organizational level.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The story behind the Global Curiosity Institute

• Intentional curiosity

• Why and how you can train curiosity

• The importance of curiosity to organizations

• Measuring curiosity on an individual and organizational basis

• Creating a curious culture

• Awareness, Intentionality and Measurement

• The importance of learning something new

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.


Matt Alder (0s):
Just before we start the show, a quick message to say that I need your help. Whether you are a long term listener or you literally just found us, I would be incredibly grateful if you could go to and fill out a very short survey about this podcast. It won’t take longer than two minutes of your time and will be incredibly helpful to me as I develop recruiting future into 2023. Just to recap, the website address is and it will take just two minutes of your time To complete the survey, go on, press pause, and do it right now.

Matt Alder (1m 2s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 465 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. Albert Einstein once said, I have no special talent. I’m only passionately curious. Now, I like this quote so much that I actually use the phrase passionately curious as the tagline for my consulting business. You can imagine my delight when I came across a book on workplace curiosity written by Stephan Van Hoyk, the founder of the Global Curiosity Institute, who is my guest this week, a former chief learning officer, Stephan has done some pioneering work on the science behind curiosity and why improving the skill of curiosity is essential in the modern world of work, both at an individual and organizational level.

Matt Alder (1m 56s):
So I hope you’ll embrace your own curiosity and keep listening to hear my conversation with Stephan. Hi Stefan and welcome to the podcast.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (2m 5s):
Thanks, man. Thanks for having me.

Matt Alder (2m 7s):
Oh, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Stefaan van Hooydonk (2m 13s):
Yes, Stefaan van Hooydonk. I’m the founder of the Global Curiosity Institute and recently the author of the Work Based Curiosity Manifesto. Before that, I was a serial chief learning Officer, you could say for many companies, and in the beginning of my career, I did some really interesting work in investment consulting in the far East. Married to the same person, still as a way back four kids, and recently I also started engaging myself in permaculture. I bought a piece of land of 20,000 square meters and I’m building a food forest on top of it in wall with diversity and stuff. So it’s a, a big curious project, that one.

Matt Alder (2m 55s):
Wow. So yes, curiosity, I’m obviously very curious to find out more, but tell us your story. How did you get to the point where you started an institute about curiosity?

Stefaan van Hooydonk (3m 6s):
Well, I think I’ve been a curious person, like many of us for pretty much all my life, and I’m really grateful that my parents allowed me to be, to be curious and to explore all the time. Now in my role as chief learning officer, the beauty with chief learning officer role is that you’re in this neutral position in an organization and you’re, you’re helping people, you’re coaching people, you’re mentoring people from a far end, from close, and what I’ve noticed that some people actually never needed any learning. I ended up calling them A players and these people were on top of their game. They were reading all the time. They were asking stupid questions.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (3m 49s):
They were not afraid to get out of their comfort zone and to explore something completely new. So they were not tied to their title or to their past expertise. They were willing to explore new expertise. They were not only getting into their own area of specializations, but they were learning broadly, and then I thought, wow, this is great. How can we make sure that everybody becomes like that? Because I realized that only the minority of of people say 10, 15, 20% of the people in the organization are like that A players. Then we have our B players, people that actually they want to grow, they want to learn and but something, and it is as if they’ve lost something out of their rock sack since their youth maybe.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (4m 42s):
I assigned that the difference between these A players and B players was intentional curiosity. It’s not just curiosity, but really intentional focused curiosity. I thought, Is it possible to train this? I kind started researching positive psychology. I was also looking at the good work from Carol Dweck where she and positive psychology actually have proven that you can change habits and mindsets, something that we sometimes forget. I did this pilot in, in my last company, Cognizant, and there was kind a big pilot, 15,000 people, and we trained him for only 45 minutes. Well, the notion of curiosity and how to get better, and we talked, talked about neuroplasticity, that it’s possible to change, and we gave people some strategies and probably very important I thought afterwards was that we invited people to share what they had learned with others and managers to share it with their team.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (5m 42s):
Anything that resonated, and then three months later we checked in with people kind of how did this session resonate? What we found is that the majority of people actually told us and gave us feedback that they were starting to look at the world slightly differently or more than slightly differently, and I said, whoa, this is great, we didn’t expect that. Such a big impact from just 45 minutes, and then one year later our analytics team ran some numbers and they found that for those people that had said that the world had changed for them, their learning hours in the company had jumped from 25, which was the company average to 43.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (6m 28s):
I said, this is too good to be true and I realized so little research had been done in this area, basically left my cushy job and I started the institute and I said, I want to contribute, to research,, to leadership, to companies, to professionals all around the world and maybe also to students and teachers and other people to explore curiosity and here we are.

