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Can Curiosity Be Taught?

Can Curiosity be Taught? with Bethany Kline

Like many other parents right now, I have children at home who are learning online. While our school is doing a good job with this new approach to early childhood education, screen -time limits and other obvious factors have me playing the role of a part-time teacher to fourth and second grader. While my forte has always been training adults, I am noticing a lot of overlap in our young learners and adult learners.

One of these overlaps is curiosity.  Facilitating and training people, young or adult, to be curious is important, but is it really an outcome that can be trained and measured? On this week’s podcast, we talk to Bethany Kline from about her approach to training learners how to be curious and how she applies her methods to scale innovation across an organization.

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Transcript of the Conversation with Bethany Kline

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a podcast about all things learning & development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, and I am the co-founder and CEO of this company called Endurance Learning, and I will be moderating today. I’m joined here with our guest, Bethany Kline, who is a Senior Trainer at Bethany, thank you for joining us.

Bethany Kline: Excited to be here.

Brian Washburn: We’re excited to have you. And I know that recently you were able to do a session around scaling curiosity and innovation across an organization. And so that’s going to be our topic today. 

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn: But before we get into the topic, we always like to have our guests introduce themselves, using exactly six words to share a little bit about your life story.

So for today’s session around curiosity and innovation, my own biography is “I’ve always wondered, is curiosity trainable?” How about you, Bethany? How would you introduce yourself to all of our listeners in exactly six words?

Bethany Kline: Yeah, my biography is “never completely satisfied, but always optimistic”.

Brian Washburn: I would say that that is pretty accurate. I’ve known you for several years. And you seem to be one of the most optimistic people that I have met in the world of learning & development. So let’s go ahead and get started here. When you talk about “curiosity” and “innovation”, how are you defining those terms?

Defining “Curiosity” and “Innovation”

Bethany Kline: Yeah, so for “curiosity”, I’m taking basically the Merriam-Webster definition, which is just a strong desire to know or learn something new that you didn’t know before. And I think to add to that, someone who is curious would demonstrate behaviors like asking questions. And then to pair with that, they’ll listen actively to understand the answer versus, like, listening to respond.

And then they’re always seeking out, or generally seeking out, new learning experience. Whether it’s like really small bite-sized pieces of learning, like reading a new article or learning about a new topic. Or like doing the classic online courses or going back to school.

Brian Washburn: And so I think that’s really, really important here to, kind of, set the bar when we talk about definitions. Because even in what you’re talking about right there, I don’t know that everybody always thinks of curiosity and innovation as really involving listening, right? Listening to understand, as opposed to listening to respond.

And I think that, for me personally, I can see a lot of value in this. But if somebody is listening right now and says, that’s all great. But what’s the value for curiosity and innovation for an organization itself?

Bethany Kline: Ooooh, and also start because I realize I left out the definition for “innovation”. This is maybe one that I feel like will differ from a few. So I think about innovation as picking up a new method, idea or a process that’s new to you.

So there might be something that someone else has discovered or said, but if you’ve never done it before, that’s new and original to you. So finding– essentially innovation is new ways of doing things or thinking about things.

And I think where I’ve seen other people get tripped up is like, well, that’s not really innovative. XYZ company is doing that. But if you’re not doing that, that could be innovative for you. And I think the value– for me the relationship is that curiosity will naturally lead to innovation.

And then, I think, naturally what comes along is, like, you can be more competitive. Or you can get more efficient. Or you can get better quality. For me, the relationship is that curiosity leads to innovation.

Brian Washburn: For an organization to be able to thrive, they need to constantly have new or different ways to do things. Maybe it makes things more efficient. Or maybe it’s just a revolution, kind of, overall. So it can be– so innovation doesn’t have to be huge. It can be a small thing–

Bethany Kline: Yeah. 

Brian Washburn: –that can get people to do things a little bit more efficiently. 

Can You Develop Curiosity and Innovation or Are You Born With It?

