Wonder at Work

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After years without a visit, this summer my nieces are making the journey from their home in Maine to visit me near Washington, DC. Recognizing that the roundtrip road trip is a long way for two little girls, purchasing planes tickets made more sense for them and for my mom and my aunt—their equally enthusiastic chaperones. When they found out their vacation was taking them up into the sky, I could practically feel their squeals of excitement bouncing off the very clouds they will soon by flying through.

Anyone who has spent time around children knows the joy of experiencing something new through their eyes. It's inspiring, even humbling, to witness a child having a lightbulb moment or finding themselves completely in awe of something simple, like seeing a puppy, or something complex, like boarding a metal tube that would let them be like birds for an hour. As we grow older, that same sense of wonder doesn't always grow with us; it often dulls with time. But does it have to?

Mister Rogers believed in the power of wonder. He famously reflected, "Our society is much more interested in information than wonder, in noise rather than silence...And I feel that we need a lot more wonder and a lot more silence in our lives." Through wonder, we experience the world through two essential lenses: curiosity and appreciation. Wonder is driven by curiosity; it's about speculation, asking questions to gain understanding, and opening yourself to new ideas and information. At the heart of wonder is appreciation; curiosity is often accompanied by surprise, awe, and even amazement in what we discover.

The more we learn and experience, the easier it can be to dismiss wonder as what we're so often taught it is: a feeling better left for children than for those of us who have been there, done that, and bought a t-shirt or two. The older we get, the harder it can be to find moments of genuine first-time learning. Worse yet, when we do encounter those moments, wonder is often overshadowed by a sense of embarrassment. If you're the only one experiencing wonder in a room full of colleagues, keeping it to yourself can feel much safer than admitting you just learned something everyone else already knew.

Wonder has a valuable place in the world of work—and we have the power to make it feel welcome, model it, and encourage it in our colleagues.

Embrace your growth mindset.

As adults, our cognitive patterns become more fixed; this is often a reflection of our knowledge gaps diminishing with time. The more we learn, the less of a gap we have between what we don't know and what we want to know. Eventually, that gap can close, and when it does curiosity is extinguished.

When you bring your growth mindset to your work, you allow yourself to save space for curiosity and wonder. A growth mindset enables us to look at our talents as progressive or constantly in development; we can always learn more and expand our skillsets. Wonder plays an enormous role in how we develop growth mindsets; through wonder, we can take an objective look at what works and doesn't work as we problem solve and seek to move past roadblocks.

Get curious—and encourage curiosity in others.

On average, children ask 107 questions per hour. How many questions do members of your team ask per hour? If you want to promote innovation, collaboration, and productivity in your organization, curiosity is the best tool for the job.

Save space in your meetings for curiosity. Ask clarifying questions and encourage team members to do the same. When someone presents a challenge, avoid filling the silence and instead use it as a tool for team members to process, think, and form connections and build solutions in their minds. Ignore the timestamps on your agenda and let team members pick the rabbit holes they want to explore as their curiosity drives the conversation. These moments can lead to surprising innovations, awe-inspiring observations, and collaborative conversations that let great thinking shine while bringing teams closer together and honoring their sense of wonder.

Dream—as big as you can.

Every once and a while, I love to insert a "what if" question into a conversation. What if we didn't have deadlines and timelines and budget restrictions? What would we build? What kind of impact would we make? How would we feel about our work?

So many of us come to work full of good intentions and an honest desire to make our teams and companies better because of what we contribute. We also have fleeting moments where the phrase, "I wonder what would happen if…" floats through our heads, only to be crushed by the reality of every constraint we face in our day-to-day roles. Take time with your teams to nurture that kind of dreamlike conversation—and see what comes from it. It could be someone's big dream might need some tweaking or scaling but could be just the solution you are looking to implement. Let people wonder out loud through prototyping, whiteboarding, or simple sketches on a scrap of paper during a team meeting. Cultivating an environment where wonder is valued can inspire everyone to dream bigger—and to share their next brilliant idea.

Welcoming Wonder at Work

When my nieces fly to DC, I won't get to experience the joy of their wonder as more than a century of aviation learning delivers them to a weeklong vacation. I will get to experience the moment when they rush through the arrival doors at the airport, full of stories about the sounds of the engines and the speed of the plane and the unparalleled bliss of sipping apple juice at 30,000 feet. And for a second, I will also be a kid again as I live all of that through their eyes. And when that moment passes, I will internalize it differently than I usually do; I'll focus on what it means to truly feel wonder and how I can keep my own wonder from escaping.

Look for ways to embrace wonder at work, and model what it looks like to welcome it so your colleagues feel comfortable enough to welcome it, too. It is through wonder that we can build curious, connected teams that do great work—and feel great while we do it.

Stephanie Hubka, CPTD, is a talent development consultant and the managing partner of Protos Learning, LLC. Her work focuses on strategic learning solutions and developing a kinder global workforce.

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