Cultivating Curiosity in the Workplace


Dave: Welcome to Bring Out The Talent, the podcast featuring learning and development experts discussing innovative approaches and industry insights. Tune in to hear our talent, and help develop yours. Now, here is your hosts, TTA CEO and President Maria Melfa, and talent manager Jocelyn Allen.

Maria Melfa: Hello everyone. Thank you for joining us. This is Maria.

Jocelyn Allen: Hey Maria. It’s Jocelyn. I know …they let us back here for a third episode.

Maria Melfa: Let’s get started. So, according to a recent study, curiosity is an increasingly important skill for employees. A study from the Harvard Business Review revealed some interesting insights about curiosity in the workplace.

They found that curiosity allows employees to think innovatively and rationally about decisions and come up with creative solutions. [00:01:00] However, many leaders stifle curiosity, fearing that it will increase risk and inefficiencies.

To discuss the importance of curiosity in the workplace, we have a very special guest with us today, Dr. Jasmine Martirossian. Jasmine is the vice president of marketing at TÜV SÜD Americas. She has led digital marketing and curiosity transformation for many multinational corporations.

Jasmine is a widely published author and a frequently featured speaker at conferences. Her work has been covered in publications such as the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Toronto Star. And one other thing I like to mention is Jasmine is the world’s most interesting woman. Welcome, Jasmine.

Jocelyn Allen: [00:02:00] Oh man, the bird in…

Maria Melfa: So I’ve sung that to Jasmine many times because it is so true. And I’m like, I just mentioned, I do believe Jasmine is the world’s most interesting woman. And I know we have them, all the commercials. I don’t know that I forgot the guy’s name of the world’s most interesting man, but I think we need to coin that for you, Jasmine, because…

Jasmine Martirossian: So delighted to be on this podcast with you and you are one of the funniest CEOs out there. So very innovative too.

Maria Melfa: Thank you very much, Jasmine. So I’ve learned a lot from you over the years and, you know, part of the reason is because of your love for like curiosity and learning [00:03:00] um, which you brought to a lot of us when you worked here.

So let’s just get a little bit into Jasmine and your incredible background. Can you share with our listeners, where you think your adventurous and curious mindset originated?

Jasmine Martirossian: I think, you know, you could go all the way into your childhood. I was blessed with parents who love to travel and brought me in and along with them and challenged me to be open, to see new things, new opportunities, and built horizons. And then I think once you get that bug in you, it’s very hard to get rid of it.

Plus. Oh, given all the tests and everything has a very analytical, curious mind. So I take that as a huge blessing and I’m very grateful for it. And then to make curiosity is also a skill and a quality that once you get into it, just keeps on going and building on itself. [00:04:00] And then there was no turning back, which is a good thing, actually.

You can’t become uncurious suddenly.

Jocelyn Allen: I was just going to say that, and it’s like, it’s not something that you can just automatically shut off either. And I find that curiosity really does make you better in all facets of your life because you want to learn. Once you stop learning, you plateau.
So I agree with you. I like it. I like the root of this conversation and kind of talking about skill in a different way. So let’s talk about the importance of a curious mind. Like why do you think it’s so important and why should people start thinking about curiosity as a skill more than, you know, a characteristic?

Jasmine Martirossian: It’s very interesting. This is about learning and development. And unfortunately a lot of learning how kids evolve from a very younger age in the formal school system, they’re taught it’s either this or that. And then that leads to a kind of forced dichotomy that we grow up thinking of. And you do either this or that.

And very often third options are left out. [00:05:00] So women are viewed are expected to be good mothers and at home, or just executives, but, you know, I firmly believe you can be a successful mother with a successful career. And they’re actually Harvard studies that show that girls whose mothers were working become more successful and more multifaceted themselves.

So those are artificial dichotomies that society holds. And it’s the kind of terrorism by of the word… Or it’s either, or, but there could be other options. So when you choose us, you actually look outside of those boundaries. It’s a trite phrase, you know, they say, look outside the box, but sometimes the box isn’t even there and people just place themselves in the box.