Matt Alder (6m 55s):
There’s so much there. Such an interesting story just to sort of unpack it a little bit and sort of dive into those areas in a bit more depth. First of all, so from what you’ve seen, and I think, you’ve kind of answered this to a certain extent already, but I’d be interested in your thoughts around the details. Why is curiosity so important to organizations?

Stefaan van Hooydonk (7m 18s):
We have these love hate relationship with curiosity and what we’ve seen, if we compare the 20th century and the 21st century in the 20th century we didn’t have so much change, and for instance, we can compare the Marriot Hotel Group and Airbnb for a second. The Marriot Hotel Group took them about 80 plus years to about 700,000 beds all around the world. I think it’s about something like close to a hundred countries. Then you have Airbnb. So Marriott is 20th century type of a big conglomerate company and very successful at it.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (7m 59s):
Then we have Airbnb and they got as many rooms in just four years and they’re present in double the amount of countries, and their market capitalization is almost double than Marriott. So I think that’s a good way to describe how for me, the 20th century was all about big conglomerates, scalability, efficiency, you needed to have building and etc. In the 21st century is completely different. It’s a century of ideas, and in the 20th century paradigm, if the world around you is not changing so much, you don’t need to change yourself and therefore you don’t need to be curious about what this next thing that you are changing towards could be or should be.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (8m 54s):
That’s why, for instance, an Eastman Kodak could run their business model and their technology for almost a hundred of years because the environment in it, in the photography world wasn’t really changing much. Then we have the 21st century and Eastman Kodak, we know exactly what happened, They are small shadow of what they used to be, because they lost this desire, this managerial arrogance. They were not ready to open up to the world. They weren’t curious to alternatives. They didn’t allow their people to ask basic questions, and even if those people ask basic questions, the organization wasn’t ready to do something with those questions.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (9m 42s):
All the people that I’ve been talking to, all executives, they’re telling me 21st century is so different, the century of ideas. We just came out of covid and we need different questions and we need different answers to the questions we had already. That requires a huge cultural change, and that’s why the importance of curiosity is so important. Are we celebrating curiosity in our organization or are we stifling it?

Matt Alder (10m 9s):
I find sort of really interesting about the work that you do is that you’re effectively applying science to this. You’re applying science to something that we’ve always had curious people. People have always thought that’s important, but it’s kind of never been measured before, has it? And you’ve developed a way of measuring curiosity, haven’t you?

Stefaan van Hooydonk (10m 29s):
Yes. Interesting. When we talk about curiosity is one of those words that everybody has an opinion about. Everybody has a vague definition, and many people think it’s this untouchable thing, this vague thing, and what I found is actually you can measure curiosity and you can measure curiosity in two directions. First of all, you can measure the individual curiosity, and I measure it and I’ve got this tool online, it’s free now in eight languages and a ninth language is coming where I measure the three object of curiosity. First of all, curiosity about the world, how curious am I about? And that’s typically the normal definition that we often have about curiosity.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (11m 11s):
It is child looking at the world, exploring things and Einstein exploring the physics of the universe, dealing with things outside of us. The next dimension is empathic curiosity, are you interested in others which actually follows different rules than the the curiosity about the world, for instance, others, they talk back at us and there’s different dynamics. The third one is probably the more difficult one is how interested am I in myself, my values, my purpose, my superpowers, etc., and also my beliefs and my limiting beliefs and my biases.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (11m 50s):
So that’s the individual. I measure that through a questionnaire, which I created and worked with a number of PhDs to help me pull this together, the best practices of service that were already available, and we added some more dimensions to it. I have another diagnostic, which is really interesting is I’m a great believer that curiosity, and I’ve also proven this, and curiosity is not only linked to individuals, curiosity is also influenced by the environment.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (12m 30s):
If you work for a micromanaging boss or if you work for an organization that stifles curiosity or encourages curiosity, you are going to show up more or less curious. I’m also having these diagnostics now that is checking, analyzing or computing the environmental aspect to curiosity. How much is your organization allowing curiosity through its culture, through its climate, through its processes and through its practices. I measure things like psychological safety or innovation orientation or acceptance of failure and a number of other dimensions in that and that’s actually giving great baselines to organizations, both the individuals as well as the organization.

