Four ways to cultivate a culture of curiosity
KATIE SMITH MILWAY AND ALEX GOLDMARK
HopeLab is a curious place. The California-based non-profit researches and designs video games and other technology products for kids. However, these games don’t require players to sit on a couch while staring at a screen, zapping warriors or aliens. Their aim is much deeper: the games not only motivate players to create healthy habits and be more physically active, but also help in the f ight against cancer.
HopeLab operates a bit differently than most organisations. In its office, there are fun tools designed to prompt conversation and reflection. Meetings are positioned as problem-solving opportunities. People always take responsibility for their own actions and mistakes. And employees are given financial and moral support to pursue any kind of learning, from a cooking class to a photography cruise.
“We look at our culture as a product, just like [the games] Re-Mission and Zamzee are products,” says Pat Christen, pre s i dent a nd CEO of HopeLab. “And we believe a culture of curiosity is key to innovation.”
HopeLab’s methods are replicable. Consider the principles outlined below. HopeLab’s products are rooted in scientific inquiry and research, iteration and experimentation. People are told to explore new paths and to challenge their assumptions and themselves. To that end, the company has created a number of tools, including a deck of cards called ‘Questions for Curious Leaders’ with 12 categories, such as beauty, candour, emotions and 100% responsibility. Cards can be found around the office, in conference rooms and at desks; people use them on their own and in meetings. One emotions category question reads: “Am I fully acknowledging and experiencing my emotions, then letting them go?” Another, in the beauty category, asks: “Am I enduring, allowing or perpetuating mediocrity, inelegance or ugliness?”
It can be hard to f ind time for ref lection and conversation, but these tools help. “Work is more rewarding when curiosity and discovery are embedded in it,” Christen says. Employees are more likely to engage in meetings when they know they can affect the outcomes. So HopeLab’s agendas are always written as questions. For example, managers ask: “How should we prioritise t hese projects?” or “What models of engagement might we pursue? Why?”
“Everyone at the meeting is invited into the conversation to help us make sense of an issue, solve a problem or imagine a new area of opportunity,” Christen explains. “We expect people to speak up – to ask questions, share ideas and contribute.” As a result, HopeLab is known for productive, energising discussions. In fact, visitors from other organisations often ask for advice after experiencing a HopeLab meeting. Re-Mission is HopeLab’s free game that motivates kids with cancer to stick with