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The Most Important Agile Tool: Curiosity

Periodically, I remind myself that everything I know exists between my two ears. Nobody else has constructed a mind just like mine. Everything I know and believe feels right to me. When someone says something that doesn’t fit my mental image of the world, alarms sound, and basic instincts are triggered.

We all feel assaulted when our beliefs are challenged. Our reaction to this feeling is varied. We’re likely to defend our position if we have a well-developed ego. After all, we’ve built this well-curated, accurate model of the world around us -- often at significant cost.

If you’ve ever had any kind of psychological therapy (I recommend it), you know that part of the self-examination process is learning to observe your reactions in the moment they occur. This skill, like any other, requires training and practice to develop. Eventually, you can learn to observe your responses before you utter them. Being consistent about this level of self-examination is challenging.

When our beliefs get confronted, we owe it to ourselves and our team to be vigilant in the moments leading to our responses. We must fight our instinct to defend ourselves, instead change our response to curiosity. No matter how certain we are, these moments are not about us -- they are about the other person. They share the same confidence in their belief.

When you approach a discrepancy in beliefs by curiously examining it, you can almost always distill it down to one of a few things:

  • One of you has incorrect information

  • You have different views about how the future will play out

  • You have a different interpretation of how various factors resulted in the observed outcome

  • One of you has information that the other person doesn’t have

Starting with curiosity will uncover reasons for the disparate beliefs. Resolving counterfactual issues in the information age is usually quick work. After which, everyone can proceed with a common understanding. Interpretations are different. They are personal. This is where the magic of collaboration happens!

When collaborators approach differing viewpoints with naked curiosity, everyone benefits. We hatch new ideas. Creativity results!

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