Matt Alder (13m 18s):
Now, I want to dig into that in a bit more detail in a second, but I would recommend that everyone takes the individual curiosity test. Because I took it, I got 85%, and I was quite disappointed actually, I wanted score more highly, but that doesn’t really surprise me because my job is to ask people questions and find things out. So it was just a really interesting exercise to do. In terms of what you were saying there about workplaces and what workplaces can do to promote curiosity within their employees and also what some workplaces do to actually sort of block it or put up barriers to it. What are the key drivers?

Matt Alder (13m 58s):
You sort of mentioned a couple of them there. Tell us a bit more about it.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (14m 2s):
At the highest level, those companies who embrace curiosity in their corporate values, they have a head start and you have companies like Say Yes or Barilla or, or Nike or there’s number of other companies that have that. So that’s, that’s a first starting point, how kind of embracing it at the highest level. Then in terms of organizational practices, or maybe let’s, let’s say with McKinsey for a second. On values, they have this value which they call the obligation to dissent. So it’s not only okay to have a different point of view or to be curious and to to share that with others. You have an obligation if you want to make a career in the company.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (14m 43s):
So they’ve institutionalized basically the challenging the status quo and speaking up, even if you’re amongst more seniors, of course when you’re speaking up it needs to be backed by data, but it’s okay to do so it’s not like what the old Microsoft had where we have a know it old culture and because you’re a specialist, so because you’re a manager you’re suddenly have all the knowledge but on the contrary, we should have a learn it all culture, and that’s al close to the new culture that Satya Nadela introduced when he joined in 2014. That’s an important one. But we also have some other, some other really great example, for instance, Google, they have their 20% projects, 20% of your time you can spend on meaningful things and not the meaningful things that your boss thinks that are meaningful, but what you think is meaningful to work on, and you can tinker away in your company’s time or Intuit is very great example, they have failure parties, they celebrate failure and they give awards and they have parties when something goes wrong, and that’s a great way of telling people, guys and girls, it’s okay to mess up because curiosity is not always going to lead to successful outcomes, but potentially to successful outcomes and if we fail we’ve learned something.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (16m 6s):
Also for instance, in the learning and development side, there’s beautiful examples too that companies, for instance, Fizcars might be a good one, they’ve changed their leadership development completely. They originally had leadership development, MBAs teaching people bit about marketing, about finance, a bit about kind of helping these managers to become broad managers, and they said, no, we’re going to change course here and they said, instead of having these outside in thinking, being poured into the manager’s heads, why would we just change it and turn it around and create an inside out thinking?

Stefaan van Hooydonk (16m 46s):
The big piece of their management development, the biggest piece actually is helping managers to become more in tune with their personal values, with their personal purpose. To learn more about their insight and what is my backbone look like, because the stronger that is and the more it’s articulated and the more you’re aware of this, the more you can become a better version of yourself. That’s all by asking some basic questions, why and what if and challenging the stage is cool, which I think is they’re, they’re all onto something.

Matt Alder (17m 30s):
Yes, absolutely. I suppose to pick up on that point, earlier in the conversation you mentioned neuroplasticity and basically people are kind of improving their learning skills and improving their curiosity. How can people who are listening improve? What can you do to improve your curiosity on an individual basis? For example, I scored 85% on your assessment. How do I get a bigger score?

Stefaan van Hooydonk (17m 57s):
It’s a great question, but I’m not a fan of the do these five things and you are proven to be a better person. Everybody’s different, but I have three suggestions. One, and I coin it in the word AIM. A stands for awareness, I stands for intentionality and M stands for measurement. Now, if we’re, if we’re looking at the first one awareness, the opposite for me nowadays of curiosity is conformity. Maybe we can talk about the different dimension of conformity, but basically awareness is where do I fit on the scale between conformity and curiosity? How much do I stretch myself towards the world, towards others and towards myself?

Stefaan van Hooydonk (18m 42s):
And in terms of being curious, am I working for a curious organization? Am I part of a curious herd in my family, in my friend’s group, those type of things. Am I learning new things? That’s one thing that we can think about awareness and once we are a bit aware, then we can decide on the intentionality, what I want to do about it. Do I put in place some rituals, even daily rituals? Do I put time to learn, time to be curious in my agenda?