So when people are curious, they, they, they will not settle for the first thing. So that’s provided and they constantly ask the why. And it also helps to tell other people the why, and to see what’s the why behind the why. Sometimes, you know, there’s a lot of history [00:06:00] behind something that we don’t even know about that can be very enriching and can find other solutions that help us both in business and in our personal lives.

Jocelyn Allen: Do you find that.. It is because for me specifically, as I have, I also have a very kind of strategic mind, like it’s my number one strength. And it totally makes sense to me when I look at how my thought process works. Do you find that your analytical and curiosity piece, because I feel like they can be considered similar, but also very different? Does it take you longer to go through a certain thought process or anything like that, or does your curiosity and expansion kind of allow you to fine-tune quickly? If that make sense?

Jasmine Martirossian: Absolutely not. Actually. As an executive and Ray can attest to this, I’m known to never sit on a fence.
I’m actually very quick in decision-making. And I think when you’re constantly curious, you can start seeing patterns in ways. It also tunes your intuition more [00:07:00] into your experiences and you can seek out solutions. No, the other way,… when I talk about curiosity, I’m not talking about paralysis from over-analysis, just the opposite.

But you also have to make certain decisions, right? You have to you know, based on the data you have, you can decide on X, and then once other data is presented, you have to have the courage to say, look, I made the decisions based on X, but now we know about Y and Z. So we’re going to evolve this in that direction.

Interestingly, a lot of people just don’t have that courage because they feel: was I wrong the first time, but again, it’s, it has to be fact and data-driven, and based on that. Don’t put your ego on the line and that’s what you asked it is. I mean, there are interesting situations, for instance, even gigantic catastrophes, like the Challenger disaster… accident, the Columbia one, there were data that were presented and that were data points that were later ignored. [00:08:00] So only because it would have challenged the original decision, but then lives were at stake quite literally when people died.

Jocelyn Allen: Yeah. I, yeah, I was curious, pun intended about how that works.

I find it to be similar to me. Like, I don’t like to sit on a fence. It’s one of those things where like, if the decision doesn’t make sense and I won’t make it at that time, I’ll go out and I’ll be like, no, what’s the real… right decision here because all of these options don’t make sense, but I wasn’t sure if that was conflicting, you know what I mean?

But at this point, I think in learning and development, I’ve learned that nothing is really conflicting, that everything can kind of co-exist as long as you find the right way to partner it all together. So that was a little bit of a tangent, but, and that’s what curiosity’s about, so I also love the phrase, right.

Paralysis from over-analysis is the best thing that I’ve ever heard.

Maria Melfa: I love that.

Jocelyn Allen: I love that.

Jasmine Martirossian: Well, you know, as an [00:09:00] executive, you also have to follow the laws of physics, right? A body in motion always stays in motion. So again, you can’t be in this state of paralysis because that’s not leadership. And again, that’s a cop-out to be paralyzed like that.

Jocelyn Allen: Love that mindset.

Maria Melfa: So Jasmine, I know that you’ve hired a lot of people to hire… you’ve hired a lot of great people. And I know one of the things that you try to assess is your candidate’s aptitude for curiosity. So do you think that you could …, so I guess tell us a little bit about that. How to do, how do you assess that?.

Jasmine Martirossian: Well, I’m very proud of the teams that have been instrumental in building Maria, including at TTA.
And I’m proud to say that a lot of the people that I hired at TTA, there’s still at TTA and there are amazing people are, or even promoted to right there. They’re amazing people miss them [00:10:00] dearly… great talent, but they, they’re all very curious and the reason why they’ve stayed and again, you promote that kind of culture.

So let’s not discount the value and importance of that. You can foster a culture of curiosity. Yes. You can create something where people whom you model behavior. And people become that in that base. Okay. So I could do this and then as they get deeper into it, they become more interested and more curious, and then it leads to a discovery which is how actually most discoveries came to be.

In fact, a lot of the great inventions we know are a result of an accident in the R and D process. Be it Velcro, be it Post-It Notes, be it the microwave oven. And it seemed the opportunity when it presents itself. So the reason why they became end products is that the people who are working on them became curious and said, okay, I’m seeing this [00:11:00] work here.

