Habits And Inquisitiveness – Essential For Business Success


As individuals, the ability to turn important routines into habits is considered by many essential to success. So too is an inquisitive mind that is always exploring. For businesses, these traits are even more important if they are to out-compete others in their chosen marketplace.


Active Knowledge Questions:

Is your business both inquisitive and able to lock down everyday actions to improve effectiveness and efficiency? Does it manage the tension between these traits well?


How We Compete Today

Today we compete around customer value, the value that we are able to deliver to our chosen market in meeting their needs.

One could say value is the optimisation of actual price and need satisfaction. Simplistically, how much does it cost and what value, as a customer, do I believe I am receiving? The cost is factual, the customer value often lies in the eyes of the individual customer. And sometimes, the relationship is inversed in that, the higher the price, the higher the perceived value received by the customer.

Having said all of that, I believe there are two key attributes that allow a business to optimise the value they deliver. Firstly, their ability to lock down actions and, secondly, their ability to enquire and search out new value.

For me, these are the attributes of habit-forming and inquisitiveness. Two traits normally attributed to individuals and not businesses. But there is a significant gain to be won by leaders to look at their businesses as if they were a person, and to ask, what habits do we need to establish and how do we become inquisitive by nature?


Forming Habits

A habit is an acquired behaviour. It’s something that you regularly practice until it becomes second nature and then, if you don’t do it, well you feel almost ‘out of sorts’. Building a habit-forming culture within your business can be a significant competitive trait.

We typically seek to form habits around routines that are important in our days and which we want to ensure happen without a lot of effort, for example, waking up at 5.00am to exercise before work. Once the routine is established and locked down to become a habit, it just happens with a lot less effort.

Forming habits, even just wearing the same clothes each day (think Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg) can reduce the number of decisions you need to make and, therefore, reduce decision fatigue and information overload. You can then focus your energies on things you consider more important.

In businesses, at an operational level, we often establish processes for undertaking various tasks to support quality control, improve efficiencies, and ensure safety.  These are not habits; habits are formed at a deeper level. Habits become part of who you are and are not something that are easily released. Processes sit on the outside, habits form on the inside.


Why Habits Are More Effective Than Processes

Habits require less willpower to maintain whereas adherence to processes can more rapidly drain willpower. Processes are something you are required to do, habits are something you want to do. And in case you weren’t aware, willpower is a limited, although a renewable, resource. So, you only want to expend it on the most important decisions.

Each of us commences a day with a reservoir of willpower. The more decisions you make, the more information you process, the more challenges that are presented to you – the more you draw down on your reservoir until it is depleted. And when your reserves are low you typically fall back to your default settings – the settings of less resistance.

Habits draw less willpower and also can become your default setting. Willpower is recharged through rest but in a working day, there is little place for rest.

As individuals, we often struggle to form and sustain habits, however, I find habits are not rigid but are, in fact, subject to self-learning. You form a habit but you continually tinker with it to make it even more efficient and effective. Processes, in contrast, are mandated and typically require a lot of effort to change or even tinker with.


Where Should Habits Be Formed?

Habits should be formed around areas that are critical to your competitive posture, that is, how you compete as a business. I explored this in another one of my articles, ‘The Power of Simple Guiding Principles’. From which the extract below is drawn:

‘Business strategy should set direction, alignment and focus with the entire capability and energy of your business striving to win. It will be reflected in how you position the customer value you deliver at any point in time, but strategy is continuous and often emergent. You will develop a competitive posture, a way you compete to win, that draws your strengths to the surface each and every day, and allows you to always outcompete everyone in your chosen marketplace.

The competitive posture that you set will be supported by the culture of your business, which includes its values, and through the organisational design that you craft. In short, everything that happens in your business must be focused on delivering on your competitive posture.’


Habits represent actions, which, once formed, should simply occur and feel natural. Think about the most important actions your business should take every day to underpin the competitive value you deliver to your customers. This is where habits should be formed.


Inquisitiveness – An Essential Trait

Someone who is inquisitive is always asking questions, reading, researching, exploring, testing, and curious to know the ‘why and how’. Their minds are active.

For any business to remain competitive it must continually seek to improve the value that it delivers to its customers and this requires an inquisitive mind. Historical success is not reflective of an inquisitive mind, as explored in this extract from my article, ‘Recreating Your Business In Our Changing World’:

‘Many successful businesses lose growth traction and become comfortable and content with their historical success. But yesterday’s success doesn’t guarantee a viable future. There is no place for complacency in a successful business.

It can happen to any business, no matter whom they are or what market they are in. Your business may be in a booming industry and you go out of business. Your success is 80% or more dependent on you and your leadership team, not the market you sit in.’


Inquisitiveness is essential in a competitive business as it represents not just a willingness but a ‘nature of enquiry’. Imagine the outcomes if your business, as a natural trait, always sought to find new ways of improving the value you deliver to your customers. It represents continual change.

There is a prospective tension that exists between established processes in a business and an inquisitive mind. Established processes by their nature tend not to open to continual change, but, as noted above, I believe habits are subject to continual refinement.

Inquisitiveness is a cultural trait. It comes about through leadership and the culture that they create. But I believe it is also a function of the business’s view of what success really looks like.

To establish the inquisitive mind in your business, you must look to culture, including how success is viewed.


If you want to take your business to a new level of performance, consider the place for habits and inquisitiveness in your business.



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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel