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From Academy Award–winning producer Brian Grazer and acclaimed business journalist Charles Fishman comes the New York Times bestselling, brilliantly entertaining peek into the weekly “curiosity conversations” that have inspired Grazer to create some of America’s favorite and iconic movies and television shows—from 24 to A Beautiful Mind.
For decades, film and TV producer Brian Grazer has scheduled a weekly “curiosity conversation” with an accomplished stranger. From scientists to spies, and adventurers to business leaders, Grazer has met with anyone willing to answer his questions for a few hours. These informal discussions sparked the creative inspiration behind many of Grazer’s movies and TV shows, including Splash, 24, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Arrested Development, 8 Mile, J. Edgar, Empire, and many others.
A Curious Mind is a brilliantly entertaining, fascinating, and inspiring homage to the power of inquisitiveness and the ways in which it deepens and improves us. Whether you’re looking to improve your management style at work or you want to become a better romantic partner, this book—and its lessons on the power of curiosity—can change your life.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Charles Fishman is the acclaimed author of The Wal-Mart Effect and The Big Thirst. He is a three-time winner of the Gerald Loeb Award, the most prestigious prize in business journalism.
Read an Excerpt
A Curious Mind
A Curious Mind and a Curious Book
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”
IT SEEMS LIKE A GOOD idea to start a book about curiosity by asking an obvious question:
What’s a guy like me doing writing a book about curiosity?
I’m a movie and TV producer. I live immersed in the most densely populated epicenter of entertainment in the world: Hollywood.
Whatever picture you have of the life of a Hollywood movie producer, I’ve probably lived it. We often have ten or more movies and TV shows in production at a time, so work means meeting with actors, writers, directors, musicians. The phone calls—with agents, producers, studio heads, stars—start well before I reach the office, and often follow me home in the car. I fly to the movie sets, I screen the trailers, I go to the red-carpet premieres.
My days are hectic, they’re overscheduled, they’re sometimes frustrating. Usually, they’re great fun. They’re never dull.
But I’m not a journalist or a professor. I’m not a scientist. I don’t go home at night and research psychology as a secret hobby.
I’m a Hollywood producer.
So what am I doing writing a book about curiosity?
Without curiosity, none of this would have happened.
More than intelligence or persistence or connections, curiosity has allowed me to live the life I wanted.
Curiosity is what gives energy and insight to everything else I do. I love show business, I love telling stories. But I loved being curious long before I loved the movie business.
For me, curiosity infuses everything with a sense of possibility. Curiosity has, quite literally, been the key to my success, and also the key to my happiness.
And yet, for all the value that curiosity has brought to my life and my work, when I look around, I don’t see people talking about it, writing about it, encouraging it, and using it nearly as widely as they could.
Curiosity has been the most valuable quality, the most important resource, the central motivation of my life. I think curiosity should be as much a part of our culture, our educational system, our workplaces, as concepts like “creativity” and “innovation.”
That’s why I decided to write a book about curiosity. It made my life better (and still does). It can make your life better too.
• • •
I AM CALLED A movie producer—I even call myself that—but really what I am is a storyteller. A couple of years ago, I started thinking about curiosity as a value I wanted to share, a quality I wanted to inspire in other people. I thought, What I’d really like to do is sit down and tell a few stories about what curiosity has done for me.
I’d like to tell stories about how curiosity has helped me make movies. I’d like to tell stories about how curiosity has helped me be a better boss, a better friend, a better businessman, a better dinner guest.
I’d like to tell stories about the sheer joy of discovery that open-ended curiosity offers. That’s the kind of joy we have as kids when we learn things just because we’re curious. You can keep doing that as an adult, and it’s just as much fun.
The most effective way to pass on these stories—to illustrate the power and variety of curiosity—is to write them down.
So that’s what you’re holding in your hand. I teamed up with journalist and author Charles Fishman, and over the course of eighteen months, we talked two or three times a week—we’ve had more than a hundred conversations, every one of them about curiosity.
I know very well how important curiosity has been to my life. As you’ll see in the coming chapters, I long ago figured out how to be systematic about using curiosity to help me tell stories, to help me make good movies, to help me learn about parts of the world far from Hollywood. One of the things I’ve done for thirty-five years is sit down and have conversations with people from outside show business—“curiosity conversations” with people immersed in everything from particle physics to etiquette.
But I had never turned my curiosity on curiosity itself. So I’ve spent the last two years thinking about it, asking questions about it, trying to understand how it works.
In the course of exploring and unpacking it, in the course of diagramming curiosity and dissecting its anatomy, we discovered something interesting and surprising. There’s a spectrum of curiosity, like there’s a spectrum of colors of light. Curiosity comes in different shades and different intensities for different purposes.
The technique is the same—asking questions—regardless of the subject, but the mission, the motivation, and the tone vary. The curiosity of a detective trying to solve a murder is very different from the curiosity of an architect trying to get the floor plan right for a family’s house.
