What will you decide to be curious about Monday morning?
That's a question that former Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley routinely asks himself. For him, the willful decision to get curious about something new has led him to some amazing insights. For example, a few years ago Lafley wanted to get Peter Drucker's thoughts on the work of the CEO. So he decided to call the legendary management thinker out of the blue and see if he would be willing to meet. Drucker, Lafley recalls, answered his own phone and invited the relatively new P&G CEO to his home for a brief chat.
That livingroom chat ended up extending for hours and was the beginning of Lafley and Drucker doing some meaningful work together trying to define the work of the CEO. As Lafley recounted that first call when I interviewed him this week for the World Business Forum's New York conference, he was still ebullient remembering how much time and thought Drucker was prepared to share with him — a stranger until Lafley picked up the phone. Lafley's only regret was that he hadn't dared to call Drucker sooner in his career because their work, which continued over future sessions in Drucker's livingroom, was never fully complete in Drucker's life. Lafley would finish that thinking with an article in Harvard Business Review after Drucker's death, but he has wondered what else their collaboration might have produced had he called him sooner.
For Lafley, the curiosity imperative extends beyond reaching out to an admired thinker. His hallmark at P&G was to spend whatever time he could with customers, learning from them. As he advised a questioner in the audience at our World Business Forum session, don't wait to be given a customer research project — create one on your own. You don't need a big budget or lines of higher authority approval. Just do it. Decide to learn something new without anyone asking you to.
In my years of covering entrepreneurs, I know that many of the great ones were relentlessly curious, freely daring to reach out to people they thought they could learn from — even when it wasn't clear why those people would give them the time of day.
The morale of the story is that great thinkers and innovators make deliberate choices to be curious — and then dare to pick up the phone. Or email someone. Or start their own research project. Great connections that lead to game-changing insights aren't made randomly. You need to make "discovery" a priority project.
What journey of discovery is going to top your to-do list Monday morning?
Karen Dillon is the Editor of Harvard Business Review.