Research Fellow, Alison Horstmeyer, explores the importance of curiosity in VUCA environments in her peer-reviewed journal article

We wanted to take the time to congratulate our Research Fellow Alison Horstmeyer on her peer-reviewed journal article on USC Center for Third Space Thinking’s attribute, Intellectual Curiosity. Her article, The generative role of curiosity in soft skills development for contemporary VUCA environments, covers “the role of curiosity in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) work contexts.”

Horstmeyer is a humanistic researcher, talent development consultant, and certified executive coach, and EQ facilitator. She harmonizes her sophisticated business building acumen and evidence-based mind-body and curiosity domain expertise to help clients from a diverse set of industries. Her Ph.D. research focuses on workplace curiosity and associated mental, emotional, and motivational attributes As workplace curiosity research is relatively nascent, Alison is one of the emerging humanistic researchers leading research in this area. Her work is published in various domestic and international leadership, business and HR publications, and peer-reviewed journals.

The USC Annenberg Center for Third Space Thinking has long believed in the importance of intellectual curiosity as a crucial soft skill to develop for academic and career success. Horstmeyer’s article provides empirical research to validate that belief and gives organizations a foundation with which to define and implement curiosity in their work environment. Horstmeyer indicates that this milestone for the Center for Third Space Thinking “substantiates and empirically supports the work that we’re doing [because] if a soft skills developmental model does not include fostering curiosity then it’s likely not going to be as effective as something comparable to the ACE-IT model which does cultivate curiosity”.

Horstmeyer shares with us the importance of clearly defining curiosity since “there’s confusion and misconceptions about what curiosity is and we need to stop upholding the view that curiosity is this linear trait wherein a person goes from incurious to curious, it’s actually multi-faceted.” What she does in her article is thoroughly explain these various facets to give us a better understanding of how curiosity can occur within each person. 

During this era of COVID19, conditions are certainly more “volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous” than ever before which means that the need for intellectual curiosity is stronger than ever. It is common for people to gravitate towards what they know during times like this, however, Horstmeyer invites individuals and organizations to embrace curiosity. She believes VUCA environments provide immense opportunity for growth and exploration. Accessing the various facets of curiosity can help us move forward through this crisis because it can help to activate adaptability, agility, and 360 degree thinking. Horstmeyer states that “curiosity is actually essential to understand and practice as we try to make sense of this new world order”. 

While many companies include curiosity as an important attribute they look for in employees, many of them struggle with actually implementing and encouraging this skill in existing employees. Horstmeyer admits that through her research she found that “there’s a gap between what organizations think they’re doing to support curiosity and what’s really being perceived on the employee level.”  To encourage curiosity, Horstmeyer says employers should view exploration and experimentation positively. In fact, it should not only be encouraged but rewarded in order to incentivize employees to take on that intellectually curious mindset. 

For example, in 2004 Google posted an anonymous billboard on a highway near Silicon Valley with a puzzle on it. The puzzle stated, “{first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e}.com”. Those curious enough to solve the puzzle were taken to a website with an additional puzzle. Google rewarded those who solved the second puzzle by inviting them to submit their resume. This unorthodox method of recruiting candidates depicts Google’s commitment to curiosity in its employees. 

Overall, the importance of curiosity in the ACE-IT model, as Horstmeyer points out, is that it acts as a “catalyst to those other attributes”. In general, you’d be hard-pressed to really create an effective soft skills development model without including curiosity, but even more so during highly VUCA environments like these.  

Read Alison Horstmeyer’s full article here: The generative role of curiosity in soft skills development for contemporary VUCA environments