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Klaus vom Hofe

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The world belongs to the curious

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Being curious – it sounds easy, human, even child-like. For those of us in the workplace – including "old hands" and young people just starting out – curiosity is emerging as the key to the digital world.

Can anyone still remember how multimedia used to be a "megatrend"? Wasn't that sometime toward the end of the last millennium? Everybody was going wild over it. And then the Internet was suddenly in everybody's pockets and pocketbooks. On cell phones, that is. Initially, the portals for the mobile Internet were cumbersome. Then, in 2007, open mobile Internet access suddenly took off, with the iPhone.

That was a real sensation. But when you look back on all that now, it seems a little quaint and pedestrian. Of course that assessment might have something to do with my own perception! The pace of things really seems to have picked up. By leaps and bounds.

New "big things" on the ICT front seem to emerge about every few weeks. They're always fast and splashy. Things like the cloud for consumers and business customers, big data, cyber security, machine-to-machine communication, the Internet of Things, smart home and artificial intelligence … in sum, all of digitization's many facets. It's all being hyped still further by the promise of exciting future topics that will fly on the wings of 5G: robots, 3D printing, drones, self-driving cars and ultra-vivid virtual and augmented reality – and those are just a few examples. Each new moment seems to bring new business areas, start-ups, products and partnerships.

How can I possibly keep up?

What implications does this frenetic pace have for working people, whether experienced or just starting out? How can I possibly keep up? HR managers and career counselors have long been telling people to prepare for the innovation fireworks that are coming. Lifelong learning is supposedly the answer, especially in the telecommunications industry in which we work.

Without a doubt, that is indeed good advice. But to my ears it sounds dauntingly impractical. In my mind's eye, I see a raised forefinger. And did you say "lifelong"? That's an adjective that very few things in life deserve. So "lifelong" began monopolizing my thoughts, and then I decided to start discussing it with various people in our Group. With people outside of our innovation areas. 

  • I have to think of one young intern, a linguist who closed out her internship by delivering a fiery speech to her department. She said the first insight she gained upon joining the company was that "the most important thing here is to be curious." She had a fresh perspective that struck a nerve, I would say.
  • Then I have to think of the security-team experts who try to compromise websites, portals, equipment and systems, just like cyber criminals. They look for any security vulnerabilities that they can exploit. Of course they do that only for a good cause – eliminating the weaknesses in systems. When asked how they can outwit the smart attackers and methods they're constantly running up against, they say: "We're just extremely curious." It just wouldn't work without curiosity.
  • And then there's the legal team at Deutsche Telekom's OTE subsidiary in Athens. I recently got to know them during a two-week job visit. A great many of the issues that can come up in the company's daily operations – including trends and megatrends, of course – land on those legal specialists' desks. Such as issues related to contracts with partners and customers. Those specialists do a great job for the company, and to be able do that, they explained, they try to get to the bottom of the "nature of things." They dive deep, because that's the only way they can find legal guardrails for new pathways not yet taken. And what drives their acquisition of such profound knowledge? You guessed it – curiosity.

A success factor that is still often overlooked

Being curious – it sounds easy, human, even child-like. It's a success factor in the workplace, as the blog at karrierebibel.de  so fascinatingly explains. And yet it's a success factor that is still often overlooked, as a study carried out by Merck, the pharmaceutical company, has found. When asked about their personal qualifications, only 20 percent of employees mentioned "being curious." Assets such as "organized," "cooperative" and "an eye for detail" were cited much more often. And yet eight out of ten of the persons surveyed asserted that people who are curious are the people who are most likely to turn ideas into reality. The study also found that working people who are curious have the highest levels of job satisfaction. So as far as I'm concerned, the case for "lifelong learning" is rather obvious!

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