Be Curious – A Statement of Culture

In the previous post in this series we discussed talent’s critical role in transformation. Unleashing the best from the talent you have requires establishing the operating norms, approach to work, and the ways in which your people interact. In essence, culture, is the key to unlocking all that your organization can create.

Every organization has a culture, it is impossible to exist and not have one. The question to ask is: Whether it is the culture you want?  I think it is important to mention that a culture created by rhetoric, without aligned action, is likely not the culture you’re angling for. “Do what I say, not what I do” is a sure fire way to establish a culture that drains the energy from your employees and leads to waves of sub-optimal productivity, loss of talent, and creates a failing business.

Culture is a reflection of consistent behavior. If your company goes out of their way to excel at customer service, Zappos comes to mind, then that will be part of the culture. If the team you are part of is ruled by an authoritarian leader, then that too is part of the culture. There are an endless amount of variables that contribute, in fact, all aspects of human interaction are part of the sum.

I can’t presume to tell you what kind of culture is right for your specific place, time, and team. However, I can share with you my belief of an essential element of culture that aligns with IT transformation, happier engaged employees, and a sense of purpose. This element is the willingness and drive to Be Curious.

While it makes for a dramatic story, I believe passion doesn’t fall upon you like a bombshell. Eureka moments are few and far between, and when they happen, center on solutions to a particular problem versus establishing a life long pursuit. Rather, curiosity is the gateway to finding your calling. Think about this, the more you are curious, the more opportunities you have given yourself to find something that you can be passionate about. Passion is one half of Angela Duckworth’s formula: Passion + Perseverance = Grit. (Her excellent book on this topic is well worth the read). Grit is a positive virtue we like to see in others.

Curiosity is essential when building an IT transparency model. Probing deeper into the data you have will lead you to questions you cannot yet answer. These questions can act as a catalyst to improve metric collection, application instrumentation, and business context that ultimately lead to positive changes.

Humans are wired to learn, we exercise our big brains by questioning and absorbing knowledge. We see this in the praise and admiration we have for explorers, inventors, and artists. Curiosity is what makes us human, a true standout within the animal kingdom.

By focusing on building a culture of curiosity, IT leaders best equip their teams to be thought leaders, creatively solve problems, and open up a world to explore, shape, and make their own.

Culture may even be described simply as that which makes life worth living. -T. S. Eliot (1948)

“The Thinker at the Cleveland Museum of Art” – Erik Drost –

Here are 11 values of the culture I’m working to create:

  1. Be Curious
  2. Foster Transparency
  3. Embrace Creativity
  4. Win as a Team
  5. A Healthy Challenge of Norms
  6. Pride in our Work
  7. Quality Matters
  8. Laugh and have Fun
  9. We learn from our Mistakes
  10. Think Abstractly
  11. 200% Accountability (100% for you + 100% for those around you)

How would you describe the culture you are creating?


In a twelve part series about IT business transformation, James explores the need for the modern technology leader to be a catalyst for change, leverage IT value as a corporate strategic weapon, and lead the way for complete financial transparency. Utilizing this approach, today’s technology leader can provide the foundation for the company to build better products and services and gain approval for technology led initiatives that often struggle for executive support and funding.

Previous articles in this series are:

Part 1 – IT is a strategic weapon
Part 2 – Moving IT from Cost to Value
Part 3 – Addressing Technology Misconceptions
Part 4 – Start with a financial model
Part 5 – Goals of an IT Financial Model
Part 6 – The Model Flywheel
Part 7 – Lessons from AOL’s TBM Journey
Part 8 – More Than a Model
Part 9 – Eventual Consensus, Iteration, and Be Manic: A Map to Building an IT Financial Model
Part 10 – Talent: Organizational Charts Should be Written in Pencil


3 thoughts on “Be Curious – A Statement of Culture

  1. I have written (and hired for) many a job description that starts off with “Are you a curious maniac? Do you have a curious nature that if you were a cat, you’d be pressing your luck? Do you have a maniacal sense of duty to uptime, performance, and scalability?”

    My own “values” in the workplace (and in life) are:

    Transparency: Complete transparency (up to policy/regulatory compliance)

    Honesty: If there is more to the story, tell it

    Integrity: We do what we said we would do when we said we would do it; even if no one is watching

    Empathy: We place ourselves in our “customer’s” shoes

    Curiosity: Why? How? Dig into the tech

    GSD: Get stuff done; minimize our WIP

    Opinionated: To hone an idea to the best it can be, there has to be challenge; so speak up!

    Have Fun: If we go home and kick our dog, we’re doing it wrong and we need to have a dialog

    Risk Tolerant: Take risks, fail twice a year; don’t take risk, fail twice a year


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