The result is, admittedly, a slightly unusual book. We tell it in the first person, in the voice of Brian Grazer, because the central stories come from my life and work.
Partly, then, the book is a portrait of me. But, in fact, it’s more of a working portrait of curiosity itself.
Curiosity has taken me on a lifetime of journeys. Asking questions about curiosity itself in the last two years has been fascinating.
And one thing I know about curiosity: it’s democratic. Anyone, anywhere, of any age or education level, can use it. One reminder of curiosity’s quiet power is that there are still countries on Earth where you have to be very careful at whom you aim your curiosity. Being curious in Russia has proven fatal; being curious in China can land you in prison.
But even if your curiosity is suppressed, you can’t lose it.
It’s always on, always waiting to be unleashed.
The goal of A Curious Mind is simple: I want to show you how valuable curiosity can be, and remind you how much fun it is. I want to show you how I use it, and how you can use it.
Life isn’t about finding the answers, it’s about asking the questions.
Table of Contents
Introduction: A Curious Mind and a Curious Book xiii
1 There Is No Cure for Curiosity 1
2 The Police Chief, the Movie Mogul, and the Father of the H-Bomb: Thinking Like Other People 39
3 The Curiosity Inside the Story 69
4 Curiosity as a Superhero Power 97
5 Every Conversation Is a Curiosity Conversation 127
6 Good Taste and the Power of Anti-Curiosity 167
7 The Golden Age of Curiosity 187
Brian Grazer's Curiosity Conversations: A Sampler 201
Brian Grazer's Curiosity Conversations: A List 231
Appendix: How to Have a Curiosity Conversation 259
Reading Group Guide
How to Have a Curiosity Conversation
We’ve talked throughout A Curious Mind about how to use questions, how to use curiosity, to make your daily life better. But maybe you want to try what I did: Maybe you want to have some curiosity conversations, to sit down with a few really interesting people and try to understand how they see the world differently than you do.
Curiosity conversations can help give you a bigger life. They can do for you what they have done for me—they can help you step out of your own world, they can widen your perspective, they can give you a taste of experiences you won’t have on your own.
Everyone has their own style, but I’d recommend starting close to home. That’s what I did, in fact. Think about your immediate circle of relatives, friends, acquaintances, work-related colleagues.
Maybe there are a few people with intriguing jobs or very different experiences—of education, upbringing, culture, or people who work in your business but in a different arena.
That’s a great place to start, a good place to get a feel for how a curiosity conversation works. Pick someone, and ask if they’ll make a date to talk to you for twenty minutes or so— and specify what you want to talk about.
“I’ve always been curious about your work, I’m trying to broaden my sense of that world, and I was wondering if you’d be willing to spend twenty minutes talking to me about what you do, what the challenges and the satisfactions are.”
Or . . .
“I’ve always been curious about how you ended up as [whatever their profession is], and I was wondering if you’d be willing to spend twenty minutes talking to me about what it took to get where you are—what the key turning points in your career have been.”
Here are a few tips for when someone agrees to talk to you—whether they are a family member, an acquaintance, or a friend of a friend:
• Be clear that you want to hear their story. You’re not looking for a job, you’re not looking for advice about your own situation or any challenges you’re facing. You’re curious about them.
• Even if the person you’re talking to is someone you know well, be respectful—treat the occasion with just a tinge of formality, because you want to talk about things you don’t normally; dress well; be on time; be appreciative of their time even as you sit down to begin.
• Think in advance about what you’d most hope to get out of the conversation, and think of a handful of open ended questions that will get the person talking about what you’re most interested in: “What was your first professional success?” “Why did you decide to do [whatever their job is]?” “Tell me about a couple of big challenges you had to overcome. “What has been your biggest surprise?” “How did you end up living in [their city]?” “What’s the part of what you do that outsiders don’t appreciate?”
• Don’t be a slave to your prepared questions. Be just the opposite: Listen closely, and be a good conversationalist. Pick up on what the person you’re talking to is saying, and ask questions that expand on the stories they tell or the points they make.
• Don’t share your own story or your own observations. Listen. Ask questions. The goal is for you to learn as much about the person you’re talking to as you can in the time you have. If you’re talking, you’re not learning about the other person.
• Be respectful of the person’s time, without unnecessarily cutting off a great conversation. If they agree to give you twenty minutes, keep track of the time. Even if things are going well, when the allotted time has passed, it’s okay to say something like, “I don’t want to take too much of your time and it’s been twenty minutes” or “It’s been twenty minutes, perhaps I should let you go.” People will often say, “I’m enjoying this, I can give you a few more minutes.”
• Be grateful. Don’t just say thank you, give the best compliment for a conversation like this: “That was so interesting.” And send a very brief follow-up email thank you, perhaps highlighting one story or point they made that you particularly enjoyed, or that was particularly eye-opening for you. That thank-you email shouldn’t ask for anything more—it should be written so the person who gave you his or her time doesn’t even need to reply.
