Face down the facts

11th October 2013 at 01:00

Rudyard Kipling perhaps summed up curiosity most succinctly: "I keep six honest serving-men(They taught me all I knew);Their names are What and Why and WhenAnd How and Where and Who."

Human beings have a drive to be curious, to have a thirst for knowledge and understanding that goes beyond what we need to survive today, but is required to enable us to survive tomorrow.

Going back to medieval times, the curious were regarded with suspicion. People were supposed to be humble before God rather than seek to "know things that are best left unknown", as Augustine had it.

Sadly, in some school staffrooms, there seems to be a similar suspicion of those who show a desire to better understand teaching; an idea that anyone who seeks to do more than is required must have an ulterior motive.

Yet curiosity has for millennia been the impetus behind innovation. Albert Einstein said: "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

So how does curiosity manifest itself in modern organisations?

The phrase "data-driven" refers to the notion that an organisation must take account of data when making decisions about its performance or that of the individuals in it. Data-driven suggests that data is in the driving seat, and that there is an approach to decision-making where the human element is removed.

A blind commitment to becoming a "data-led" organisation leads us to make decisions that lack any reference to values, ethics or experience, or what we might call human wisdom.

In his play The Rock, written in the 1930s, TS Eliot poses two striking questions: "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

Eliot's lines were written some 50 years before the advent of the "wisdom hierarchy" and the "knowledge pyramid" in the 1980s. Both models purport to represent the relationship between data (raw facts) at the bottom, information (meaningful data) and knowledge (understanding) in the middle, and wisdom (judgement based on values and experience) at the top.

We should see organisations as "values-driven" instead of "data-driven" - we should use data as opposed to data using us.

There are also those who have neither the inclination to look at data, nor the curiosity to better understand it or the world around them. There is a balance to be struck, but the key to making an organisation effective lies in the behaviour of its leaders. They model curiosity and "carry" the value system through which data is generated, interpreted and understood.

Perhaps Charles Handy captured this best when he identified curiosity as one of the key ingredients of "intelligent leadership".

Don Ledingham is director of innovation leadership at personal development consultancy Drummond International.

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