Could we take this effect? And that’s very, very, very important. So you can foster… So you can model behavior, you can foster it. It also allows you as a leader, you have to allow people to experiment and sometimes fail. You know, failure is not a bad thing, if you can fail fast and learn from it.

Right. I remember reading ages ago, an interview with Sam Walton in the Wall Street Journal. At the time he was, probably the wealthiest man alive as the founder of Walmart. And the journalist asked him a question, how did you become so successful? And he says, by making good decisions, and then the journalist says, well, so how do you make the good decisions?

He said, Through experience. The next question to Walton was okay. So how do you get the relevant experience, to drive the decisions? And his answer was: bad decisions, but so it’s that [00:12:00] willingness to learn from your mistakes and improve on them. That’s also a curiosity rather than just shut everything off and shut down and say, you know what? This is not working.

Maria Melfa: Very true. So how do you go about assessing your curiosity when you’re interviewed?

Jasmine Martirossian: Great question. I think if you have to sometimes ask things, even how people give responses, right? What variables do they bring into their answer and how do they talk about their interests or how do they talk about their decision-making process?

It can tell you. It’s a curious mind or not. And you know, how we share our interests and how we present ourselves to the world. It’s very… becomes very obvious is security is mind at play or how they even question something. They may say, you know what, we did this, this word, but in this context, I’m not sure if we tried this [00:13:00] with this, you see, you can see, is their exploration going on or is it just like one canned response, very linear thinking…

Maria Melfa: Well, I know curiosity goes hand in hand with a growth mindset and that’s one of our core values here. We don’t, we don’t want to hire anybody that does not have a growth mindset. And I know after 28 years of being with TTA and leading TTA we certainly have had people that have not had a growth mindset and not that they did not know good people are capable people, but in a company where you constantly have to grow and innovate and learn new things, it just doesn’t work.

You know, there are some people that are happy doing the same thing over and over again, but that’s certainly not what a lot of companies do. And certainly not something that we do at TTA. Do you believe that curiosity is an innate skill?

Jasmine Martirossian: I think to a degree this, but to a degree… just in line, because I’m a believer in growth mindset [00:14:00] and that people can learn.

It can also. Acquired. So I’m sure there are some people that are innately, born curious, and that goes on. And then especially they’re encouraged to flourish that skill. They become runway curious. But then now there’s, you know, I was talking earlier about modeling behavior and learning and guiding. I think others can also learn to practice curiosity.

In fact, I’ve met people who have said, you know what, I have become more curious as a result of this and that makes a difference. So again,, it kind of reaffirms what you’re talking about, the growth mindset. I do believe in the growth mindset. Again, some people have it innately, others learn to open up their mindset, become more open and grow with it and try new things.

And again, all of this has to deal with change, right? And uncertainty and those are generally scary to most people. So it’s also about change management. Like no matter what my title [00:15:00] is, really it’s about organizational transformation and change management. It’s not so much about marketing. It’s about driving improvements.

Maria Melfa: …things used to address. Yes… and things used to change yearly and then quarterly and monthly and weekly, but now they’re changing daily and hourly. So if you don’t have that, then you might get lost or left behind.

Jasmine Martirossian: Yeah. I mean, look at the pace of change that we’re living through and how information is doubling every other day.

To the extent… I read some statistics, and that information now doubles every two days. So much information is, was created as was created until like 1991. And again, in this setting, we need more of a curious and open mindset and also more of a discerning mindset, right. To know, to tell the wheat from the chaff… is not all the information is valid [00:16:00] information either.

So, how do we become analytical? And again, you need to be even more curious today to deal with this onslaught of data, because not all data is accurate data. I’ll be the first one to say data-driven, but even statistics and data are not used, right… you can come up with false, positive, and false directions, false results.

So being curious is even more intrinsic to our daily success today.

Jocelyn Allen: I have a kind of a lead-off question based on like what you were talking about. Curiosity is an innate skill and then something that can be developed through things like change management and coaching. What do you think the skill gaps are that exist there?

