Leading with Curiosity, whether software or industrial

Curiosity keeps you asking the questions: how can we improve this process, how do we better develop new products, how can we better serve our customers, do we have the right people in the right roles?

We have all seen the values that are the cornerstone of our culture at ABB: Courage, Care, Curiosity and Collaboration. In this article I will share with you my personal perspective on Curiosity, something that played an important role in my personal development and in my career.

Let’s first try to define what Curiosity is. We have a great definition within ABB: Curiosity means we believe there is always a better way to do things, we lead with technologies and innovations, and we learn from failures and successes.

Reading around the internet, because I am curious, I found some interesting material from the Harvard Business Review with some further definitions and thoughts about Curiosity. Curiosity is seen as the driver to enhance intelligence, increase perseverance and “propels us toward deeper engagement, superior performance, and more meaningful goals.”1 “Curiosity improves engagement and collaboration. Curious people make better choices, improve their company’s performance, and help their company adapt to uncertain market conditions and external pressures.”2

If this is Curiosity, then we need a lot of it in our current environment, and we need courage to be curious and try new experiences, new ideas and new ways to do things.

I thought about my personal career and the role Curiosity played in it. As an electrical engineer with a PhD in software engineering, I started my career by teaching at the Politecnico of Turin and working in a software start-up on advanced simulation software. Life was great but, after a certain amount of time, I achieved a very good technical level but felt I was not able to learn enough. I was Curious about something new.

I still remember clearly what my father told me at that time, “Andrea, if you want to be the best in your own (small) field, stay where you are – but if you want to learn more, understand what does it mean to manage people and different businesses, you have to move on and take the risk to get somewhere where you are not an expert anymore.”

I followed my father’s advice and moved to ABB, in a business doing robotic paint lines mainly for big automotive customers. There I learned what it means to manage a huge project. The story then repeated itself several times, and I went through different businesses and positions in ABB where every time I restarted with my wealth of knowledge, and in exchange gained something new, useful and interesting.

The list is long: from a small commercial 3-phase motor production to robotics service and then to robotics operation, from a green field factory development in Bulgaria to the turnaround of a factory in France (where I got the opportunity to learn a new language), from the Installation Products HUB position to the current Region position.

Everything was propelled by Curiosity, and a good deal of Courage, or recklessness, depending upon your own perspective.

One of the major lessons I learned is the fact that being able to apply my past experience to the new positions and challenges helped me a lot. With my background in software and mathematics, I found many applications of my academic knowledge to the industrial world. For example, when you have to understand the effect an action we take in the business (investments, commercial actions, improvements, savings) has on the profit and losses of that business, you build a model (through the IS system, the KPIs, the processes and procedures you put in place) and expect a certain output – that is very similar to design and implementation of a complex software application.

Sometimes, Curiosity applies also to culture and to behaviors, and to challenging the status quo. For example, in one area I worked early in my career, job descriptions were widely used and engrained in the local culture. We soon got to a point where our flexibility was impacted by that because production employees were refusing to help each other (it was not on their job description). The local team was not able to see any solution, but with a little bit of Curiosity we managed to find a simple and straightforward solution: we added to the job descriptions “additional tasks to assist others as needed”. This seems simple but was the result of being curious and understanding the role of the job description in that culture, that was not clear at all in the beginning.

Curiosity keeps you asking the questions: how can we improve this process, how do we better develop new products, how can we better serve our customers, do we have the right people in the right roles?

When a sense of Curiosity is big enough, you learn what you need and bring competencies that you have collected in the past to a new level. It is a process that requires a lot of Courage, but I can assure you, you will never get bored. Take a look at your business and be curious. How can you look at your business through a different lens? What are you going to understand better tomorrow than you understand today?

I am also curious to get feedback and I will be happy to discuss the concept of Curiosity further– just reach out to me via LinkedIn.

 

https://hbr.org/2018/09/curiosity
  1. Kashdan, Todd B and others, “The Five Dimensions of Curiosity.” (Harvard Business Review  September-October 2018)
  2. Gino, Francesca. “The Business Case for Curiosity.” (Harvard Business Review  September-October 2018)
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About the author

Andrea Castella

After some experience teaching Software Engineering in University and developing simulation software in Artis srl, Andrea has amassed over 24 years professional experience in the Automation Industry. He is currently the ABB Electrification Installation Products General Manager for the Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific regions with full P&L responsibility and direct reports in Sales, Marketing and Operations.
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