Dr Alison Horstmeyer

Dr Alison Horstmeyer on curiosity: conundrums, coping, and connection (#9)

Curiosity is one of those meta skills that can be applied in every domain of life and that helps you to improve other skills.  One application where curiosity is still under-appreciated is interpersonal skills.  Curiosity allows us to engage with the world and others with more authenticity, empathy and psychological flexibility.  

We talk to Dr Alison Horstmeyer about curiosity and its wide-ranging benefits.  Alison is a former Fortune 500 executive turned talent development facilitator, executive coach and humanistic researcher.  

Dr Alison Horstmeyer is considered one of the pioneering humanistic researchers in workplace curiosity. Her work is published in various publications including peer-reviewed journals and mainstream business publications such as Forbes and CEOWORLD Magazine.  

Alison works with clients such as Hulu, Verizon Media, Dolby, Vanguard, and many more to help them with leadership development, healthy team inter-dynamics and cohesion, and agile, creative experimentation. She has recently partnered with Australian based human capital development consultancy (ACE ) to bring her work to the Asia-Pacific region.  

Alison also serves as the Director of Client Development and adjunct faculty for University of Southern California Marshall School of Business Executive Education and is the inaugural Research Fellow appointed to the USC Annenberg Center for Third Space Thinking contributing to evidence-based soft skills development. 

She believes curiosity is innate in each one of us, we just tend to stifle it away. 

You can connect with Alison via ahorstmeyer@aceevolve.com or follow her on LinkedIn 

We hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Dr Alison Horstmeyer.  Listen on AppleGoogleSpotify or Simplecast.

Show Notes

2:33 – why transition from Fortune 500 executive to research?
3:17 – relationships were the secret sauce in success.
4:22 – initial interest was in anxiety in the workplace.
4:54 – came across curiosity while studying mindfulness.
5:51 – what is curiosity?
6:56 – curiosity gives psychological, emotional and social flexibility.
7:53 – not “if” but “how” you are curious.
9:28 – curiosity can show up in different ways.
10:08 – we pre-asses before exploring the unknown.
11:11 – curiosity is active exploration.
11:32 – curiosity requires openness.
12:11 – the different facets of curiosity.
12:37 – it’s ok to not know something.
13:04 – active exploration and immersion.
13:20 – openness means letting go of the familiar.
13:42 – it’s not always joyful exploration.
13:57 – curiosity requires stress tolerance.
14:22 – the facets of openness and stress tolerance are most beneficial to workplace.
14:47 – relationship between curiosity and humility.
14:59 – curiosity requires vulnerability.
15:53 – to feel more free we have to feel more exposed.
16:02 – curiosity and anxiety.
17:50 – how not knowing creates psychological safety.
19:56 – using curiosity to become an approachable boss.
20:29 – you cannot get to empathy without curiosity.
21:57 – curiosity is what allows us to make people feel understood.
22:31 – use curiosity to question the stories we tell ourselves about others.
24:11 – how can we become more curious?
25:43 – curiosity starts within.
26:17 – how curiosity can make us more authentic.
28:15 – counting the cost of curiosity.
29:41 – what is psychological safety.
29:52 – obstacles to curiosity.
31:26 – how curiosity research has changed Alison.
33:27 – creating a culture of curiosity.
34:23 – conformity is bad for curiosity and wellbeing.
34:53 – creating environments of psychological safety.
35:56 – celebrating failures and budgeting learning time.
36:34 – budgeting time for people to learn whatever they want.
37:05 – making it OK for people to say “I don’t know”.
37:49 – should we stop rewarding success?
40:30 – how are you curious?
44:15 – overcoming low stress tolerance.
46:26 – fear of failure.
47:48 – fear setting.
48:29 – scenario crafting™ (Trademark of Intrinsic Curiosity, LLC).
49:05 – final thoughts on curiosity.


Meta-skills: high order skills that enable and empower other skills

Dr Todd Kashdan 

Barbara Fredrickson and the Broaden and Build Theory 

T model vs I model of expertise 



Crucial Accountability: Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior by  Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, et al. 

Brene Brown moment 

Intuit Celebrating Failure 

Novartis provides employees 100 hour per year to learn 

Microsoft has made it OK to say “I don’t know” 

Tim Ferriss TED talk on fear setting 

Key Quotes

“I have always been fascinated with how we connect with each other.” 

“My connection with people was the secret sauce to my success.” 

“Can you be anxious and curious all at the same time?…Anxiety is tied into curiosity.” 

“We have untapped potential in this meta-skill of curiosity.” 

“Curiosity is a self-directed, seeking, exploration and immersion in situations that are uncertain, complex and ambiguous with the intention of discovering something new.” 

“Curiosity is not this monolithic or singular linear trait that you are curious or incurious…The question then becomes not if you are curious but how you are curious.” 

“There is a bandwidth to curiosity and it is going to show up in different forms…Each of us are going to express our curiosity in different ways.” 

“You can be interested and inquisitive and do nothing…Curiosity takes active exploration…It is no good leaning in and asking questions if you are not going to be open to what is coming in.” 

“The four facets of curiosity are: not knowing, exploration, openness and stress tolerance” 

“For us to feel more free we have to feel more exposed.” 

“He said…I became an approachable boss and I realised that empathy and human connection was more important than telling people what to do.” 

“How can you get to empathy without curiosity?” 

“What are your values and mission statement and how would you enact those…..this will activate your curiosity.” 

“I felt that I had that Brene Brown moment and I was doing the research and thought: ‘I’m not that curious’…the research has enlivened my curiosity.” 

“What are you really modelling as your values…what we believe and what we are expressing can be different.” 

“Conformity has an inverse relationship to well-being.” 

“There is no way you know how to do your job 100%, 100% of the time…now when someone says I don’t know we say thank you”

“All those things that they were envisaging in their mental and emotional body can be an illusion…and illusions can be so real.” 

“If you are always waiting to be a 100% you will always be in the zone of doing nothing.” 

About the author

Divan and Mark are co-hosts of the Candour Communication Podcast where we discuss interpersonal communication and all the human stuff that gets in the way.