Is it like a fear of failure and therefore not as much exposure to what curiosity can actually create because we’re in this momentum of doing the same old same, or, you know, I guess really… how do you create that change in somebody who has such potential? [00:17:00] What is lacking a little bit of curiosity?

Jasmine Martirossian: So it’s a multifaceted question, right?

So let’s think about it in this way.

Jocelyn Allen: Like 16 questions that you right there.

Jasmine Martirossian: So in a work setting, you usually hire an employee to do X, Y, and Z, or A, B, and C. A truly curious people can usually find better approaches to doing something that they can innovate. Those that are not will just stick to the same A, B, and C. Truly curious people can find efficiencies. They can usually head something off that’s not working. In fact, you and I went through a major exercise on that, right. I’m not going to do, to share the details, but it led to major restructuring because we found some major inefficiencies. Right. The easiest thing would have been to just let it go.

But then you have to… but most people eat [00:18:00] either the managers, the leaders do not give them the guidance to be curious, and to try to improve because they need this thing done. And so opportunities are lost. And so from the outset, people need to be encouraged to say, what can you do better?

I asked my team members and it’s one of the toughest questions I asked. This is their job and people, everybody wants job security, but then you suddenly ask them: what is it that you should drop and not do as part of this job? It’s one of the scariest questions I asked because people just look at you usually paralyzed, but really you’re asking for them to be curious, because if you start doing some inefficiency from the lean perspective, right?

There is always muda, mura, muri to go to … lean perspectives. There’s a lot of unnecessary stuff that everybody sometimes does. And how do we go about eliminating that you have to be curious to do it, [00:19:00] but a lot of leaders and managers just don’t encourage that because it’s just, you want stability, right?

You just want this done, but what if it can be done better? What, if we can have an exponential increase, how do we scale up? So that thinking has to be constantly nurtured and continued, and it starts from the top with the leadership being comfortable with driving, that kind of change.

Jocelyn Allen: Love it, it always, it really does always come back to leadership.

This is why all of the conversations that we have that I love is because it can go to your people and like your teams hearing it themselves and saying, this is really inspiring me, but it goes back to where it starts from and how to encourage that behavior from the top down. So I love how you brought it back to us there, Jasmine. Remember our listeners who maybe don’t know where to begin, but are totally honing in on what you’re saying here and what sort of fulfillment that can create for their organizations by developing their teams’ curiosity, what can they do to begin [00:20:00] fostering that sort of change?

Jasmine Martirossian: Be more comfortable with change, literally.

Be more comfortable with the unknown. Be more comfortable with experimenting, and have sandboxes, right? Tell your team here’s the sandbox. We have to run this experiment. If it fails, I’ve got your back. It’s okay. And as leaders, we have to tell our people that we’ve got their back it’s okay. Then we won’t turn around and throw them under the bus.

And then that builds a much stronger organization.

Because if they don’t try, if they’re do not practice this curiosity… it’s interesting. There’s a disconnect. We talk about change management and trust digital transformation, transforming organizations. Well, if you don’t foster curiosity, none of that is going to happen.

Maria Melfa: Very, very true. I know Jasmine, you have done a lot of interesting things. Teams to foster curiosity.

Jasmine Martirossian: I don’t know, sometimes hold site events. And [00:21:00] I kind of try to really expand their horizons… by the way, it’s something I tried to do for myself too, but I’ll, I’ll put myself in uncomfortable situations that I naturally have no interest in, but then I might surprise myself.

So it could be an outing from doing something outdoorsy, like apple picking to going to these Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, to one… One time I took my team to the museum of fine arts and I asked them for instance, to choose a painting of their choice. Not my choice, theirs, and then too write, like two, 300 words about what they saw in that painting.

You know, what’s only consistent was an item that came out of that is the inconsistency. Everybody saw something different, but that shines a light on how people view situations within the organization. It’s not just about art. It’s a means. So whatever every person sees, they see a difference. And they interpreted it differently.

