Jay Upchurch, CIO, SAS

Why leaders must cultivate curiosity in 2021

From the moment COVID-19 hit, more than 14,000 SAS employees counted on us to ensure a reliable virtual working environment. It's curiosity that allowed us to propel our digital transformation plans forward while supporting our customers through all the rapid change. And it is curiosity that will enable us to meet the future needs of a post-pandemic workforce.

Curiosity isn’t something we can teach; it's something we must nurture. This happens through the environment we create, the behaviors we encourage and the personalities of our team leaders. If we lead by example, questioning and seeking new ideas, we give others the freedom to follow. Jay Upchurch CIO SAS

The notion of curiosity and the bias toward action

The waterfall approach can really limit the creativity of developing a potentially valuable product. Incredibly gifted people may be writing code, but because they are constrained by a set of requirements, they're unable to ask natural questions. This means output isn't as productive as it could be.

Today, we have more opportunities to be curious through DevOps and agile technologies like those in the cloud. CIOs must foster an environment that allows teams to be curious while still delivering results.

Nurturing curious talent

Some of the most talented people in IT are comfortable with ambiguity. Ambiguity enables them to solve problems, and solving problems requires creativity. Creativity requires curiosity, and it is an inquisitive nature that often leads to a better result.

As CIOs, we must also foster the understanding that there may be more than one right answer at times. When you write software, for example, you can write a procedure a variety of different ways and still arrive at the same outcome.

Curiosity builds trust

Before the era of digital transformation, IT lived behind the curtain, taking orders and delivering them. Sometimes we delivered what the customer really wanted, and sometimes we delivered what we thought the customer wanted. That cycle led to distrust and frustration.

Today, we take more of a consultative approach – learning our customers’ processes and the language of their work. We're empathetic to their challenges. Our curiosity allows us to bring a different perspective to their business problems. As the trust relationship builds, you can digitally enable a division to accelerate over time.

Curiosity’s role in data and analytics

If you’re comfortable knowing that data changes and some models age, you can be creative in thinking about the results. The anticipated result may differ completely from the result received.

Curiosity leads to further exploration, so you can think about ways to drive a different outcome over time. Or you’ll dig deeper to uncover why the result you expected did not match the outcome. In the process, you’ll learn.

Leading By Example

The challenge here is to not constrain creativity by predicting or predefining what you want an outcome to be. Give your teams the tools, create a safe environment and lead by example.