Category Archives: Curiosity

About Learning

I work on the assumption that we can all be even better at what we do. Therefore, it follows that we are (or can be) always learning.

It helps to know what our learning style is if you want to learn and properly embed new skills and knowledge. We all naturally prefer to learn in different ways. To understand these different ways, Peter Honey and Alan Mumford developed their ‘Learning Styles’ model. They identified four distinct learning styles or preferences and recommend that we should both understand our learning style, and seek out opportunities to learn using that style.

Their four styles are:

Activists. Activists involve themselves fully in new experiences. They are open-minded, not sceptical, and this tends to make them enthusiastic about anything new. Their philosophy is: “I’ll try anything once”.

Reflectors. Reflectors like to stand back to ponder experiences and observe them from many different perspectives. They collect data, both first hand and from others, and prefer to think about it thoroughly before coming to any conclusion.

Theorists. Theorists adapt and integrate observations into complex but logically sound theories. They think problems through in a step-by-step logical way. They assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories.

Pragmatists. Pragmatists are the sorts of people who return from management courses brimming with new ideas that they want to try out in practice. They like to get on with things and act quickly and confidently on ideas that attract them.

If you want to know more about Learning Styles, and know more about your own style, you can download a free questionnaire here.

For me, one of the greatest pleasures in life is being curious and learning new stuff. What have you learnt today?

Great questions pt. 2: GROW and 5QF

Here are two very useful tools based on asking powerful questions. You can use both tools to support and help others clarify goals or find solutions, or you can use them to structure your own planning and thinking process.

Both tools are questioning routes, they set out a structured journey based on the power of questions. They will help you think and plan in a positive way. You can use them to help planning, goal setting, and problem solving. They are useful if you’re a project manager, a manager of people, leading a team, running a company, or when you’re dealing with clients or customers.


This was developed as a coaching tool and is now widely used in the business environment. GROW is an acronym for Goal, Reality, Options, Way forward – it provides a structured approach to problem solving and planning.

Some people like to add a T – for Topic – as the first stage to ensure that everyone involved is clear what is being discussed.

It is important to follow the stages in the GROW order.

Stage 1. Goal

Ask: What is it you want to achieve? What is your goal?

Remember – a goal should be aspirational and motivating, and it should also be SMART:

Specific – it is clear, not vague
Measurable – you know when it’s been achieved
Attainable – it’s realistic in the sense that it can be attained, and you have the necessary resources
Relevant – it will help you achieve long-term plans, it is in line with your values
Time specific – it has a time limit

Therefore, after the initial goal question, you might ask others such as:

Exactly what will it look like?
When will it be finished?
How much will it cost?

The goal setting comes at this stage, before the Reality section, so that the process is started on a positive note, and you are less likely to be constrained by thinking about the problems of the moment or past failures.

Stage 2. Reality

Ask: Where are you now? What is the current situation?

At this point you should analyse the current situation, exploring those areas that directly impact on or influence the achievement of the goal. What have you already achieved, and what might be holding you back. In simple terms, you need to know where you are now in order to know how to get where you want to be – if your goal is to make a 1000 widgets a day, or make a journey to a specific destination, you need to know the current level of production or the journey’s starting point.

Stage 3. Options

Ask: What options have you got?

At this stage you should identify the options you have for getting to your goal.

A key question at this stage is: what other options are there? The more options you can explore the more chance of success. Brainstorming can be done to produce a list of options.

Analyse the options and chose the one that will most readily get you to your goal.

Stage 4.

Ask: What will you do now? What exactly will you do?

At this point you need to plan the way forward – how will you put your chosen option into action, what will you actually do?

Sometimes, as you start to plan you realise that there are aspects of the main goal, or sub-goals, that are not clear, in which case you can use GROW again to clarify.



5QF is another framework for tackling problems and challenges, and for moving forward.

It’s a great tool for overcoming ‘blockages’ and helping in situations where no progress is being made towards solving problems. It’s a very positive tool in that it looks at assets – what’s working rather than what’s broken, what you have achieved rather than what you haven’t done.

At the heart of 5QF is a simple set of five questions. The order of the questions is important.

Question 1 – What’s working?

In the vast majority of situations there is something that is working, it’s very rare to have a situation where everything is bad, or broken, or wrong. This question starts the investigation on a positive note, it helps to overcome feelings of ‘I can’t solve this.’

Question 2 – Why is it working?

This question is designed to get deeper into an understanding of what’s right, and it reinforces the positive start. Also, if you know what’s working you can do more of it, and this might help you to find other things that work.

