Curiosity is the Skill You Should Hire, and Strive For

A resume or CV doesn’t usually tell you the full story. It also doesn’t give the right format for you to effectively tell your story. Why has this become the way that we review candidates or to try to become a potential candidate then?

I’m a firm believer that the most important of all the skills that I’ve got is curiosity. It’s also what I automatically gravitate towards in other people in both work and social situations. Having done well over 200 podcasts and lots of writing over the years, curiosity is incredibly helpful in the creative process.

Why is Curiosity the Most Important Differentiating Skill?

There are three ways to look at knowledge and skills:

  • What do you know? – There is obvious value in the skills and knowledge you have already and enumerating the things you’ve done and certifications and awards can help illustrate that.
  • How do you learn? – this is even higher on the list of importance because it dictates how you will take in future knowledge.
  • Why do you learn? – this is highly important to explore. It feels intangible but the reason that people (yourself included) choose to learn is going to tell you a lot about how you can best enable growth.

Skills can be acquired. Especially when backed by a thirst for knowledge and an ability to be curious about new things. Even a gentle amount of curiosity can be very powerful.

Stop Accepting a Broken Clock is Right…

You’ve likely heard the phrase “Even a broken clock is right twice a day”. This is used to describe that broken things can appear to be correct. The strange thing is how people don’t see the more important way to interpret this.

Acknowledging something as right twice a day is hiding the fast that it’s broken. I admit that broken is a bit harsh of a word to use but you hopefully understand the framing. The saying being that even a broken clock is right twice a day does not deal with the real underlying issue: why is the clock broken?

One of the top competitive forces that is identified by startups and process/people improvement is status quo. Imagine that we have thousands of companies developing tools and software purely aimed at fixing something that we have broadly accepted as normal.

Curiosity Killed Empowered the Cat

The reason that we say that curiosity killed the cat is probably the same reason that we say that cats have nine lives. We see the cats try almost unreal things and they seem to not be bound by limitations sometimes.

Humans are not quite as free in our comfort around experimentation. It’s probably because we don’t have any myths around the number of lives we have. We accept status quo far too often. It’s even celebrated and reinforced.

That same curiosity that seems risky to the cats is what gives them a new level of capability because they keep trying these seemingly risky things.

Let’s relate it to physical muscles. Your muscles are enhanced by creating stress and strain that is then repaired at a cellular level. This creates hypertrophy, or muscular growth. This extends into neural adaptation which is increased with load, velocity, and and complexity of physical movement.

But what about knowledge growth through curiosity?

Seek the Right Answer over Being Right

I’m not going to lie that we all enjoy being told we are right. It’s a pretty nifty feeling. Nice little dopamine shot, warmth in the face, and that sense that you’ve done something well and been acknowledged for it.

We even relish the “I told you so” situation when seeking to be right. This is problematic.

Remember, that it’s not much different than neural adaptation and growth from physical exercise. Gains are made through load, velocity, and complexity of movement. Being “right” is a static result. You are fixing yourself to an outcome, idea, or process/method. This makes it a status quo, mundane level of repetitive process.

What we should be doing is constantly questioning our practices and ideas. We should be experimenting and continuously retesting our hypothesis. When we find something that is truly mundane, repetitive, and repeatable, we should be automating that and setting it as a guardrail or regulated process.

That’s where we move to seeking a new area of exploration and experimentation where we seek the next right answer. It celebrates curiosity with effective guardrails that create consistency and safety to experiment.

Automation + Abstraction = Opportunity for Experimentation

Automation is primarily about creating consistency of outcome. The secondary thing you get from automation is that it enables a fixed result that allows you to rescope what is variable. Automation also gives you velocity, not just speed. It’s a careful distinction. Velocity is speed in a given direction.

Velocity of motion is one that heads towards a defined or desired outcome. Now we have automation which allows for us to move faster towards a new outcome in a systematic approach. This means you also have created a new type of abstraction by effectively making the automated underlay a new fixed base.

Abstractions in systems development are tangible. We had physical servers that had one OS and one application. Then we virtualized to share those physical resources across multiple OS and applications. Next was the public cloud which abstracted the virtualization to you simply consuming that virtualized resource without having to administer and manage it.

That opened up the PaaS layer which means you are simply building, packaging, and shipping code. It simplified delivery to production by creating another abstraction layer. What if we kept going where you are actually running and managing live code directly.

Why Did We Abstract Things While Keeping Old Processes?

The abstraction of the infrastructure helped us increase velocity but also had is bring forward the same previous gating and human intervention by creating multiple environments. We still required testing, building, deployment, and validation. The issue then becomes ensuring the underlay is identical (hint: it usually isn’t).

We just moved the goal post to create new gates, not regulations. There is an important difference. Regulations would be something that forces a practice to be done with safety and consistency. Example: every code push requires embedded tests. That’s more of a regulation than a gate because the regulation allows the next step to increase velocity

What has typically happened is that we create people-centric gates instead. We require people to move code between environments. We require people to validate changes. We require people to be on-call during updates.

Let’s think big. What if we could have a truly immutable, abstracted base that allows you to modify live code.

What if we removed the build and deployment processes altogether? It’s a wild idea…or is it really that wild?

Wait, what does this have to do with curiosity?! Here’s where it all comes together…

Fixing Ourselves to Fix an Industry Challenge

I was lucky enough to spend some time with Alex Bunardzic to discuss a lot around this subject as it pertains to software engineering and Ops processes. The industry seems to be approaching another wave of idea innovation, but we have to rethink how we build and deploy applications.

More abstractions are being made available to ease the burden of getting code from prototype to production. In the discussion with Alex, we talked about the unfortunately high pain tolerance of IT folks and the amount of inertial resistance that has held back a lot of potential innovation.

My hypothesis is that if we prioritize creating effective guardrails and processes that ensure safe experimentation, we can greatly increase the velocity of innovation. The same increase in velocity will also see a decrease in risk because we are creating a framework for safer experimentation.

A culture of experimentation creates an opportunity to stretch our minds and to learn new things. It’s a chance to open up to new ideas and it also gives us a comfort with which to do it in.

Lastly, I am proud to say that I don’t think I’m right about a lot. I’m proud to say that I keep learning and continuously seek the right answer. Hopefully I can help others to do the same.

Celebrate experimentation. Celebrate curiosity. And, most importantly, celebrate surroundings (people, educational, and organizational) that allow you to increase your exposure to both.

p.s. (and shameless plug) – If you want to be curious and celebrate experimentation, I’m building something fantastic to do just that. Come check out what my team and I are doing at GTM Delta and join the mission as a freelance content engineer. If you read this you’re already the right fit!

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