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How Managers Can Cultivate Curiosity in the Workplace

As children, we are all curious. It’s in our DNA to ask questions and seek understanding. But as we grow older, we tend to lose that initial drive. Whether it’s because we’re moving too fast or we think we already know enough, we’ve lost that sense of authentic curiosity. And yet, we know that curiosity breeds creativity and innovation. But did you also know that it fosters healthy relationships and an engaging work environment? It does, and your role in nurturing curiosity in the workplace is pivotal.

This week, I learned all about curiosity from Scott Shigeoka, an internationally recognized curiosity expert, speaker, and author.

Shallow vs. Deep Curiosity

Curiosity is defined as the search for understanding. To better understand curiosity, Scott reveals two types of curiosity–shallow and deep.

From what I’ve learned from my conversation with Scott, shallow curiosity is the search for information that gives you minimal data. For example, asking for someone’s name, where they grew up, or what they do for work.

Deep curiosity, on the other hand, is connective and transformative. It fosters a greater understanding of the world, yourself, and others. So, instead of asking someone their name, deep curiosity entails asking someone the story behind their name or how they spend their time instead of what they do for work. These types of questions give you insight into someone’s story and values.

However, Scott reminds us that we need both shallow and deep curiosity; one is not better than the other. You don’t have to pressure yourself to go deep in every conversation. There are many circumstances, like meeting someone for the first time, where you need to start in the shallow end before building up to deeper questions.

Practice The DIVE Model

To practice deep curiosity, Scott reveals four muscles you need to exercise regularly, which he calls the DIVE. The acronym stands for detach, intend, value, and embrace.

Detach is letting go of your ABCs–your assumptions, biases, and certainties. I stands for intend, which is to create the mindset and setting for curiosity. Third is V for value, which is to see the dignity of each person, including yourself. And lastly, E for embrace, which Scott defines as embracing or welcoming the hard times and hard conversations in life.

You can use this model to help identify the areas that you need to lean into in order to be more curious. In particular, managers may need to get better at detaching. Assumptions, biases, and certainties show up in the workplace regularly. We need to notice when they creep into a conversation so we can be more open to exploring and learning from others.

Be an Inventor

Curiosity is about developing that muscle in you to sit with the discomfort and use uncertainty as a superpower rather than something we fear. Scott encourages people to be an inventor who shares when they’re wrong and acknowledges when they don’t know something.

There are three steps to being an inventor. First is to use the phrase, “Tell me more.” If someone from your team comes up to you with a great idea, no matter what you think at that moment, pause for a second and ask them to tell you more. By encouraging your team to talk more about their idea, you make them feel valued while simultaneously getting a better understanding of their thinking.

The second step is to openly say, “I don’t know.” Managers, especially first-time managers, fear admitting what they don’t know because they don’t want people to see them as less competent. However, Scott says there is a difference between saying “I don’t know” and then moving on versus, “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” As I’ve learned from this conversation, curiosity doesn’t just live in our minds; it’s action-oriented! It’s about uncovering things that you don’t know.

The last step to being an inventor is to model curiosity regularly. This includes Scott’s three directions of curiosity: inward, outward, and the great beyond. We can seek to understand ourselves by better investigating our values. We can learn more about our colleagues and the world around us. And we can be thoughtful about what is greater than ourselves. The research says when you practice curiosity, it’s more likely that others will do it, too. Curiosity is contagious!

Following the DIVE framework and Scott’s tip of being an inventor, anyone can cultivate curiosity in the workplace. And when you get those curiosity muscles working, you’ll see your team become happier, more creative, and more connected.

Listen to my entire conversation with Scott HERE for an in-depth discussion about curiosity.

Connect with Scott:

- Follow Scott on Instagram here

- Grab a copy of his book here

FREE Divergent-Convergent Inquiry Cheat Sheet

Get Mamie’s cheat sheet on divergent-convergent inquiry. Questions are a key component of exploring curiosity. This PDF will help you ask better questions based on your goals and situation. It also includes suggested resources to further your understanding of curiosity and question-asking.

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The Modern Manager is a leadership podcast for rockstar managers who want to create a working environment where people thrive, and great work gets done.

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