Brian Washburn: Now there is a question that I’ve wondered a lot about as a Training Director. And I’ve led some teams, and I’m thinking of areas that my staff, as well as people around my organizations could have improved in.

And I’m really curious in terms of your thoughts. Is curiosity and this idea of innovation, are they trainable? Like, how does somebody develop these skill sets? Is it something that people are kind of born with? Or is it something that you can develop in someone?

Bethany Kline: I think I fall into kind of in both of those camps that you mentioned. I think humans are naturally curious. So there’s that innate sense. But then I think where we find the barriers is, it’s really organizationally.

So my, kind of, proposition is that probably your teams were already naturally curious, but there were either organizational barriers that were said or unsaid that limited them. So things that I’ve seen in the past, and I think probably are true for lots of folks, is that organizations– like there could be cultural barriers potentially.

Like if you don’t feel like you can share new ideas and get good reactions from your leaders, or you don’t feel comfortable challenging, you’re going to learn really quickly not to do that. There could also be process barriers.

Something that I’ve experienced in a few organizations is that just the process of thinking about a new idea or implementing a new idea can be really arduous. And then I think, obviously, like time. Time can be a constraint.

With everything going on, going on in the world, not just now but always. There’s lots of competing priorities, so there’s going to be a barrier there too. So really my proposition is that if you can try to remove some of the barriers and allow people to be curious. They will be curious.

But I also do think it’s trainable. Like those behaviors that I talked about, just like you can think about leadership development. I mean, lots of organizations treat that as something that you can train. I think the same is true.

But I don’t even know if you have to get there. Just allow it to happen. And I think it’ll naturally spark.

Small Ways to Begin to Foster Curiosity and Innovation

Brian Washburn: And you mentioned this a little bit. Because I know there is a number of people who are probably listening and thinking, “you know, my organization is pretty stiff. And we’re pretty buttoned up. And our culture really isn’t about doing things differently, or at least they don’t want me doing things differently.” What advice would you have to both respect their existing organizational culture but also help them to incorporate curiosity and innovation?

Bethany Kline: I don’t necessarily come from a culture like that. But I would think through some other frameworks that I’m familiar with. So like things like starting small and then finding someone in your organization who’s influential that can sponsor your ideas. And I think thinking about these things as behaviors, there doesn’t have to be a full-blown workshop or some large intervention.

It could just be like different behaviors that you model and share with your team. So one of the things that I did with my team in my relationship– I was a peer, so it was my direct peers. We had these team meetings every week. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with that. You have weekly team syncs or team meetings.

And so I proposed that we would start each meeting with a firm barrier of, or a constraint of, five minutes. And we would rotate, taking the opportunity to share something that we learned that week. And the constraints were it had to be five minutes. It had to be something that you could obviously get through in the five minutes.

And then, you know, like a template or a resource or something that you could take away right away. It would be like an intro to some large complex topic. And we created these slide decks, and it, kind of, was a living document that showed what we talked about at the beginning of each team meeting.

So it took five minutes. People were already kind of learning on my team, or finding different resources. So they were already doing that, which made it helpful. But my advice would be to definitely start small. Think on more of the micro-level, or what different behaviors you could work on. And then find someone– if you are aware of someone who is influential or could sponsor or help you with that, I think that would be helpful too.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, and that goes into kind of change management 101. right?

Bethany Kline: Right. Yeah.

Brian Washburn: Start small. Find your champion, somebody who isn’t necessarily of the learning team. And somebody who has respect across the organization and who can preach the value, so that you don’t have to always toot your own horn.

Encouraging Curiosity and Innovation in the Workplace

Brian Washburn: So we talked about starting small perhaps, especially in organizations where resistance might be large. But how do you scale this? How do you scale the idea of curiosity and innovation across an organization?

Bethany Kline:  It’s kind of related to the last question where you start small. But then it’s the idea of growing it bigger and bigger from there. So that was the first step, what it looked like for my team. Then it grew into– called it different things, but kind of, like, just a “learning discussion group”. Probably similar to a “community of practice”.