Question 3 – Where do we want to be?

This question seeks to clarify the goal – what do we need to achieve, what will it be like when everything is fixed?

Question 4 – What needs tweaking?

This question moves on from what’s working to look at what is almost working, to look at other things that are already in place or already being done, but which aren’t quite achieving the desired results. In most situations there will be a lot of things that don’t need replacing, they just need adjusting, developing, adapting.

Question 5 – What resources could help?

The last question looks at what else can be bought to bear on the problem – does it need more thought, someone else to give a fresh perspective, more time/money etc? It’s the question that starts to look at what else can be done that is not currently being done.

For more on the Five Question Framework see Kurt Wright, Breaking the Rules: Removing the Obstacles to Effortless High Performance, C P M, 1998.

The benefits of good listening

‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ Steven Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Listening is one of our most useful, under-utilised and under-appreciated skills.

So often we prepare for a conversation by planning what we want to say, and it’s easy to think that we’ve had a good conversation if we’ve done most of the talking and put our point across. However, to think about conversations in this way is to miss a number of very important factors, all of which derive from good listening.

I’ve called listening a skill because while it’s a sense (like seeing and tasting) the skill is in our focus on the data that comes in, and what we do with it in the moment. Because it’s a skill, it can be something that we are good at or not so good at, and it’s something we can develop and improve.

Good listening has lots of benefits. For the listener, it ensures good understanding and opens up the possibility of new insights and new knowledge, and it develops and satisfies a sense of curiosity.

For the speaker, it provides the space and time to fully express their thoughts – being listened to encourages them to be open. Also, being listened to will help to build someone’s self-esteem, and it encourages them to trust the listener.

The benefits for both speaker and listener are greater rapport and a deeper relationship.

So, what is good listening? There are three types, or levels of listening.

Level 1 listeners don’t even listen, they feign listening while they look over your shoulder, or get lost in their own thoughts. At best, Level 1 listeners hear what is being said but only focus on their own thoughts and only understand what is being said in relation to themselves.

An example from a work situation might be:

John says ‘I’m finding it hard to work the Jack, I’m not sure what I can do.’

Bill says ‘I find him really easy to work with.’

Bill has heard the words but has only processed them in a way that relates to himself – he’s completely missed what John was saying about himself.

Level 2 listeners are ‘practical’ listeners, they hear what is being said in a matter of fact sort of way – they process the information and think through the implications of what is being said. In the above example, Bill might answer by saying: ‘that’s going to make teamwork difficult and slow down production time.’

Level 2 listeners might also show that they are listening and acknowledge that they understand – perhaps by keeping eye-contact and nodding.

Level 3 listeners are empathic listeners. They listen intently (what is being said is their primary focus), they acknowledge what is being said, and they are aware of other signs of communication from the speaker – the tone of voice, the speed of delivery, the pauses for thought, gestures and other body language etc. At level 3 it is impossible not to listen empathically – here the listener will be thinking about the implications of what is being said, not for themselves, but for the speaker.

In the example above, if Bill was listening at level 3, he might say:

‘What is it that you find difficult?’

‘I understand why you feel like that.’ (even if Bill doesn’t feel that way himself, if he’s listening empathically he’ll understand why John feels that way)

‘What are you going to do about it’ or ‘Is there anything I can do to help.’

When someone listens at level 1 there’s a good chance that the speaker will notice that they’re not being listened to properly. This can lead to feelings of being undermined or unimportant, and they will be dismissive of the listener. Needless-to-say, we should strive to listen at, at least, level 2.

The benefits of good listening in the workplace are numerous – it helps to bring about:

  • good understanding about what needs to be achieved, what is to be done and how it is to be done
  • good relationships between colleagues
  • good management – good listening is a key skill for managers
  • good relationships with customers and clients
  • increased sales – consultative selling relies on good listening

One of the first jobs I had in my early twenties was working on a construction site – on my first day, Dusty (the man I’d been assigned to work with) said to me ‘you’ll get on here if you remember that you’ve got two ears and only one mouth.’ Great advice!

Who have you listened to today?

Be a sponge, be even more successful

Every new idea evolves from a pre-existing idea!

Sir Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics (and without whom we wouldn’t have computers, space travel and much else), acknowledged this when he said “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Businesses only survive by growing and changing, and that requires an input of new ideas: ‘what can we give the market that no-one else gives?’, ‘how can we produce twice as much with the same resources?’, ‘what can we do to ensure that our staff are fully engaged?’

