Curiosity in leadership: A strategic paradox

Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
2019 European Group for Organizational Studies Conference, 2019
Issue Date:
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In this conceptual paper, we use a paradoxical lens to explore the strategic contradictions of leaders who are required to make balanced paradoxical choices, for example, when decision-making requires the identification of novel and creative solutions to difficult problems. We develop our perspective based on two recent large scale studies that delve into how curiosity is viewed and applied in contemporary firms. The results from these studies suggest a limited level of leader support for curious and enquiring minds; instead, they posit a position of top down decision-making as a means of managing risk. We also review the impact of cognitive bias when leaders consider their choice of decision-making approaches, either to provide exploratory support for curious enquiring minds or to maintain an exploitation position conducive to risk mitigation. We then move on to discuss the importance and relevance of contextual questioning in support of “playfulness,” as a means of enhancing curiosity and encouraging exploration. With curiosity and exploration being essential to the identification of novel solutions, we suggest that contextual questions are integral to paradoxical frames associated with curiosity and risk. Our aim is to contribute to paradox theory by expanding theoretical insights supportive of an integrative approach to contextual questioning enhanced by serious play. In this way, enriching outcomes that are associated with curiosity; most notably when there are paradoxical tensions between curiosity and risk. Finally, we provide three questions as stimuli for further empirical research.
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