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The Secret to Solving Complex Nonprofit Problems? Tapping Into Your Team’s Curiosity

Nonprofit work is all about finding solutions to problems—whether they’re global crises, local needs, or systemic issues. But while they tackle those big-picture problems, nonprofit teams also have to navigate emerging challenges and unexpected hurdles. To unlock greater success, it pays to nurture their curiosity to help them generate fresh ideas and perspectives. 

“Only curiosity inspires the questions that generate the answers we don't yet have access to,” explains LinkedIn Learning instructor Becki Saltzman in her course Applied Curiosity. “Without curiosity, new answers will cease to exist.”

Of course, everyone on your team is a little different, and that means their curiosity will come out in different ways. To help you manage and direct your team’s curiosity effectively (and understand your own motivations better), here’s how to identify four different curiosity types, based on insights from Saltzman’s course. 

Curiosity type #1: The Adventurer seeks out new experiences

For some people, it’s the call of adventure that brings their curiosity out. They’re interested in meeting new people and having uncommon experiences, and they aren’t afraid of taking a few chances along the way.

You can spot an Adventurer by looking at the kind of opportunities they’re drawn to. Are they eager to talk to people and pick their brains? Are they always looking for places they can go for new resources and insights? Are they invested in hearing viewpoints different from their own?

To manage this curiosity type effectively, aim to challenge the Adventurers on your team. By encouraging them to bring diverse thinking to your nonprofit and shake up the status quo, you can tap into their innate urge to try new things—and benefit from it. 

Curiosity type #2: The Thinker likes to dissect problems

Some people are more intellectually curious than adventurous. Rather than moving fast and breaking things, they like to mull over topics, thinking them through carefully and not immediately accepting things at face value. 

A common trait of a Thinker is the desire to break things down and examine them. On your nonprofit team, there may be one person who prompts everyone else to think about how they can replicate the success of an approach in the future. Or, if a project doesn’t go to plan, they may be the person who is first to question what it was about the team’s thinking that was flawed—and what they can do differently next time, knowing what they know now. 

To get the most out of the Thinkers at your organization, give them the freedom to research new approaches while the rest of the team focuses on logistics. When you’re too close to a project, it can be difficult to imagine doing things any differently, but the Thinkers of the world can help everyone take a step back and reconceptualize the problem. 

Curiosity type #3: The Observer sees what others miss

No matter what kind of nonprofit you work at or which department you’re part of,  you probably have a lot of moving pieces to account for. Inevitably, something will fall through the cracks eventually—which is why it’s great to have an Observer or two on the team. People with this curiosity type tend to acquire knowledge and skills in many different areas, and this makes them well positioned to explore potential blind spots the team may have.

The Observers in your organization may ask a lot of questions like, “Did we rely on any incorrect information?” and “Was there something we didn’t take into consideration?” They may also be interested in examining what other people and organizations have done that your team didn’t to better understand what was missed in your initial planning. 

Make sure that your team’s culture empowers these individuals to speak up when they feel something has been overlooked, whether it’s an opportunity, a possible hurdle, or just a small logistical detail. Their keen observation skills are extremely valuable, but only if they feel comfortable applying them without experiencing pushback.

Curiosity type #4: The Solver questions assumptions 

While some look at problems through an adventurous or philosophical lens, others are more scientific in their approach. These people are Solvers, and they’re especially good at spotting problems and solutions that aren’t immediately obvious to everyone else. If a strategy is flawed, for example, a Solver may be first to identify this and pinpoint where the thinking went wrong. 

The Solvers on your team will likely go about problem-solving in a highly methodical way. They will ask matter-of-fact questions to aid their research, like “What did we falsely assume?” and “How did we assess this problem incorrectly?”

You can support these employees by giving them opportunities to challenge assumptions. After all, as Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them,” so their ability to see things differently can be a huge plus.

Unleash your team’s curiosity

Curiosity isn’t a fixed thing, and some members of your team may fluctuate from one kind of curiosity to the next, depending on the situation. But by paying attention to their behavior and identifying their default curiosity type, you’ll be able to assign them more tasks that pique their interest, helping them apply their curious minds to solve your nonprofit’s most pressing challenges. 

Giving your team access to the vast library of courses on LinkedIn Learning is one way to help them tap into their curiosity—and bring new ideas and skills to your organization. To find out more, contact our team.

This post was inspired by the LinkedIn Learning Blog article “4 Curiosity Types That Will Help Your Team Solve Problems in the Crisis,” authored by Rachel Parnes.