Andre Agassi’s curiosity led to a surprising insight about Boris Becker’s tongue

Curious employees are often intrinsically driven to make things better. Even though their actions don’t always seem to lead anywhere, Simone van Neerven illustrates with an anecdote about top tennis player Andre Agassi that it could potentially result in a breakthrough.

Boris Becker's tongue

If Andre Agassi had not followed his curiosity but focused solely on himself, his tennis career would probably have taken a different turn. Andre Agassi and Boris Becker are two of the most legendary tennis players. In the 1990s, they regularly faced each other on the court.

Due to Becker’s unprecedentedly powerful serve, Agassi had no chance and lost every time. Agassi was frustrated and knew he had to change his strategy. But how? Instead of spending more hours on the tennis court to improve his technique, he did some research.

After watching hours of video of Becker playing tennis, he made a discovery. Every time Becker had to serve, he stuck out the tip of his tongue pointing in the direction he was going to play. This insight gave Agassi such an advantage that of the eleven matches that followed, he won nine.

Annoying and rude

It is no secret that curiosity leads to surprising insights and is therefore regarded as one of the most important qualities of the twenty-first century. However, a group of researchers from three American universities recently found out that curious employees are often perceived as annoying and even rude by their colleagues and managers.

Understandable, because these employees spend time on seemingly unimportant matters. They constantly question things and the questions keep coming. This slows down decision-making and seems to undermine the manager’s position. As a result, this behaviour is considered unconstructive and ineffective.

However, the same research shows that not all curious employees are considered difficult. Those who are more outgoing, have stronger networking skills and are better communicators are not considered to be troublemakers. They are more politically savvy and know when to ask those inquiring questions and when not to.

Who's to blame?

And so you would think: just send that inappropriately curious employee for training and problem solved. But does the problem only lie with the employee? Curious employees are often intrinsically driven to make things better and have no interest in politics at all. They find it a hassle and a waste of time and would much rather focus on improving the workplace by using their creativity to solve long-lasting, complex problems.

What if the manager were more open to those curious troublemakers on the work floor? Instead of jumping to conclusions and intervening, it would pay off to take some time to find out what the employee is doing and why. For example, just because they slow down for a bit, like Agassi did, this does not always mean they are cutting corners. Though this behaviour may not seem very effective, it can lead to a breakthrough.

Change is accelerating and problems seem to be becoming more complex. Those curious employees who view and approach things differently may well be your most valuable ones.

This article was originally published in Dutch on – the platform for HR executives. 

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