The highway to success forks into two roads: ‘creativity’ and ‘inspiration’. For centuries past, travellers have raced to unlock the secret code opening these twin-tools to a world rich in opportunities. Did they find success? Perhaps, but many lost their way en route. Fortune 500 companies have continued to search for creativity and inspiration to “systematise the serendipity that so often sparks new-business creation,” according to the Harvard Business Review. Fixated also on creativity and inspiration are the US media and premier universities such as MIT and Stanford. But innovation has often eluded them.

What precisely are the above powerhouses missing? And who is this newbie daring to disrupt their age-old received wisdom on success? A film producer? Indeed! He claims to have cracked the code, averring to have “systematised serendipity” with his “curiosity conversations.” Brian Grazer may appear a weirdo with his porcupine spikes on the head of a 65-year-old grizzled face but he’s no ordinary film producer! Directed by the talented Ron Howard, the award-winner’s films have, over the last three decades, grossed 13 billion dollars at the box-office. In 1986, they together formed Imagine Entertainment, a film and television production company. Grazer has corralled creativity and inspiration with his new formula that even a high-school kid can follow.

The highway to success, hidden in plain sight, is revealed in Grazer’s New York Times bestseller A Curious Mind, The Secret to a Bigger Life. As his embedded traveller, the reader gets a 360-degree view of the ace film producer’s approach to curiosity. “Curiosity is what gives energy and insight to everything … I love show business, I love telling stories,” but, admits Grazer, “I loved being curious long before I loved the movie business.” This has infused everything with a sense of possibility that has been the key to his success and happiness.

And where from did the film-maker find curiosity? The answer is as simple as the words in his book. Grandma Sonia, a 4’10” Jewish woman, reminded him constantly, “You’re curious. Your curiosity is good. Think big.” Diagnosed as a dyslexic because of his inability to read, Grazer credits his maternal grandmother for drumming it in, “Don’t let the system define you. You’re already defined — you’re curious!” Grazer dedicates his book to her, saying, “… she treated every question I asked as valuable. She taught me to think of myself as curious, a gift that has served me every day of my life.” Note to all grandmothers: here’s a ‘gift’ that doesn’t cost money but is priceless. Give your grandchildren the confidence to be curious.


What golden nugget does Brian Grazer hope to unearth in his curiosity conversations?


‘Curiosity conversations’, which they literally are, have excited Grazer enough to doggedly track down people for one-hour chats, over the span of 35 years. His interviewees have all been outside the world of films and TV. They range from CIA directors to the astronomer/academic and scientist Carl Sagan, boxer Mohammad Ali, Apple founder Steve Jobs, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, President Barak Obama, President Ronald Reagan, polio vaccine inventor Jonas Salk, Margaret Thatcher, Fidel Castro, pop artist Andy Warhol, science fiction master Isaac Asimov, inventor of hydrogen bomb Edward Teller, and the 2011 richest man in the world Carlos Slim, to name a few.

What golden nugget does Brian Grazer hope to unearth in his curiosity conversations? “My strongest sense of curiosity is what I call emotional curiosity,” he says. “I want to understand what makes people tick. I want to see if I can connect a person’s attitude and personality with their work, with their challenges and accomplishments.” His technique? Questions, questions and yet more questions. Grazer’s insatiable curiosity spurs him to keep asking his interviewees. For him it’s an instinct, “very distinctly, a technique.” He consciously disrupts his own point of view to try and learn something about the skill and personality it takes to perform in people connected to business, science, medicine, modelling, fine arts and law.

His tip for doctors: they need to get out of their comfort zone to be curious about new approaches to disease, care and healing: “You certainly want your doctor to be able to look at the world through your eyes,” says Grazer. “You want her [him] to understand your symptoms, so she can give you what you need to feel better.” This advice is worth a million dollars. Because the specialist you consult will give you the routine medical checkup, no questions asked, and will then jot down the prescription without caring to listen to the patient. It happens all the time. To circumvent this routine, it’s our job as patients to persist with questions. It’s persistence that leads to some worthwhile resolution of our medical issues.

“Notice how a husband and wife often fall into a daily rut,” Grazer says about married couples. “Unsurprisingly then, one out of two American couples end up in divorce. Familiarity is the enemy of curiosity. When couples have stopped being genuinely curious about each other’s daily lives or taking the time to listen to the answers, they dangerously drift away into disconnection and boredom. Don’t take marriage for granted,” cautions Grazer, who was divorced years ago, only to remarry this year. “We need to remind ourselves every day that although I live with this person, I don’t actually know her today’ unless I ask about her today.”

Connecting with people is another important element of our daily lives — with our colleagues, bosses, spouses, children, friends — the connection, says Grazer, requires sincerity, compassion and trust. At work, managers often talk down to their subordinates, but to be effective, you need to understand the people you work with, says Grazer. “And if you [boss] are doing all the talking, you can’t understand them and if you don’t understand them, you certainly can’t inspire them.” He encourages the boss and his workers to be curious by asking questions for a better working relationship. “I think questions are an unappreciated management tool. But it must come from genuine curiosity.”

Humans are nosey by nature. Often our inquisitiveness borders on trivia, such as “how much did you pay for your house?” or “what is your salary?” or “who is having an affair with whom?” It’s the ego (I, me, myself) that wants to know if others are better off than you. Brian Grazer’s curiosity is on a higher level than ordinary folks. “For there’s nothing more fruitless and useless than idle curiosity,” he says.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 1st, 2017

Opinion

Editorial

Unyielding onslaught
Updated 13 Jun, 2024

Unyielding onslaught

SEVEN soldiers paid the ultimate price in Lakki Marwat on Sunday when their vehicle was blown up in an IED attack,...
X diplomacy
Updated 12 Jun, 2024

X diplomacy

Both states can pursue adversarial policies, or come to the negotiating table and frankly discuss all outstanding issues, which can be tackled through dialogue.
Strange decisions
12 Jun, 2024

Strange decisions

THE ECP continues to wade deeper and deeper into controversy. Through its most recent decision, it had granted major...
Interest rate cut
Updated 11 Jun, 2024

Interest rate cut

The decision underscores SBP’s confidence that economic stability is gaining traction.
Rampant zealotry
11 Jun, 2024

Rampant zealotry

Decades of myopic policies pursued by the state have further aided the radicalisation of significant portions of the population.
Cricket breakdown
11 Jun, 2024

Cricket breakdown

THERE was a feeling that Pakistan had finally turned the corner in their T20 World Cup campaign. Sadly, it was only ...