From coworkers and clients to full-time employees and part-time interns, I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years. While the majority of the people I’ve worked with have been beyond competent, a number of them have been true superstars. In trying to decipher the qualities that enable people to become superstars, time and again, the two that rise to the top of list are curiosity and humility. People who are curious and humble, whether they come by it naturally or had to work at it, typically make for better salespeople, writers, marketers, engineers, managers, you name it.
Someone who is intellectually curious deeply cares about understanding concepts, identifying underlying issues, and seeking the truth about things in general. These concerns will drive the curious person to ask lots of questions— particularly great questions — in their quest for knowledge. Their questions often begin with “how,” “why,” or “what,” and while graduating from MIT or a Great Books college can be an indicator of genuine curiosity, not all of us realize our insanely curious side at age 17 or 18 .
Intellectually curious people question conventional wisdom, not all the time, but when it no longer appears to be wise. They often adopt a insightful questions. Great marketers constantly test new campaigns to see which ones resonate more with their target market. Great engineers always figure out how to simplify something or make it better. Curiosity helps drive all these people to do exactly what they need to do to perform great work.
Intellectual humility often accompanies curiosity, but not always. Curious people often end up knowing quite a bit about a wide variety of topics, and many become what are commonly known as “know-it-alls”. Know-it-alls become consumed by arrogance and pride in the knowledge they have acquired. We all know at least one, and dealing with that person can be miserable. Know-it-alls lack the all-important virtue of humility. And while true humility is often difficult to spot, it does not require a lack of confidence by any measure. A humble person does not get defensive so easily. They are willing to be proven wrong if presented with the right reasons, logic, or evidence. Intellectual humility is best summed up by CS Lewis, who wrote: “true humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
Intellectual humility is a sort of self-forgetfulness. I believe people can become self-forgetful when they have a general sense of awe in the world around them. Regardless of their reputation and their accomplishments, intellectually humble people recognize, in the grand scheme of things, we are all fairly insignificant.
It’s not difficult to see why humble people make for great coworkers. They are less focused on themselves and more focused on others. They care less about being right and more about finding the right answer. They don’t mind saying “I don’t know,” which is way better than someone trying to compensate for their lack of knowledge with excuses… or worse, fabricated answers. They often put the interests of the organization they work for ahead of their own interests. Quite simply, they work well with others, are open to feedback and criticism, and will work hard to improve where it is necessary.
As it turns out, intellectually curious and humble people not only make for rock star employees; they make for amazing people in general. I’m lucky to have numerous friends, family members, and a wife who share these virtues. And fortunately, they are common here at Capterra too.
(P.S. If you know someone that you’d consider to be intellectually curious and humble, we’re hiring.)