The Role of Managerial Curiosity in Organizational Learning: A Theoretical Inquiry

By McIntyre, Nancy H.; Harvey, Michael et al. | International Journal of Management, June 2012 | Go to article overview

The Role of Managerial Curiosity in Organizational Learning: A Theoretical Inquiry


McIntyre, Nancy H., Harvey, Michael, Moeller, Miriam, International Journal of Management


Organizational learning is a means to improve the chances of the organization surviving in today's highly competitive global marketplace. Organizational knowledge creation and knowledge transfer represent imperative for attaining and sustaining a competitive advantage in a global business environment. Yet, organizations are unable to learn unless the individuals in the organizations are committed to the learning process. Curiosity provides the platform for global managers to inquire into why things happen and what can be done to effectively meet the goals of the organization. Learning managers with curiosity need to heed the importance of their level of 'mindfulness' (i.e., focusing curiosity to meet goals) so that curiosity is an effective tool to learn and solve problems. This paper explores the concept of curiosity by linking individual curiosity and learning style to organizational learning. The traits/characteristics of 'knowledge activists' are discussed as a means to cultivate organizational learning.

Introduction

In support of companies' (see Ernst and Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, 3M, and FritoLay among others) talent searches, the global talent management literature (see Collings & Mellahi, 2009; Guthridge & Komm, 2008; Schuler, Jackson, & Tarique, 2011) posits curiosity, a managerial attribute, as a pivotal component of individual and consequently organizational learning. Inquisitiveness is a competence not many organizations are willing to sacrifice in a managerial candidate, as evidence has shown organizations' dependency upon such capabilities in order to attain and sustain a competitive advantage in the global marketplace. In today's global marketplace, the global organizational context is typified by an increased propensity to question existing norms and seeking alternative explanation to problems.

It is precisely the lack of experience and level of formal training relative to global issues that may hamper global decision-making self-efficacy (Harvey, Novicevic, Leonard, & Payne, 2007), and thus trigger the need for global management with curious minds. The literature has articulated the need for clever, creative, and constantly curious individuals (Isabella & Spekman, 2001), whereby curiosity [has been] conceptualized as a "positive emotional-motivation system associated with the recognition, pursuit, and self-regulation of novelty and challenge" (Kashdan, Rose, & Fincham, 2004, p. 291).

Curiosity is assumed to be one of the vital components of organizational learning. While most theorists acknowledge that organizational learning cannot occur without individual knowledge creation and knowledge sharing, how this might occur or what role individuals might play in this process has not been systematically investigated (Simon, 1991). Little support has been provided that speaks to the viability of curiosity as a driver of individual learning. This manuscript sets out to explore the following: What are the mechanisms by which individual learning is stimulated? Moreover, how may we capitalize on these mechanisms to foster greater levels of organizational learning?

The manuscript adopts Nonaka and Takeuchi's (1 995) SECI (socialization, externalization, combination, and internationalization) framework for creating organizational knowledge. Extending their assertions, the manuscript posits that human capital and the development of individual knowledge is pivotal in the global organizational learning process. Kolb's (1984) assists in making this claim. Kolb's learning theory suggests that learning per se is the result of the interaction of two matters: 1 .) the individual; and 2.) their surrounding environment. KoIb specifically proposed a process model of learning and classification scheme of types of learners, whereby learning is suggested to occur somewhere along the continuum from active experimentation through reflective observation and concrete experience through abstract conceptualization. …

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