How to Bake “Intellectual Curiosity” into Your Company Culture

14 Nov 2016 Photo Credit: Hans Augusto & Margret Rey


These days, the Internet is inside everything. 

This means that every industry—tech, manufacturing, retail, professional services, everything—is in a state of constant flux. And when your industry is rapidly evolving and reifning itself, success requires a culture of nonstop learning.

If your business is going to thrive in the future, you need an intellectually curious staff. Here's how you can do that:

1. Start in the Job Interview

albert einstein with quote about curiosity

We start building that culture during job interviews. We ask our interviewees questions like:

  • What is a recent article that resonated with you—and why?
  • Who is one of your favorite authors in the industry?
  • What trade publications or blogs do you turn to for current trends?
  • Where do you seek out answers to problems that have you stumped?
  • What organizations do you belong to?
  • What do you want to learn next?
  • How do you learn best?

Renaissance People

We hire people who are engaged in the world—who have a multi-disciplinary approach to work.

Our developers can design.

Our information architects hold MBAs and marketing experience.

Our designers can code.

And every person on our team is an effective communicator, able to build internal consensus and then articulate their thought process to our clients. And believe me, we use these talents in our meetings—leading productive brainstorming sessions and earning client buy-in on our deliverables. 

2. Collaboration Can't be Just a Buzzword

quote from walt whitman about being curious and not judgmental

"Openness to new ideas" is central to how we operate. Lord knows we don’t always agree, but we disagree agreeably. We communicate respectfully. We're on the same team, and our difference of opionions can push us further, move us toward a deeper understanding. If we can't concisely explain our ideas to each other and our clients, they aren't yet the best ideas.

And we want the best ideas possible. 

Try Sharing Team Norms

The collaborative process is further supported by personal accountability. We (the entire TradeMark Media staff) have a list of expected "team norms" that we contribute to over time—and which we expect each other to follow for the good of the company. When someone notices a bad work habit developing, we address it, simply and quickly, in our staff-wide Monday morning meetings. 

And voila! We've made a tiny improvement to our work. Over 17 years and thousands of these tiny adjustments, we've crafted a workspace and process that runs like a well-oiled V8 engine. 

Performance Reviews

Both our three-month and annual reviews—which include anonymous feedback from supervisors and colleagues—ask us to reflect on how our work and our communication impacts others on the team. While the reviews are normally overwhelmingly positive, we all have things to work on—and the review process is an obvious way to keep us accountable to each other.

3. Baking Curiosity into the Culture

We also provide workday time just to explore, discuss, think.

Everyone gets an annual "training stipend" and is encouraged to use it. We support participation in, and leadership of, industry-related professional groups.

  • Lunch meetings with others in your discipline? Absolutely encouraged.
  • Taking time away from the office to be on the board of a local group supporting creative endeavors? Yes, more please. 
  • Spending the first 30 minutes of the day sipping coffee and reading industry blogs? Do it! 

We ask our team to develop ways to stay connected—and ahead of the curve. And we, as leaders, do our best to support them, including:

  • A weekly all-staff meeting, wherein we share good news and discuss each current project
  • Monthly "TM Think Tanks"—i.e., meetings whose sole purpose is to put our collective brains together to discuss the implications of emerging technologies
  • Monthly, quarterly, and annual strategy sessions, in which all staff contribute to short- and long-term company goals

The Verdict

This year, TradeMark was featured in the ABJ Fast 50, the Inc. 5000, and Best Places to Work—and earned ABJ's Best CEO and Women of Power nominations.

We believe that when you hire people who are engaged, curious, effective and open communicators, and give them the time, the training, and the routine feedback they need to succeed ... they will.

And the company will flourish as a result.

Andrea Richeson

Chief Operations Officer

With more than 20 years’ experience in strategy, design, development, and project management––spanning corporate, academic, nonprofit, and state government organizations––Andrea knows the Internet inside out.

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