How Intellectual Curiosity is Critical for Your Success in HR

intellectual curiosity, critical hr skills, skills in human resources

I’m working on writing a new book and because of that have been diving into what is important when it comes to HR and innovation, creativity, and success in supporting and even leading the business. The HR role in business, in my opinion, has been a well-kept secret with most leaders not fully understanding the complexity of our roles and the breadth of how the people impact what we do.

Now is our time. The economy has shifted and great people are in short supply. Employee engagement, development and succession planning is critical for not just the health but success of an organization. And in order to thrive in the spotlight, we need one critical skill to ensure that HR thrives and shines.

That critical skill, the one we need above all else in HR  is intellectual curiosity. Intellectual curiosity is the cornerstone of human resources and our role in businesses especially in strategic HR roles within our organization, industry, and business.

Intellectual Curiosity Means Living in Perpetual Beta

Recently, I sat down with Jason Averbook, a well-known technologist, and innovator in the HR technology space. In our podcast interview, he discussed working in a state of ‘perpetual beta’ where there is always change, improvements, and enhancements. While Jason was talking about workplace technology and systems to help enhance the employee experience within our workplaces, however, I think the concept of perpetual beta in the terms of intellectual curiosity sums it up well. In order to be ahead of the curve, progressive and innovative, we, as HR leaders should always be committed to growing, evolving, learning and changing. Perpetual beta is essential for intellectual curiosity.

I realize the concept is easier said than done. It’s easy to write about intellectual curiosity being critical to the future success of HR from the comforts of my laptop, but it’s one that I’ve followed throughout my entire career. Curiosity led me to some of the best professional opportunities of my career and through that curiosity led me to learn new skills that while hard I truly enjoy including graphic design, writing, and coding. Without that curiosity, I wouldn’t be adept at them at all.

The biggest characteristic in an HR hire I look for is intellectual curiosity. I say that because in HR it has a tendency to attract people who want to take care of people – but the reality is that HR is a role in an organization that has to be intellectually curious – see something, recognize it is an opportunity or problem, do everything.

I’m not alone in the understanding the importance of intellectual curiosity as critical to the business and strategic success of HR. In HRCI’s most recent report titled, Strategic HR Emerges as a Company-Wide Prioritythe author focuses on the future of HR, certification and how to be strategic in business. The quote above is from the report’s author, and it struck me as the most important piece of information for current and future senior HR leaders. Intellectual curiosity is a skill that leaders are hiring for.

How to Welcome Change

I’ve found that my thirst for knowledge and the interest in different types of information and skills not only opened me up to new ways of thinking and information but also helped program my brain to better manage change. Dr. Britt Andreatta who I also recently interviewed for the Workology Podcast on the subject of neuro-leadership, describes the different journeys we, as individuals go forth within an organization involving change. If our brains are more open or used to trying new things and change, then we experience less stress and anxiety making it easier for us to adapt and adjust to a new way of doing or thinking.

Intellectual curiosity is purposeful but focused so that you can be strategic in your learning, growing and evolving yet open to let the wind take you when you opportunities present themselves. By purposeful, I mean setting aside time and committing to exploring different areas of interest for yourself. Maybe that’s graphic design, public speaking or a class online. What I mean about being open is not making the process or practice of intellectual curiosity so rigid. This means taking advantage of that opportunity when a friend invites you to join a meetup on data science or developing bots. You might not be an engineer, however, learning opportunities like this provide you valuable information and insights you can’t get from reading white papers and journal articles. You need to be open to new and different opportunities.

For example, this summer my daughter and I are learning how to code. She’s 8 and I’m 39. I’m certain she will catch on sooner than me, but that’s okay. While I am likely not developing any cool mobile apps or platforms anytime soon, I’m excited to put myself into a place that’s unfamiliar and uncertain in order to test my boundaries.  Anything I can do to learn about technology is important because it’s fundamental to the future of work, business and my daughter’s education and life 0pportunities. Doing this doesn’t mean I’m going to be an expert. It just helps me grow, learn and evolve in that state of perpetual beta that I mentioned which I’m using to drive my intellectual curiosity.

What are you doing to drive intellectual curiosity? And do you think it’s enough?

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. claudia says

    Hey Jessica,
    Great Article!

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  2. Rachel Stones says

    I think intellectual curiosity is a good trait to look for in any employee. And while hands on learning activities sometimes provide the best opportunities for growth, I found a book program at one of my previous companies very helpful too. The program offered general business and industry related books to employees for their use. In addition, you could earn incentives. I took the opportunity to read several books I wouldn’t have considered otherwise and learned some valuable lessons I still implement in my working life today.


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