It’s highly likely (we might even say certain) that the answers to these questions are already ‘out there’, someone somewhere has already tackled the problem, got the answer, solved the puzzle.

So, if you want to be successful in business, be a sponge! Soak up ideas as if your life depends on it. Make time for reading, watching, visiting, asking questions. The more ideas that go in, the better the quality of the ideas that come out!

When you’ve soaked up lots of ideas, play around with them until you’ve got something that suits your needs – combine ideas, take an idea from one field of activity to another, do the opposite, mix things up, take the relevant bits of an idea and discard the rest, share ideas, give some away and get some new ones back.

Be a sponge, be curious, then be creative, then be successful.

(a warning – don’t pass borrowed ideas off as your own, acknowledge the debt)

Questions can change lives

The right question, asked in the right way at the right time can challenge (in a good way) someone’s perception and thinking, and change their beliefs and behaviours. Asking the right question at the right time can be a great tool to help your staff and colleagues.

Asking something as simple as ‘what do you think?’ can help to:

Make them feel trusted and valued

Build their self-esteem

Build a good working relationship with them

Build their motivation and commitment


If that is followed up with ‘what else do you think?’ then you have the potential to help them:

Think more profoundly

Think things through

Think outside the box

Challenge accepted ways of thinking and doing


These questions are powerful because they have some key attributes.

They are ‘open’ – they invite or push someone to think, to give a detailed answer (as opposed to ‘closed’ questions that require only a yes or no answer).

They are very concise – if you ask a long question the intent can easily get lost, if you ask a multiple question (requiring several answers) you’ll probably only get an answer to the last part.

If you build your own view into the question it can direct or inhibit the answer – asking ‘what do you think?’ is better than saying ‘I think this, what do you think?’

These powerful questions very often start with ‘what’ or ‘how’ – ‘what can we do?’, ‘what will happen?’, ‘how can that be achieved?’, ‘how will you tackle that?’ Be careful of ‘why’ questions, they can sound slightly threatening.

By the way, don’t fear sounding naive when you ask question like this – your brevity and lack of expressed opinion are partly what gives these questions such power.

And, if you suspend your own beliefs and opinions for a moment, you never know, you might get an answer that changes your life too.

What can we learn from David Hockney?

You can’t open a newspaper or magazine at the moment without David Hockney’s boyish good looks staring out at you, or without seeing one of his ultra-colourful Yorkshire landscapes.

Hockney’s career now spans more than fifty years and has been characterised by a constant and ongoing artistic development. His artistic ‘periods’ include the early 1960s pop paintings, the Bigger Splash and Californian work, the photographic ‘joiners’, and the recent multi-canvas landscapes. Parallel to this development has been his changing status, in the public eye he’s gone from enfant-terrible, to Californian exile, to the UK’s most popular painter.

Hockney has constantly changed, developed, and re-invented himself. So, what can we learn from him?

Firstly, we can learn the pleasures and benefits of curiosity. At the heart of everything he does is a restless questioning, a fascination with new ideas, and a search for new possibilities. Nowhere is this more obvious than in his use of different media. He’s employed the traditional artistic media of pencil and paper, paint and canvas, he’s been an accomplished print-maker, he’s used both film-based and digital photography, made art with faxes and photocopiers, championed the ipad as a serious artistic medium, and in the new exhibition there are multi-camera film pieces too.

Secondly, we can learn that moving on to new ideas and interests need not involve a rejection of the past. For Hockney, moving on has always been a process of adding, of combining old and new skills and interests, of building on achievements. He’s always been striving to create something new that gains strength, meaning and interest from the inclusion of what has gone before.

Sir Isaac Newton said that he achieved what he did because he ‘stood on the shoulders of giants.’ This is the third lesson from Hockney. He has stood on the shoulders of Picasso. For him, Picasso has been a role model – think of Picasso’s lifetime of experimentation and breadth of work, from painting and drawing, to prints, to sculpture and pottery. At times Hockney’s work has shown the stylistic influence of Picasso, but this was never a slavish imitation. What Newton and Hockney share is the ability to absorb, rework and improve the ideas that have come before them.

When we put these aspects of Hockney’s character and career together – the restless curiosity, the constant learning and improvement, the absorption of ideas – we perhaps go some way towards explaining his permanent boyishness, his childlike passions. Hockney has shown us how to grow and mature while staying forever young.

If you want to know about what I do and how I might help you, your colleagues or your organization, contact me on 07932 657925 or