Curiosity Conversations Farther Afield
Conversations with people outside your own circle or with strangers are harder to arrange, but they can be fascinating, even thrilling.
Who should you approach? Think about your own interests—whether it’s college football or astrophysics or cooking, your community almost surely has local experts. When you read the paper or watch the local news, pay attention to people who make an impression on you. Search out experts at your local university.
Setting up curiosity conversations with people outside your own circle requires a little more planning and discretion:
• First, once you’ve identified someone you’d like to sit and talk to for twenty minutes, consider whether you might know someone who knows that person. Get in touch with the person you know, explain who you want to talk to, and ask if you can use your acquaintance’s name. An email that begins, “I’m writing at the suggestion of [name of mutual acquaintance],” establishes immediate credibility.
• If you are trying to meet someone who is totally outside of your circle, use your own credentials and strong interest up front. “I’m a vice president at the local hospital, and I have a lifelong interest in astronomy. I was wondering if you’d be willing to spend twenty minutes talking to me about your own work and the current state of the field. I appreciate that you don’t know me, but I’m writing out of genuine curiosity—I don’t want anything more than a twenty-minute conversation, at your convenience.”
• You may hear back from an assistant asking for a little more information—and some people may find the request a little unusual. Explain what you’re hoping for. Be clear that you’re not seeking a job, or advice, or a career change—you are simply trying to understand a little about someone with real achievements in a field you care about.
• If you get an appointment, make sure to do as much reading as possible about the person you’re going to see, as well as their field. That can help you ask good questions about their career track or their avocations. But it’s a fine line: be respectful of people’s privacy.
• Pay attention not just to what the person you’re talking to says, but how they say it. Often there is as much information in people’s tone, in the way they tell a story or respond to a question, as in the answer itself.
• The tips about starter conversations apply—along with your own experience of having those starter conversations. Have questions in advance, but let the conversation flow based on what you learn; make your side of the conversation questions—not your own thoughts; be respectful of the clock; be grateful in person and in a very brief follow-up email. If an assistant helps set up a curiosity conversation, be sure to include that person in your thank-you note.
What you’ll discover is that people love talking about themselves—about their work, about their challenges, about the story of how they arrived where they are.
The hardest part is the very beginning.
In a formal curiosity conversation, I would recommend not taking notes—the goal is a good conversation. Taking notes might just make someone uncomfortable.
But when you’ve left a person’s office, it’s valuable to spend just a few minutes thinking about what the most surprising thing you learned was; what the person’s tone and personality was like, compared to what you might have imagined; what choices they’ve made that were different than you might have made in the same circumstances.
And you don’t need to have curiosity conversations in formal settings that you set up. You meet people all the time. The person next to you on the airplane or at the wedding quite likely has a fascinating story and comes from a world different from yours—and all you have to do in that setting is turn, smile, and introduce yourself to start a conversation. “Hi, I’m Brian, I work in the movie business—what do you do?”
Remember that if you’re trying to learn something, you should be asking questions and listening to the answers rather than talking about yourself.
Curiosity Conversation 2.0: The Curiosity Dinner Party
You can take the principles above and extend them into a group atmosphere by hosting a gathering. Think of two or three interesting friends or acquaintances—they can be people who know one another or do not—preferably from different lines of work and different backgrounds.
Invite those people, and ask each of them to invite two or three of their most interesting friends or acquaintances. The result will be a group of selected people who are interconnected but (hopefully) very different from one another.
The dinner party can be as formal or informal as you like, but it should be in a place that is conducive to mingling. Use the suggestions above to kick off the dinner conversation and encourage each person to follow their own curiosity, ask questions, listen, and learn about one another.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As a creative person, the reminder that our creativity comes from everywhere around us, and that we can take an active role in pursuing it is a great one. Its use may not be immediately obvious but ever interaction is growth. Brian uses his life experiences in Hollywood to illustrate concepts that apply to everyone, everywhere. You don't need to be interested in Hollywood. It's just a great read. Engaging. Inspiring. Energizing.
At a time when it seems that everyone is writing a book and the market is saturated with experts on this and that -- you realize quickly that what makes a good book is if it entertains you, keeps you interested and engaged and possibly even imparts some useful knowledge or sparks some deep thought. However, you've found a great book if that book changes you in some way -- if it challenges you to see the world differently and to behave and interact differently, to value people, conversations and your place on the planet differently. A Curious Mind did just that for me. Great book!
Highly recommend it. Really fun and interesting stories but also a relevant message about how to get more out of life, your kids, your work by simply asking questions....a must read for whatever phase of life you're in.
I honestly think Brian Grazer is a genius. This book has inspired me so much & I will forever be grateful for all the stories & beautiful movies this man has created.