“Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
- Walt Disney Company
Have you ever wondered how some leaders seem to possess the ‘Midas’ touch when it comes to creating successful businesses? Or perhaps envy company valuations for seemingly unproven ideas? I want to explore in this blog the idea that creating an aura of fascination and remaining curious can give some leaders the edge, in a competing world of attention.
Sally Hogshead in her updated book on Fascination talks about giving your customers the orange ticket rather than the green. She uses the fairly simple analogy of choosing whether to queue for the more intense Mission Space theme park ride at the Epcot theme park in Orlando or the less extreme version with shorter queues. Of course, she did both.
Aside from the shared experience of those that chose the orange ticket ride, believing themselves to now belong to an exclusive club that said more about their outlook on life, Hogshead claims there wasn’t that much difference between the two rides. Yet people were running back to join the orange queue again. Herein lies the cult of fascination according to Hogshead:
"Give people the orange ticket and you can leverage a distinct attitude, mindset, and point of view…You're either captivating or a commodity. You're fascinating, or forgotten."
The beauty of exploring the idea of fascination or curiosity in either our brand or ourselves is that rather than forcing our ideas on others, it pulls people towards you.
Before I get too carried away and completely endorse the ‘style over substance’ mantra, it is important we first acknowledge the clamour for our attention in the 21st century. We cannot ignore the fact that our brains are bombarded with an overload of stimuli in the present day; some claiming that the result is a limited attention span. Evidence seems to point to the fact, however, that we are processing information differently. Some marketers have adopted the view that you need to shout loudly and repeatedly to be heard above all the rest. I hear you groan as I remind you of the UK business Safestyle’s ‘Buy one, get one free’ campaign or the ‘Head On’ pain-relief stick ads that felt justified in repeating the product name over and over again. So perhaps the concept of fascination and curiosity is one we should consider?
The beauty of exploring the idea of fascination or curiosity in either our brand or ourselves is that rather than forcing our ideas on others, it pulls people towards you. In an overloaded information world this is surely what we all seek and according to Hogshead, the science proves we are ‘hardwired’ to be fascinated? Fascination is the most powerful of people and product attachments but how can we cultivate this as business leaders?
You cannot deny that there are several business leaders that spring to mind when you begin to think in these terms. Sir Richard Branson, owns in excess of 400 companies and has cultivated (whether by design or default) a strong personal brand. In many ways, he ticks the boxes that Hogshead describes as being essential to developing ‘fascination’: Innovation, passion, power, prestige, trust and mystique. Elon Musk absolutely fits these criteria and seems constantly able to excite shareholders and the business world, despite not always delivering proposed strategies.Can we develop these skills or are they innate?
It requires a certain amount of humility to accept you don’t have all the answers, yet paradoxically, this is a real strength when it comes to leadership
The danger we often face as leaders are we can have a tendency to learn more and more about less and less. This rather blinkered approach can leave our flanks exposed to business disruptors. Being innovative, creative and constantly curious is certainly one way to excite the business world and keep them curious about you.
Curiosity stimulates leadership excellence; it forces us to ‘close the gap’ on what we know and don’t know. It requires a certain amount of humility to accept you don’t have all the answers, yet paradoxically this is a real strength when it comes to leadership. For it is in seeking new ways of doing things or how to do the things we do better, that real leaders will rise to the top of the pile.
That curiosity will also serve to make high achievers bounce back from disappointment and learn from their mistakes. It is a core trait of resilience and can be the critical difference between ordinary and high achievers.
“Why is it that when one man builds a wall, the next man immediately needs to know what's on the other side?”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
High achieving people are extraordinarily driven and curiosity underpins that drive. Individuals who lack curiosity are happy to accept the status quo – falling profits, high staff turnover can be explained away by market conditions. High achievers will go to great lengths to analyse the various forces at work, which then puts them in a superior position to rectify the issues. And generally, because of their very nature, they will!
Peter Thiel formally owned a hedge fund ‘Clarion Capital' which lost 90% of its $7 billion assets, before going on to create Paypal. Backing the wrong strategy can have disastrous effects for both you and your company but top business leaders often survive these periods and are welcomed back by the business world with open arms. Why is that? Tenacity, experience and intellect must surely play their part but that formula could apply to most C-Suiters.
Regardless of how successful your current business strategy might be, this might be the time to look again at how you can harness curiosity and fascination with your brand and your leadership skills and keep the business world wanting more.