Are You Curious?

[Post by Chuck Krugh, June 7, 2024]

Are you curious? Why would I ask you that question? Why would I want to write a blog about whether you are curious? What could this possibly have to do with our business? You might wonder how this relates to my recent blogs about tools, fixtures and jigs.

Well, let’s see if I can tie this together for you.

One of the things that I have learned in my career is that you cannot allow yourself to become stagnant. To me, stagnant means that you either have stopped trying to learn, don’t find the value in learning new things, or – worse – assume you know all there is to know about your work.

Another thing I’ve learned in my career is that the know-it-alls don’t last – instead, they burn out. These people are generally unwilling to change their mind and are not open to learning new things. Their egos are strong and admitting they don’t know something is difficult for them. As a result, it is quite hard for them to rekindle the curiosity they had early in their career – the curiosity that led them to gain the level of understanding they have attained. However, on the rare occasions when they reassess what they know and allow themselves to learn some different ideas, that reassessment sparks important learning, enabling them to become instrumental in the success of the company. But, as I said, it’s been my experience that this rarely happens.

We all can imagine what a know-it-all looks like and acts like. It may be a little more challenging to visualize “stagnant.” It can show up in several ways, like a blind spot that you may not even realize is there.

Let’s explore a few of the ways people lose their curiosity and become stagnant in their jobs or careers. It can happen in at least three ways: complacent, unchallenged and unknowledgeable.

Complacent: This is a terrible word that implies an individual has reached a point in his or her career where not only is he or she comfortable, satisfied with the status quo and not worried about job performance, but that the individual is also not willing to do anything to upset the status quo – even when it may be necessary. Complacency is a powerful force. A complacent person is unwilling to take a risk or take on a challenge.

One unfortunate aspect of complacency is that it can sneak up on all of us. It has a powerful pull and becomes stronger over time . . . until one day, you realize you have become complacent and need to consciously break free from its grasp. Don’t allow yourself to become complacent! If you’re a Star Trek fan, here’s a good analogy: Complacency is like the Borg – you don’t want to be assimilated!

Unchallenged: Always stay challenged at work. Working on challenging projects not only keeps complacency at bay, staying challenged offers several other benefits:

  1. Being challenged generally keeps us interested in the business. We fix problems for a reason, and that reason is usually to make the situation better. That work is future-focused on the next time we build that part or execute that process.
  2. Time appears to pass more quickly when we have work that engages us.
  3. Solving problems is one of the best mental activities we can do – like building a puzzle with hundreds of pieces. Solving one challenge helps each of us solve others because it trains our brains to think through the puzzle.
  4. Working on and completing hard projects is one of the best ways to get noticed by senior leaders and advance our careers.

A few times in my career, I have felt like I had my role dialed in – and I got bored. That’s when I have usually looked for a new challenge. Before I came to BIW, I was responsible for restarting the production line for the G500/600 nacelles. This was a difficult project. I had almost no experience with composite manufacturing. It was exciting when we started because there were so many things that needed to be fixed or figured out.

But over the course of 4 1/2 years, we not only figured it out, but the team was doing amazingly well – hours were getting reduced and cycle time was shrinking. Sounds like a great place to be, right? It was, but the challenges, for the most part, had been solved. I wanted to do more than manage that business. Fortunately, my work in taking on that challenge was noticed by leadership and also prepared me for my next challenge.

So here I am…

By the way, this trait is one that my wife doesn’t like. She thinks I should enjoy running the business once it is where it needs to be instead of starting all over again on another project. However, as this process has repeated itself many times during our marriage of almost 35 years, she’s become accustomed to it (Thank you, Debbie!).

Unknowledgeable: It’s sort of a cliché, but it is true nonetheless: You just don’t know what you don’t know. Leaders have to continually evolve and learn to adapt to changing environments, situations and people. One of the best things a leader can do is to continue learning. This is different formal education – such as college or professional training; it’s learning how other departments, divisions and companies work. You don’t have to leave BIW to get this knowledge. Being a student of your profession or industry gives you the chance to learn how other companies operate.

There is another curiosity killer worth mentioning: Overconfidence. It is similar to Unknowledgeable, but see whether you can spot the distinction.

Overconfidence: Overconfidence can show up in two ways: knowledge and mindset. When you become an expert in your field, it is a great feeling because you have gathered the knowledge necessary to demonstrate understanding. It is especially gratifying if you are recognized for it. But overconfidence can be problematic if you assume that you have learned all there is to know about a particular subject. When this happens, you are becoming like the know-it-all.

Have you ever met a person who had a level of confidence in their abilities and knowledge that far exceeded the skills that person demonstrated? How about a person who gives you a confident answer without studying or researching it beforehand? I’m sure you’ve met both types of people!

An overconfident person could be bluffing or may simply lack self-awareness. Overconfident people may be trying to learn, but in the meantime do not display humility in being able to admit what they don’t know. Instead, they make decisions based on incomplete information and maybe have a 50 percent chance of being right. Overconfident people may be dismissive of the suggestions or advice of others and don’t follow up that guidance by asking questions like, “Why did you make that suggestion?” Asking those kinds of questions is, you guessed it, curiosity.

Getting stagnant or losing your curiosity in your job or career is a terrible place to be. If you feel like you have reached this plateau, I encourage you to make a change. The easiest way to make a change is to talk with your boss, your coach/mentor or a trusted colleague who can help you map a pathway back to engaging work. There is always a way to get reenergized in your job or career. Talking with someone is usually the start of that journey.

You may recall at the beginning of this blog I said, “You might wonder how this relates to my recent blogs about tools, fixtures and jigs.” So here’s where they fit in. Curiosity, or lack thereof (as described above), can determine whether your mindset is open to adopting new ideas like tools, fixtures and jigs. Tools, fixtures and jigs are ways to decrease both production hours and cycle time while making our technicians’ jobs easier.

Engaging in this path takes a willingness to try something that is new and a certain level of confidence in the potential of your idea. If you are complacent, unchallenged, unknowledgeable or overconfident, you are much less likely to try something new. Curiosity can definitely lead to process improvement!

It is important to me that, after reading this blog, you don’t walk away thinking that I believe longevity in a position is a bad thing. Having the same job for a long time can be a very good thing as long as you avoid the traps where people lose their curiosity or get stagnant. I want all of our employees, no matter how long they have been in their position, to be curious about their work and how we all can make our processes better. That is how we strengthen our company for the future.

See you on the deckplates!

Safely Execute High-Quality Work

President, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

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