Curiosity killed the Cat

…Age old proverb. The earliest known printed reference to a variation of this proverb was on 23rd December 1912, found in The Titusville Herald newspaper. It read as…You will find greater values here. We are told:  Curiosity killed the cat, But satisfaction brought it back ….”

What does it really mean? Here’s my take – Curiosity (What + How) can get me into a lot of trouble, but if I search for an answer (Why), the satisfaction in the answer (Where + When) overrides the trouble I went thru. After all a Cat has 9 lives does it not?  Randomness is fine, but relevance matters in curiosity.

Design thinking in business is a brilliant way to look at the construct of an “engagement” in the front end. Usually People to People interactions. Listen carefully thru the rest of this as this will be our competitive advantage in the next decade. A simple diagram to illustrate this –

Knowledge Funnel Final

Mystery & Discovery:

It always starts with a question. Relevant question. Irrelevance can get the cat killed – remember! Which has a better probability of success – A cat crossing an expressway vs a cat crossing a busy but crowded market street. Curiosity means asking relevant questions in randomness, coupled with the power of observation and listening, resulting in the realization of what matters to an Engineer, Manager or CXO. It’s the “What + How” coupled with power of Listening (relevant observation + questions) that fill the potential funnel to start with. It’s NOT your product and it’s features that matter here!  The Intuitive mindset matters, and the stage of maturity the business is in.

Devotion to exploration is the invention of business – as risky as the cat that got killed, but it has 9 lives and relevant choices as well. Startups search for that satisfaction here. Behaviors – Intuitive, Agile, Risk taking appetite, creative. Thrives on Fear of Losing Out. Eg: Roles such as Business Development, Prospecting which is part of every sales person’s role and New solutions/accounts/territories that need this approach.

Dedication to exploitation is the administration of business, the expansive approach. The fat cat lived long or long enough? Read – Who Moved My Cheese? Behaviors – Analytical, Calculated, Outcome driven, track record of success, evolutionary. Thrives on Fear of Failure. Eg: Roles such as existing Account /Channel Management, Maximising share and Mature solutions/accounts/territories that need this approach.

Any business or individual would build long term value by bringing in an appropriate mix of these approaches. However, for the purpose of Mystery & Discovery, we need a very strong Exploratory mindset

Eg: I discover that a client (potential) has been working late hours, red eyes, everyone is talking about and I am curious to understand with relevant questions and observations. It may just be a bad day(s) at home in which case I stop asking further questions or maybe there is something out there. Listen to this… The CEO of a major Telco was travelling outside his country and could not make calls. He came back and took his staff to task. Our sales expert probed, listened and learnt and for the love of what he wanted to do (his satisfaction), out came a solution called “Roaming Management System” that went on to to be deployed over the globe. Solutions start in the front office not the back office.

Heuristics & Hunches:

As curiosity advances from the What and the Hows to the Whys, the most difficult part is in progressing the early potentials to opportunities in the funnel. This is where most mysteries become irrelevant and fall out, as do most startups. At this stage it’s the hunch or the power of inclusion and exclusion that progresses things. Eg: I went for a walk in the forest. It’s getting dark and I am lonely in a forest filled with wild animals. I need to get back home. It would be stupid to say I wish to discover the unknown at this hour.

Filtering the noise from the signal is the toughest part. My learning partner at Stanford who is in the mining business taught me this – A diamond is discovered from among a million parts! The first discoveries were likely thru hunches, inclusions and exclusions until this art form became more predictable and an algorithm was developed. This is the crucial phase of learning and applying oneself. There is no guarantee of success as is with any learning activity. How much is retained and how much is put to use ?

Eg: In the previous example, if the sales advisor /consultant did not filter/translate the relevant emotions and what it meant would he have zeroed in on why the CEO was having trouble making calls and what the challenges/gaps with the current systems, measures were? Was there a Aha moment?

Think about your engagement and what relevant filters and hunches, inclusions, exclusions approach you use to arrive at a prognosis.

Algorithms & Predictability:

As curiosity gets satisfied to a great extent, what’s next ? It’s what we do and Where & When it fits that matters. A data driven approach, formulated, reliable and predictable. This is where business cases, justifications, money is set aside and of course solutions are designed /realized. This is where the advisor /consultant in you starts to map solutions, features, benefits, advantages etc.,

Many well known large corporations are great at building a sustainable, predictable model/algorithm, and over time they have finessed this. McDonalds, Hewlett-Packard, General Electric …the list goes on. These corporations have built sustainable long term models. Decades back when these companies started they would have been in the Mystery &Discovery phase , applied Heuristics&Hunches to then successfully build an Algorithmic model that established them over decades.

At the same time they are challenged with looking for new businesses/models . Think about how startups operate vs large corporations and what makes each tick in their own right. The challenge then lies in  how to balance the Intuitive vs the Analytical, Validity vs Reliability, Exploration vs Exploitation.

Few weeks back  our leadership team huddled together and discussed the topic of “Brain based Customer Insights” and heuristics. Is’nt it amazing that 80%+ of decisions are based on emotions, and usually justification follows. We talked about Type 1 and Type 2 mindsets, and the buying influences of engineers and CXOs. All this fits together.

• People talk to, listen to, learn from People, and partner for Value creation.
• 80%+ decisions are based on emotions, find that personal win early on.
• Competitive advantage starts with realizing & understanding mystery.
• Ask relevant questions (culturally applicable method).
• Practice the power of observation and listening.
• Learning comes from inclusions, exclusions, applied hunches and heuristics.
• Solutions germinate in the front end, not the backend.
• Sales /Marketing channels lead the discovery process.
• Satisfaction as the end game separates the winner.


Design Thinking @ Work. A few of our Sales Professionals took the initiative at the ground level, to design a skit to enact our culture/sales behaviours and the entire leadership team were the cast. We honored 3 individuals as the “Chief Design Officers – Sales Enablement/Behaviors”.  All in !

1. “More Holiday News From Titusville’s Greatest Grocery“. The Titusville Herald. Retrieved 2015-02-06.
2. The Design of Business, By Roger Martin, Harvard Business Review Press

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