But we picked topics that we were curious on. And what was kind of strange for us as a learning and development team, we went in with, like, we didn’t have any learning objectives. We were just like we picked a topic that we’re all kind of curious, and then we aligned on some content like “love podcasts”, HBR articles in LinkedIn Learning.

We picked some of those. We took our own time, like, maybe 45 minutes to listen to a podcast when everyone used to commute. And then we would just set aside time to talk about it. Probably a lot of learning professionals really familiar with the experience of, like, you have that, your own light bulb moment, your own a-ha moment.

And it was really kind of transformative to have that experience with your team. And we also drew some different conclusions. And then we also, kind of, thought about how some of the topics could apply at work. Like we listened to a podcast about negotiation skills, and it was interesting how many connections we made.

I mean, I would never classically thought of myself as needing to be able to negotiate. But of course, there are always those blanks, so we were able to have that discussion. The scaling is just getting bigger and bigger from there.

And then, there’s I think some existing frameworks that folks are already probably aware of, like mentoring groups and book clubs and things like that. So one of the constraints that I’m always attuned to, because of my specific organization, is kind of time and money. Those are our big constraints. So I’m always thinking through those lenses. But if you have different constraints, I would just think through “what are going to be your constraints to grow it bigger?”

Brian Washburn: Yeah, absolutely. And there’s always going to be constraints, right? Listen, I really appreciate you sharing some of your insights and some of the things that you have experienced yourself when it comes to the idea of bringing curiosity and innovation into the organization. Because that really is what leads to better learning experiences, I think, for everyone.

Get to Know Bethany Kline

Brian Washburn: Before we leave, are you ready for a few speed-round questions so our listeners can get to know you just a little bit more?

Bethany Kline:  I’m ready.

Brian Washburn: All right. So what’s your go-to pre-training delivery or pre-conference presentation food?

Bethany Kline: So nothing. I do fasting. And just, like, it makes me feel better, not having eaten anything. So for me, it’s important– I always like have a treat for after. Like after the learner palooza session, I had baked some cookies, so I saved a cookie for that.

 Brian Washburn: Nice. I’m with you. I get some butterflies before a session, and sometimes I really just can’t eat.

Bethany Kline: Yep.

Brian Washburn: But afterwards is a whole different story. How about a piece of training tech that you can’t live without?

Bethany Kline: Actually I thought a lot about this, and I landed on two G Suite tools. So Google slides and Google sheets– really, like, that’s where all of the collaboration that takes place to make learning in my organization. And thinking about curiosity, I’ve learned a lot of just like cool tricks in Google Sheets.

Like using a formula for a random name picker. So I’m, yeah, I’m going to go with what I use a lot. Not to necessarily create the learning experiences, but what we use to collaborate to build them.

Brian Washburn: Absolutely. How about a book or a podcast that learning folks should be paying attention to?

Bethany Kline: I really enjoy “The Knowledge Project” by Shane Parrish. I think that podcast– the benefit is bringing in folks from all different types of expertise and thinking from a systems perspective. Like how can this framework apply in all parts of people’s life?

So I’ve never listened to an episode where I was, like, “ah, I wish I could get back those 50 minutes.” So I definitely recommend it.


Brian Washburn: [LAUGHTER]

Bethany Kline: So I definitely recommend it.

Brian Washburn: And do you have any shameless plugs? Anything that you’re working on these days?

Bethany Kline: Just my LinkedIn page, to share perhaps because I want to connect with folks just in the community and learn from each other.

Brian Washburn: Look up Bethany Kline, and she is a Senior Trainer at Bethany, thank you so much for joining us today and for talking about curiosity and innovation. It was really fun to have you on and to listen to some of your insights.

To everybody else, thank you so much for listening this week to Train Like You Listen. One more podcast will be coming your way next week. And if you’d like to subscribe, you can find, Train Like You Listen on iTunes, on Spotify. Anywhere where you get your podcasts.

And if you like what you’re hearing, we would love it if you could give us a little bit of a rating. That would be really helpful. So until next time, happy training.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo at

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