Stefaan van Hooydonk (19m 22s):
A very good example for me was given to me by a Buddhist monk, and I used it in a different context, but I used it in the context now of curiosity. When you’re brushing your teeth in the morning, maybe you can tell yourself or you can invite yourself, let me be more curious about the world, more curious about others and more curious about myself for the day, and when you’re brushing your teeth in the evening, you can play back your little movie for the day and see how you did. Nobody’s perfect, but at least by doing these daily rituals, you can move your mind into this proactive intentional mode. Curiosity is like a muscle.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (20m 3s):
The more you practice it, the more you get curious and the more you build knowledge and the more you become good at it, but also if you don’t practice it then atrophy sets in. The third one is measurement, and then I’ll come to maybe some specific strategies. Measurement can be launched by kind of doing things like taking my diagnostic. I’m also launching two weeks from now a professional version of the diagnostic specifically for professionals. While the first one that you did is, is more generic with much more strategies and things like that. It doesn’t have to be qualitative, it also be quantitative. People can ask the people around them, whether it’s bosses or whether it’s children or parents or spouses or colleagues.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (20m 47s):
How did I show up in this meeting in this week? Did I show up with judgment or did it show up with curiosity and see what the feedback is. I think one of the most beautiful questions we can ever ask others and is how did I do as your son, partner, colleague, boss, employee, and then give it silence and let the other person answer that question. That’s a great way to measuring partly your curiosity. If you’re talking about some specific strategies about curiosity, about the world, learn something new.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (21m 29s):
This food forest I’m creating now, I’m learning so much because it’s completely new for me and I’m learning, I didn’t know how to plant a tree, how deep the whole should be, how wide. Get into some new habit, get into some new hobby, explore something new and that’s a great way to open your mind. Maybe next time you go to a bookstore, buy the book next to the book you want to buy and surprise yourself. That’s a great surprise and fun, play is a great part of this curiosity, with curiosity of others, Abraham Lincoln had this great saying, he said, I don’t like that man.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (22m 11s):
I must get to know him better, because when we don’t like somebody, we can either push away the person mentally or physically or we can embrace that person and think maybe not liking is also something has something to do with me, not only the other person. That’s why I often suggest, why don’t we have lunch with people that we think are furthest away from us in our thinking and our being, or are we rather having lunch every day with people that are like-minded and do we stay in our echo chamber, that’s empathic curiosity. The self reflective curiosity is to got to a meditation retreat or at least create time and space for yourself to explore yourself, your deeper thinking.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (22m 57s):
Why do I say the things I’d say? Why do I think the things I think, and what are the deeper narratives that are governing me? These are kind of maybe some strategies. 85% Matt is beautiful. It’s only God can be perfect, you know?

Matt Alder (23m 35s):
I’m very highly on cut being competitive as well.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (23m 40s):
The good thing with the diagnostic is that everybody’s good at many things, but everybody can also improve. The moment we are perfect, We’re not already for society anymore. We are who we are and we are beautiful because we are not perfect.

Matt Alder (23m 58s):
Final question. Tell us about your book. Where can people find it and how can people find you and connect with you?

Stefaan van Hooydonk (24m 6s):
The book The Workplace Curiosity Manifesto is very happy. The best seller was just nominated for a book award. I’m so thrilled, I’m so intrigued that my baby, of course when you’re writing a book or you never know what’s going to happen and it’s always very intriguing. You can find a book on pretty much all the platforms, all your global platforms. But I would recommend to support your local bookstore and give them the business. They also need some business. It is available pretty much everywhere. I’m discussing translations in, in Chinese, Portuguese, Brazilian, and Dutch already. So it seems that the world is waking up to the notion of curiosity and that the world is ready.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (24m 52s):
The book has a number of parts. First we talk about the psychology and the broader aspect of curiosity, and then we talk about curiosity as links to individuals, to leaders, to organizations, to teams, and then I explore some curiosity in the world of HR, curiosity in the word of learning and marketing and what different companies are doing in each of those specifics, and then the fourth part is strategies for getting better. That’s the book. You can always find me on LinkedIn. I’m probably most active on LinkedIn now. Also have a Twitter accountant and also through the website, the where you can also find the diagnosticsN and more information about what we’re trying to do in terms of research, but also in terms of working with companies.

Matt Alder (25m 46s):
Stefan, thank you very much for talking to me.

Stefaan van Hooydonk (25m 49s):
You’re most welcome Matt. Time flew and thanks for having me.

Matt Alder (25m 55s):
My pleasure. My thanks to s Stephan, if you haven’t already, I would be incredibly grateful if you could go to and answer a few questions about the podcast. To really help me develop the show into 2023, you can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all past episodes at On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list and I’m now sending out a monthly newsletter giving everyone the inside track on what’s coming up on the show.

Matt Alder (26m 37s):
Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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