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Are You Curious?

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. ­­-- Dorothy Parker

Off the bat, you might not recognize the name “Brian Grazer.”

·      He’s infinitely curious.

·      He’s set a discipline for his curiosity: Thirty-five years ago he committed to engaging in serious conversation with a different expert in divergent fields every two weeks.

·      He’s someone who has given you and others the benefit of his curiosity, as the producer of A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Splash, 8 Mile, Friday Night Lights, Arrested Development, 24, Empire and many, many more. In fact, Grazer’s films and TV shows have been nominated for 43 Academy Awards and 149 Emmys.

Grazer, who is a business partner with director Ron Howard in Imagine Entertainment, documents his journey of curiosity in his book, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. (Amazon affiliate link)

The power of curiosity

Are you curious? Grazer’s dedication to learning from others and seeking diverse information and views is a lesson for all of us.  Leaders, in particular, benefit from the power of varied perspectives, insights and stories.

Solutions to the challenges you face in life and business are out there, and perhaps in unexpected places.

Grazer’s book is a fascinating look into a creative mind and the processes of an entertainment industry that feeds our public imagination.

Curiosity conversations

The list of the hundreds of people he’s engaged in “curiosity conversations” runs from legendary to practical to obscure. Just a few of the more recognizable names from the past 35 years of conversations: Muhammad Ali, Isaac Asimov, David Blaine, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, LeBron James, Jay Z, Calvin Klein, John McCain, Margret Thatcher, Jonas Salk, Edward Teller.

Grazer worked tirelessly, sometimes for years, to have face-to-face conversations with extraordinary people. (Reading his book only makes me regret that these talks are not available on a podcast for us to listen to today.)

I recommend this book for the many fascinating stories, but let’s focus on what we can learn and apply from Grazer’s intense curiosity. He writes that the most powerful effect of curiosity is how it deepens our connections with others: “…when you look at your own experiences at work and at home – what’s so clear is that authentic human connection requires curiosity.

“To be a good boss, you have to be curious about the people who work for you. And to be a good colleague, a good romantic partner, a good parent yes, be curious as well.

”… I use curiosity every day to help manage people at work … as a tool to build trust and cooperation and engagement.”

Grazer’s approach offers lessons for leaders to use curiosity and questions to achieve outcomes:

Change your perspective

Grazer writes that we “are all trapped in our own way of thinking, trapped in our own way of relating to people. We get so used to seeing the world our way that we think the world is the way we see it.”

Ask open-ended questions

Grazer gives these examples:

·      What are you focused on?

·      Why are you focused on that?

·      What are you worried about?

·      What’s your plan?

Lead people to solutions

Grazer notes that asking questions can create unexpected solutions:

Asking questions elicits information, of course.

Asking questions creates the space for people to raise issues they worry about that the boss, or their colleagues, may not know about.Asking questions gives people the chance to tell a different story than the one you’re expecting.

Most important from my perspective is asking questions means people have to make their case for the way they wanted a decision to go.

Use questions instead of command

Rather than telling people what to do, you can inspire action, Grazer says.

He tells the story of working with 29-year-old Tom Cruise in 1991. Cruise’s career was hot, having broken through with Top Gun in 1986, followed by a string of other successful films.

Cruise agreed to star in a film with a smaller budget, one not assured of commercial success, Far and Away. It was an old-fashioned epic about Irish immigrants heading for America at the end of the 19th Century. It was being shot in Ireland and the Western United States.

This movie was costing $300,000 a day to shoot. “That’s $12,500 an hour, even while everyone is sleeping,” Grazer said.

With a major star and a small budget, a film like this can easily go out of control financially, Grazer said, but ordering a star to do something backfires and may end up destroying a movie.

“You can’t let people behave badly. But you also can’t screw up the psyche of an actor. If someone ends up with a bad attitude, you don’t get the performance you want.”

Instead of ordering Cruise, Grazer talked about their shared values as artists looking to create a story that they both care about with a limited budget and tight timeframe. He went to the set and asked Cruise, “Can you be the team leader here with the cast and crew? Can you be the guy who sets an example?” Cruise answered, “I’m one hundred percent that guy!”

In business and life, we face challenges every day. When you’re trapped in your own world with limited perspective, these problems loom larger than life.

Curiosity and questions give us a broader view to understanding the world and unique answers to solving our daily dilemmas.

As you start to think about 2018 during the holidays, what can you do to drive your curiosity and engage the world differently?

To get John's best idea of the week, subscribe to Sunday Coffee.


Photo by Aaron Mello on Unsplash

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