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The hidden secret of great agency leadership

30 May 2017 | 10 minute read
james short

The late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs has been the subject of interest among those who study leadership, writes James Short.

He was known to be a perfectionist with nearly impossible standards; he never shielded away from telling someone what he thought; he thrived on problem solving; and he was an insatiably curious man.

Have you considered the importance of curiosity as a leadership trait? Jobs’ interests were incredibly varied and included calligraphy, an interest that led to the development of the iconic Apple fonts. Jobs said, “If I had never dropped in on that single calligraphy course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”


Jobs became successful because he was curious about everything. He was not a specialist, but a generalist.

As a leader, you can’t be a specialist and expect to thoroughly understand your agency. You need to be a generalist so you can spot connections between seemingly random things, and let your creative juices flow without inhibition. Curiosity, not the status quo, produces the greatest creative business insights.

Life is a jigsaw puzzle of experiences, knowledge and ideas, and each person’s puzzle is completely unique. You may not always think there’s a relationship between certain pieces, until one day it suddenly hits you and you discover a practical application. I’m not talking about just product innovation as this also applies to working smarter, not harder, in any industry.

On some level, everything is related to everything. The more knowledge you can acquire, the more connections you can see, and you open your mind to previously unheard-of solutions.

A leader who is stuck in doing things the tried-and-true way is only limiting his or her agency’s success. Yes, tried-and-true works, but does it adapt? Does it keep up with a rapidly changing world? Is it still relevant?

I encourage you to be exuberantly curious, as you were as a child. Don’t worry if curiosity has been schooled out of you. Some psychologists believe that only 2 per cent of adults can think outside their box, meaning they have given up curiosity in favour of conformity. Give curiosity a chance to come back and you will be shocked by how quickly you will spark creativity.

Here is how curiosity will completely change the way you do business:

  • Curiosity helps you seize the initiative, if only to answer, “I wonder what would happen if…?”
  • Curiosity makes you coachable. Nothing is more career- and revenue-limiting than a know-it-all attitude.
  • Curiosity helps you create jobs or niches to attend to new problems that aren’t within the scope of traditional positions.
  • Curiosity helps you anticipate needs, challenges and solutions, and stay one step ahead of your competition, and even one step ahead of your customers.

The world is your playground. Explore it, in real life and virtually, and let your amazing brain create associations that bring about those powerful life-changing ‘aha’ moments in your personal life and in business.

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