Staying curious: how thinking differently can lead to business efficiencies

Staying curious

In 1972, Robert Palladino ran a calligraphy class at Portland’s Reed College. Ever the curious being, the class attracted a certain young entrepreneur called Steve Jobs. What the then unknown Jobs learnt in that class would go on to influence the development of the Mac computer. “The Mac was the first computer with beautiful typography,” Jobs later said. “If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

Curiosity can lead to developments in our businesses that we never expected. By branching out from our traditional areas of interest, we can start thinking in unexpected ways. And it’s this kind of extraordinary thinking that can lead to new, revolutionary solutions. This is the reason we associate curiosity with success – and with genius. It’s why recruiters prize it so highly when they’re searching for candidates. It’s why we value it above almost all other creative traits. 

A new approach

Creative Energy is a key pillar of E.ON’s thinking, and we believe it’s an approach that all customers can benefit from. We want to empower businesses to see energy as more than a bill to be paid. We want them to see it as an opportunity. As something dynamic and enabling. As a force for change.

We believe that being guided by curiosity and asking the right questions can help businesses of all sizes shape the right solutions. In fact, we believe that even the most functional aspects of a business can benefit from being curious. E.ON worked with Radisson, for example, to install Europe’s first industrial-sized, state-of-the-art fuel cell technology for a hotel’s energy supply. Whilst the technology itself is revolutionary, the real triumph came from taking a curious approach to the customer’s business.

How to stay curious

We live in the era of information. Google has over 30 trillion unique pages and processes over 40,000 search queries every second. But curious people value asking questions above finding answers. They constantly ask and never assume they know everything. 

The curious thing about curiosity

Scientists, psychologists and other academics understand relatively little about why humans are so curious. Certainly, we’re hard-wired to learn about the world around us. But scientists have yet to work out why some of us are more curious than others, for example, or how stress and other environmental factors affect our curiosity. 

Because on the face of it, a traditional CHP solution could have been obvious for Radisson. But our engineers knew that the noise it might emit could inconvenience hotel guests – so by being curious and asking questions about Radisson’s USPs and goals, they were able to create a better solution. One that was bespoke, fit-for-purpose and revolutionary.

For businesses with an unforgiving bottom line, there are gains to be made too. With E.ON’s support, thinking differently helped UK retailer, Marks and Spencer, save 34% per year on their energy costs. By controlling all 550 stores through one centralized data platform, they were able to implement a large-scale efficiency improvement project. 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

Albert Einstein

Being curious about curiosity

Curiosity also forms the basis of any good R&D department – and can help businesses expand into new markets and new lines. Unilever, IBM, and Volkswagen are all excellent examples of large, global companies benefiting from this approach. And whilst you don’t have to be of similar size to these organisations, there’s no reason why you can’t implement this thinking into your culture too. At E.ON, our R&D programme :agile, is dedicated to the development of curious ideas, from cloud-based solar monitoring, to solar-powered WiFi benches, to smart car parking spots. 

In energy, we’ve seen that asking questions like ‘what if we tried it in a different way?’ can lead to amazing developments. Take Optimum. Optimum is a cloud based modular application that gives businesses true energy intelligence, empowering them to reduce consumption and costs with ease. It’s a system built on perfect understanding, and means that energy management has never been so easy. But it only came about because at E.ON we were asking ‘how can we take a fresh look at energy?’.   

Another curious thing about curiosity

A 2014 study from the University of California made a huge breakthrough in understanding curiosity when they found that the brain rewards our curiosity by releasing dopamine when we find answers to our questions.  The study established that humans strive to plug the ‘information gap’ and get addicted to the feeling that comes from filling it. 

Throughout a business’ lifecycle, keeping a curious mind can yield benefits from smart hiring, through to business growth, through to an enhanced bottom line. Walt Disney famously said of his company “We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” Curiosity, when it’s embedded in a business’ culture, breeds success.

So far from curiosity killing the cat, a quest to think differently and to question can help a business with every aspect of its operations – from its energy supply to its profit margins and beyond. Irrespective of sector or goal, the development of curious ideas is at the core of a business that pushes the boundaries. The approach has creative energy injected throughout. So the question for ambitious businesses simply needs to be: ‘what’s your next question?’