A Curious Mind

One of my favorite books that I read in 2017 was #1 New York Times Bestseller A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman. I hadn’t initially planned on reading this book, till it was recommended to me. I absolutely loved the book cover, of a seemingly curious face, overlooking perhaps a wall, with lines surrounding his head indicating some level of enlightenment, or as the book says, a bigger life. This line is what actually intrigued me further- what exactly is a bigger life? What do the authors propose will allow us to have a bigger life?

Grazer co-founded Imagine Entertainment with Ron Howard and went on to produce some amazing movies and TV Shows for our lifetime. They include A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Splash, Arrested Development among other hit movies and shows. In short, Grazer has accumulated 43 Academy Awards and 158 Emmys and was named one of  Time’s 100 Most Influential People of the World.

So the question becomes what did Grazer do to achieve all this? In his own words, he merely had “Curiosity Conversations” with each and every person he met in the industry. The book offers a “brilliantly entertaining and inspiring account of how his courage and enthusiasm for talking with complete strangers have been the secret to his success as a leading Hollywood Producer.”

The book is split into 7 chapters, and each chapter chronicles his progress through his professional career, his struggles, and achievements, bringing him to the point where he is today: a super successful producer in Hollywood. In the end, there is a sampler of one of Grazer’s curiosity conversation, following which is a list of all the people he’s had a conversation with in Hollywood.

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In the introduction, Grazer mentions rather simply, “More than intelligence or persistence or connections, curiosity has allowed me to live the life I wanted….and has been the key to my success and happiness” (page xiv). He goes on to say that the goal of the book 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 answers, it’s about asking questions.” (xvii).

In the first chapter, There Is No Cure for Curiosity, Grazer leads us through his early days in Hollywood, right after his graduation from university. Struggling to get noticed, he would reach out to a lot of people and found it difficult to get somewhere. Somehow, he was able to develop some level of curiosity and this had begun to help him reach out to people easily. In fact, curiosity had “swung wide many doors of opportunities for me.” (page 3). But for curiosity to be effective, Grazer talks about two things are important to have: (1) the ability to pay attention to the answers to your questions, and (2) the willingness to act. (page 9).

Curiosity Conversation is something Grazer said he decided to do just one day. He made a conscious decision to reach out to a stranger and have a conversation. In the process, he began to realize how powerful, and empowering, this process can be. As he says, “curiosity is the path to freedom itself.” (page 15).

His strongest sense of curiosity became emotional curiosity- he wanted to know what made people tick, and to be able to see if he could connect with their attitudes and personality, with their challenges and accomplishments. (page 24). He also says that curiosity helped him “cut through the routine anxiety of work and life.” (page 33). Along with this, most importantly, Grazer stresses upon creative and effective storytelling– which he describes as the “act of bringing home the discoveries learned from curiosity.” (page 35).

In the second chapter, The Police Chief, the Movie Mogul, and the Father of the H-Bomb: Thinking Like Other People, Grazer leads us through the curiosity conversations he’s had with three people in the movie industry. Each conversation allowed him to open up further and seek new opportunities and grow in his work place. One of the key elements he picked up is the ability to see the world through the other person’s eyes (page 45). Giving various examples, he gives an insight into how important it is to imagine yourself in other people’s shoes, such as businessmen who would perhaps imagine themselves in their customers’ shoes (page 55). He also highlights the fact that when you show curiosity, you also create a level of engagement with others (page 63). This becomes a fun experience, and allows one to develop a new way of thinking.

In the third chapter, The Curiosity Inside the Story, Grazer shares a very powerful story of a woman Veronica De Negri, who was living with her family in Chile. She had to flee her city and face a lot of hurdles and obstacles, including imprisonment and torture. While narrating her story, the author talks about how he learned so much about “human resilience” (page 73). He dives deeper into this resilience, and giving the example of De Negri, he mentions how she was able to “master” the people around her– by developing a curiosity conversation with them. Instead of covering and facing defeat, De Negri instead decided to “master” the evil people around her. This helped her stay sane and develop resilience; she persevered.

Using her story as an inspiration, Grazer brought this kind of curiosity into the movies and TV shows he would produce. He asks the reader what happens inside of them when they are reading a book, or watching a movie? They are developing curiosity inside of them: ‘what happens next?’ is what is running through their minds. He shares that curiosity is “all in service of one goal: Making you care.” (page 80).

In the fourth chapter, Curiosity as a Superhero Power, Grazer leads us further into his amazing curiosity conversations with Dr. Asimov and Fidel Castro, describing his personal and professional growth along his journey. “Curiosity gives your power. It’s a quiet kind of power. Curiosity is power for real people, it’s power for people who don’t have superpowers.” (page 125).

In the fifth chapter, Every Conversation is a Curiosity Conversation, the focus is on making “connections” with people. According to Grazer, connections “requires sincerity…compassion…trust.” (page 133). He shares how he was able to reframe his thought process and sought to make connections with people, by asking questions, by being sincere, by communicating clearly. He stresses on asking questions (questions have to come from a genuine place)in  such a way that you can get an answer that will help you move forward- and you also have to listen to your answer. (page 152).

In the sixth chapter, Good Taste and the Power of Anti-Curiosity, the authors talks a bit about curiosity helped him find ideas that are edgy and different and interesting. He shares of his progress in Hollywood as he creates new movies and TV shows, along with meeting celebrities.

In the last chapter, The Golden Age of Curiosity, Grazer shares his personal development by being curious:  “it’s the key to my survival and happiness,” “it’s the heart of how I approach being alive,” “it helped me create the life I imagined when I was 23.” (page 188 and 189). Curiosity also requires one to be “brave.”  As he wraps up the chapter by sharing details on how his personal life has been changed so much, he writes:
“Curiosity  is a state of mind. More specifically, it’s the state of having an open mind. You just have to ask one good question a day, and listen to the answer. Curiosity is a more exciting way to live in the world. It is, the secret to living a bigger life.” (page 200).

Once I finished reading the book, I was blown away by the idea of having a curiosity conversation. I immediately started implementing my own curiosity conversations with friends, cousins, relatives, colleagues and at times strangers, and my world would open up a whole lot more. When I asked them a question out of pure sincerity and genuineness, I would receive an answer that helped me understand them a lot better, and understand myself a lot better in the process.  Grazer explains everything so well, and by giving so many examples, he has shown us how to live a life that’s so much bigger than what we can imagine!

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