Written by Mayka van Acht, VP Human Resources at ADM

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then”

(Lewis Carroll – Alice in Wonderland)

A sense of adventure

Personally I love a good adventure, I love to travel and explore new things.  As a girl, I would write down a random series of travel instructions: “Go left at the end of the road; then right at the first cross-road; followed by going left at the second street…” and so forth. Then I would invite a friend and we would take our bikes and try to follow the instructions while biking through the Dutch country-side.  Curiously awaiting where the road would take us.  Often I would have to adapt as the path in reality was not as easy to follow as the instructions on paper.  Sometimes we got lost, as we traveled further afield to places beyond the roads we normally travelled on.  But the thrill was real and the sense of adventure made my heart beat faster. While my friend would grow increasingly afraid and want to turn around, I simply loved to explore new things and places.  Still to this day, it creates a sense of liveliness in me and has been a common theme in my personal and professional life.  I travel, explore, move to a new country, meet new people and then do it all over again.  So what is it that motivates me to do so?  Is it curiosity? Is it the need to learn new things?  I believe that seeing new places and meeting new people and cultures, simply allows me to grow, it allows me to step outside my comfort zone, literally lets me expand my horizon and always remain curious about the next big adventure.

Curiosity drives us forward

We know that learning takes place when you are outside of your comfort zone.  The very first time you try something new, you have to be in a mindset where you enjoy exploring and even failing.  You don’t learn when you keep doing the same things or are focused on the past. As Albert Einstein said ‘The important thing is to not stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing’.  Curious people have an eternal appetite to learn new things and a hunger for knowledge.  The curious mind is not interested in defending the status-quo, but has a willingness to always be proven wrong and experience new things. 

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious. “

Albert Einstein

So what creates the curious mind? I assume that curiosity and learning agility are closely connected.  It is like a muscle: when you don’t use your ability to learn new things, you grow complacent and you stop your development and growth.  Often times I have seen people in the latter part of their career who simply feel that they have seen and done it all before.  So they stop being open and they don’t show an interest in new technology or new developments anymore.  It seems they focus more on the past with a ‘been there & done that’ mentality which prevents them from remaining open to a new future they have not experienced yet.

According to a Korn Ferry study, learning agility is a well-known predictor of success and they even call it the X-factor. Simply because nothing in this world is static, everything changes and the person who can adapt will always survive.  That makes sense.  Most of us want to survive and be successful, so are we naturally born with this agility?  Learning agility is defined as both the ability and willingness to learn from experience, and then apply that learning to new situations.  I would argue that most of us have the ability to learn from the very beginning until late in life.  Our brain is a wonderful thing that never stops developing.  However the willingness to learn seems to change over time and is defined by our own mindset.  So it seems that this special X-factor, this curiosity and learning agility, is therefore merely a result of our own willingness to be open minded, to be forward looking, and to think in terms of innovation.  Fascinating!

We don’t have all the answers yet …

The fun thing is that for most people learning is relatively easy, affordable and can take place anywhere.  Being curious doesn’t have to break the bank in either time or money.  You don’t have to travel the world, go to college or have a high IQ to learn.  Everyone can do it, so here are some easy tips and reminders: 

  • Be open to the possibilities around you
  • Raise your hand and ask a lot of questions
  • Be self-aware about your interests
  • When learning something new, start small and build from there
  • Don’t be afraid to fail
  • Experiment
  • Read books, articles, newspapers, TED talks …
  • Listen to others!

So whether it is learning how to ride a bike, learning a new technology at work or learning to adjust to a new culture in a new country – in all these cases we are open to adapt our mind and behavior to new ways of doing things.  We look for ways to improve. Larry Page, co-founder and CEO of Google said it well: ‘Always work hard on something uncomfortably exciting”.  That’s when you know you are in the learning zone.  So Stay Curious! We don’t have all the answers yet and that is exactly how it is supposed to be.