So as leaders too, we have [00:22:00] to be curious to kind of create that unified vision. So, and to communicate it to people and, and to hear and see and go through the lenses. It’s a non-stop activity. It’s not a one-and-done. That’s how culture comes together. And ultimately, what is culture? I mean, culture is how we see things in general and what’s acceptable. What’s not a kind of normative acceptance. Right? So in the US for instance, Americans who go die, most of them will not be kind of Disciplined enough to fold their napkin. At the end of me, actually, we could run an experiment and go to a restaurant and I would wager that 90% plus of the time people would just leave their napkins the way they were cloth napkins.

But in Japan, I would wager that almost a hundred percent will fold them neatly and leave them like that because that’s the culture. Then those become the norms of seeing the world. That’s how they process information. And so even being… [00:23:00] curious about how different cultures work with different things may give us a lot of lessons on how to approach things in a workplace or in our life.

Jocelyn Allen: Oh, insightful. Jasmine beautifully put, I love this. I, I really like, and I’ve said it in previous episodes. My favorite thing about what we do is how to make the connections between who you are personally and developing it in your professional life too, because I think it’s just a cyclical effect that once you start realizing something about yourself, personally, you can put it into play professionally and see successful results from it. It automatically goes back to that like personal development of like, you know, possibly more confidence, more curiosity, more strategy in play in this. I love… just the way that we’re starting to look at things now where you don’t have to separate these two things.

They go hand in hand and you can be the most successful when you’re allowed to be yourself and use your skills and your strengths effectively. They ought to fall… love it.

Jasmine Martirossian: Actually [00:24:00] to that point, I encourage, I try to take a personal interest. We’ll keep on throwing out what their hobbies are, because guess what?

There are certain things that they can bring from their hobbies to the workplace to find really cool solutions. And this is just as relevant for learning and development as it is for any other industry because they made their maybe approaches. So if people are not just put into the copy hole, kind of into pushed into boxes, then we can see, okay, they can do certain things much better.

Jocelyn Allen: Would you say that curiosity and creativity go hand in hand?

Jasmine Martirossian: I’d say definitely because creativity is, or is nothing, but, you know, curiosity applied in practice, right. Finding different solutions when down to. Thank you. I want attribution Jocelyn, right?

Jocelyn Allen: Well, thank you. I promise

Maria Melfa: Jasmine, in some of our previous conversations, you [00:25:00] mentioned the importance of being a free thinker. You said to be a creator, not a consumer of free-thinking. Can you explain a little bit about that?

Jasmine Martirossian: I think I made that statement contextually recently, and we were talking about how we’re all tied, or I would also say addicted to our gadgets and media.

And a lot of it gets in the way of us actually having quiet time to think to ourselves to make other connections. So you almost become enslaved to what other people want you to think… to other people’s thoughts, as opposed to evolving your own thinking. And that’s actually a loss for humanity because then you need to channel down certain tunnels and your own thinking does not evolve. And in the future, even again, the dominance and the addictive power of all the devices and I admit, like my cell phone [00:26:00] is always by my side. Like we’re all connected all the time. We may all miss out on the opportunity to evolve ourselves so that it almost becomes a new class system where there are the free thinkers who push down their information on others.

And there are the vast, massive consumers of somebody else’s thinking.

A few years ago, I was at a conference in New York City and the, an analyst presented data that 70% of people go to a restaurant holding their iPad, those who have iPads. And it’s such a personal device because it didn’t hold it close to your body. Like that’s a striking metric, right?

Jocelyn Allen: Oh, the name of the documentary that we were talking about on Netflix was The Social Dilemma.

Jasmine Martirossian: Yeah. Thank you.

Maria Melfa: So as we wrap up Jasmine, the final question for [00:27:00] you most important, most important question to ask, did curiosity really kill the cat?.

Jasmine Martirossian: Yeah, well now w what needs to be modified is to say the cat has to be diplomatic in discerning.

Being curious is unequivocally good, but there are times when, you know, you need to know how to manifest it in diplomatic ways. So that’s where the saying comes in. It has value, and it’s also about emotional intelligence. So be curious, but also be emotionally intelligence, and again, go intelligent.

And those would be whole open the growth mindset. It all ties together very organically. So I mean, theoretic… curiosity is a good thing, but if the cat is not discerning or diplomatic, it could get squished.

