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Can a Business Analyst Learn How to be Curious?

wick July16Last month, I wrote about the top ten BA skills for 2013. Several people commented on the article, but one comment caught my attention: “Curiosity seems to be the oddball on this list. I would say this is a characteristic, more than a skill. It is hard to teach curiosity, whereas the others seem teachable.”

This really got me thinking (yes, curious about curiosity!):

  • Can curiosity be taught?
  • Is curiosity a competency that can be developed?
  • Aren’t all people born with curiosity?
  • Is curiosity hard to teach?
  • Do we need to teach it or is it already within us from birth and we just need to connect to it or find it?
  • What do curious BAs look like?

So, let’s explore curiosity. Please read and ponder. Then, add to the discussion by leaving your comments below.

What is curiosity?

If we go to Webster, curiosity is defined as “a desire to know” with synonyms of inquisitiveness or nosiness. Even more interesting are the antonyms (opposites) of curiosity: apathy or indifference.

A host of wise people agree that curiosity is important: Some consider it a virtue, some hint that it peaks in childhood and gets lost over the course of our flawed education system, and others consider curiosity the key to creativity and innovation. 

Here are a few quotes that highlight the meaning and importance of curiosity:

“Curiosity is more important than knowledge.” -Albert Einstein

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers” -Voltaire

“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. ”-Albert Einstein

Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.”-Arnold Edinborough

“When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do. ” -Walt Disney

“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” -Zora Neale Hurston 

“The greatest virtue of man is perhaps curiosity.” – Anatole France

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” -Leo Burnett

Why is curiosity important to the BA role?

As I said in last month’s article, curiosity has always been a critical skill for BAs.

  • BAs need to use probing questions to help stakeholders learn about and define the vision of the future state.
  • As teams move toward the future state, BAs need to be curious about change. They need to hold on to the original vision and ask questions about the impact of changes.
  • BAs need to be curious when things seem ambiguous. We never have 100% certainty or clarity in our work. BAs need to be curious and ask probing questions to uncover risks and assumptions so that all stakeholders understand areas of ambiguity in their projects/processes.

How do BAs demonstrate curiosity? 

If the opposite of curiosity is apathy, then BAs without curiosity would simply scribe. They would take information as given. They would not seek. They would not question. They would not explore. They would not learn. They would require lots of direction. Without that direction, they would fail.

So, what does a curious BA look like, what do they do differently?

  • They ask probing, open-ended questions that make people stop and think.
  • They explore a stated requirement vs. accepting it as-is from the stakeholder.
  • They investigate the options and alternatives instead of accepting the first solution given.
  • They are open to the possibility that “change” could be good. They ponder, research and communicate the risk and value of change—even if time is short and deadlines are tight.

Can you teach someone how to be curious?

Yes! You can teach “a desire to know”. You can develop curiosity just like any other skill.

If you think about athletic skills, like a tennis serve or a golf swing—it is true that some people have natural talent, but, with practice, even mediocre athletes can achieve greatness.

Like athletes, BAs can practice too. BAs can use the following techniques to inspire, cultivate and/or practice curiosity.

Six Techniques to Develop Curiosity 

  1. Practice empathy with users and sponsor-level stakeholders. Empathy might be described as emotional curiosity. If you take time to observe and understand the thoughts and motivations of your team members, you will learn which questions to ask. Put yourself in their shoes. Be curious from their perspective.
  2. Keep up to date on industry happenings and think about how they could impact the project. Would the impact be positive or negative? What would change? How could your organization capitalize on the industry happening?
  3. Determine options and alternatives, even when the solution seems obvious.
  4. Create a list of “pondering” questions and use at least one each time you meet with a stakeholder. My favorite pondering questions: How do you think it evolved to this? What would happen if? Why is this important to you? What does success look like?
  5. Use the 5 Whys technique. Ask a “why” question. Determine the answer. Then, use that answer to develop a new “why” question. Continue this pattern (usually at least five times) until you discover the root cause of the problem.
  6. Use the SCAMPER technique. This question-asking technique will hone your curiosity and inspire innovation. Begin with a challenge or problem you would like to solve. Then ask how you could substitute, combine, adapt, magnify, put to other uses, eliminate, or rearrange. Google a few examples to help you get started.

What do you think? Is curiosity innate? Do all people have it? Can it be taught? Please leave your comments below.

Be curious my friends!

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.