Jocelyn Allen: But he also had nine chances. So the cat adds a little bit of an unlucky [00:28:00] or lucky advantage there. Awesome.
All right, Jasmine. So now we’re at the time, in our episode where we do our fun TTA 10 segment. It’s the TTA 10, 10 final questions for our guests.

All right, Jasmine. So this is just a fun part of our show where I’m going to ask you 10 questions. Um, you have 90 seconds to answer them, answer as quickly as possible, whatever first comes to mind, there’s going to be some fun ones, some silly ones, but. So the ones that have really answers to them. So I’ll call you out if you’re wrong.

No, I’m just kidding. It’s just the most fun… So, um, I’m going to ask you 10 and, um, if you win, you will get a special little shout-out and some bragging rights that come directly from our producer, David, so it’s good. All right. Ready? Right. Yeah. Right, exactly. It’s perfect for this. All right, [00:29:00] here we go.

What’s your favorite driving song?

Jasmine Martirossian: My favorite driving song, there is a wonderful song by Shaw as never, but generally his entire album. It just conveniently was in my car. So Arvin is fabulously inspirational.

Jocelyn Allen: Beautiful. What TV show do you always recommend for your friends next?

Jasmine Martirossian: TV show for next binge. Uh, like for right now they could go for good girls.

Jocelyn Allen: And also, which of the seven dwarves do you most relate to?

Jasmine Martirossian: Seven dwarves then? I most relate to, um, oh God. Let’s see sleepy sleep. Um, oh actually maybe happy, happy.

Jocelyn Allen: There you go. What’s 19 minus six.

Jasmine Martirossian: [00:30:00] Thirteen. …

Jocelyn Allen: What is your, what was your favorite subject in school?

Jasmine Martirossian: All of them. I was curious.

Jocelyn Allen: Coffee or tea?

Jasmine Martirossian: Coffee, these days, but tea too sometimes.

Jocelyn Allen: Who would you cast to play yourself in a movie about your life?

Jasmine Martirossian: Naomi Watts.

Jocelyn Allen: Garden gnomes, cute or creepy?

Jasmine Martirossian: I don’t know. Sleazy.

Jocelyn Allen: Beachfront or mountainside?

Jasmine Martirossian: Both. There’s a place for both.

Jocelyn Allen: If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?

Jasmine Martirossian: Uh, I used to say reading people’s minds, but I kind of can guess people’s thinking … So, so flying.
All right. We did it Jazz… we got through our 10 questions in 90 sections, we did.[00:31:00]

VO: Yes. Congratulations, Jasmine, you are a TTA 10 champion. You may shout out the news from the rooftops, amaze your friends, and included it in your resume. Now that you have achieved this coveted honor, you will be respected and loved by captains of industry, heads of state, and Tik Tok influencers. The sun will shine brighter for you, food will taste better and life will have new meaning. Congratulations, Jasmine, a TTA 10 champion.

Jasmine Martirossian: I love this. I want to borrow the idea with attribution to try it on our podcast. Oh my God. That was the best I know…

Jocelyn Allen: in the beginning I was. I was like, oh, we’re not going to make it.

Maria Melfa: I knew you were going to say easy answers.

Jasmine Martirossian: Right. I know I would love to read people’s minds, but since I can do that, now I’m just going to fly.

Maria Melfa: Well, Jasmine likes to travel to a new country every week.

So I [00:32:00] know you’re always traveling fantastic though. Okay. Well, Thank you so much, Jasmine, it’s always a true pleasure, um, to speak to you and just to learn more about you. So thank you to the world’s most interesting woman. Oh, you have indulged my curiosity for sure. This was a really interesting conversation and I look forward to pursuing more with you.

Thank you for your time today. You’re the best.

Jasmine Martirossian: Well, thank you so much, Maria. Uh, Jocelyn and David really appreciated being on the podcast with you. Yeah. I mean, come on top 10 champion!

Jocelyn Allen: To learn more about Jasmine and her podcast, by visiting us at thetrainingassociates.com. We’ll see you later.