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A Curious Mind
The Secret to a Bigger Life
Table of Contents
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About The Book
#1 New York Times bestselling author and Oscar–winning producer Brian Grazer has written a brilliantly entertaining and eye-opening exploration of curiosity and the life-changing effects it can have on every person’s life.
From Academy Award–winning producer Brian Grazer, New York Times bestseller A Curious Mind offers a brilliant peek into the “curiosity conversations” that inspired him to create some of the world’s most iconic movies and television shows. He shows how curiosity has been the “secret” that fueled his rise as one of Hollywood’s leading producers and creative visionaries, and how all of us can channel its power to lead bigger and more rewarding lives.
Grazer has spent most of his life exploring curiosity through what he terms “curiosity conversations” with some of the most interesting people in the world, including spies, royals, scientists, politicians, moguls, Nobel laureates, artists…anyone whose story might broaden his worldview. These discussions sparked the creative inspiration behind many of his 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 not only a fascinating page-turner—it also offers a blueprint for how we can awaken our own curiosity and use it as a superpower in our lives. Whether you’re looking to strengthen your management style at work, uncover a new source of creativity, or become a better romantic partner, this book—and its lessons on the power of curiosity—can change your life.
Reading Group Guide
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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.
About The Reader
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (April 7, 2015)
- Runtime: 5 hours and 40 minutes
- ISBN13: 9781442382091
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Raves and Reviews
"A Curious Mind is a window on Brian Grazer's restless, relentless, remarkable imagination. It is a captivating account of how the simple act of asking questions can change your life."
– Malcolm Gladwell, Bestselling Author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath
“I love Brian Grazer’s soulful message about the power of curiosity. He inspires, entertains, and shows how we can use curiosity to tap into the power of wonder and wisdom we are all born with.”
– Arianna Huffington, Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post and Author of Thrive
“Curiosity leads to insights and fuels the creative process – and nobody knows more about curiosity than Brian Grazer. In his delightful book, A Curious Mind, we get to see that curiously creative process in action.”
– Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter
"An excellent and very important discussion of economics... Readers would be wise to buy Grazer’s brilliant book."
– John Tammy, Forbes
“The greatest of all graduation speeches.”
– Chris Matthews, Hardball with Chris Matthews
“A Curious Mind is not a classic autobiography but a rumination on how one trait, curiosity, reinforced by a readiness to pay attention and then to act, has forged such a remarkable career.... It’s like spending a couple of hours in the bar of a Hollywood hotel with an amusing raconteur.”
– The Wall Street Journal
“If you feel stuck in your business or career, or if your company is failing to stay ahead of its competition, perhaps Grazer’s method of “curiosity conversations” might provide the spark you need to ignite your best ideas.”
“In A Curious Mind, Brian Grazer not only captures the essence and the potential of a great, curious mind, but he provides a wonderful perspective on what curiosity has meant to him and how it shaped his long and very successful career. As a close friend, I've had a front row seat to Brian's curious mind, and the energy his curiosity generates is infectious and thoroughly enjoyable to observe and experience.”
– Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company
“As Brian’s friend and partner, while reading A Curious Mind I was returned to many key turning points in our movies and TV shows that were inspired by experiences he gained on his unique quest for understanding. I also learned a hell of a lot that I didn’t actually know, even after thirty years. How is that possible? Well, Brian is a hell of a storyteller.”
– Ron Howard, Chairman of Imagine Entertainment and Academy Award-Winning Director
“To read a book written by one of the most creative and high quality human beings talking about his love affair with curiosity and how it can help you to have a more rewarding life is a real privilege.”
– Robert K. Kraft, Owner of the Kraft Group/New England Patriots
"To have a great life, you need to be curious. Curiosity is what makes us human and moves our world forward. Brian Grazer tells this story in an exceptional way and demonstrates how everyone can tap into curiosity to live a bigger life.”
– Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google
“A powerful tribute to the ways innovation and disruptive thinking stem from a common trait: curiosity. Because the little girl who asks ‘Why is the sky blue?’ becomes the woman who can change the world.”
– Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and Founder of LeanIn.Org
“A very stimulating blend of behind-the-scenes Hollywood machinations and business and personal self-help. VERDICT This unusual and quick read is ideal for public libraries and as nonrequired reading in business schools.”
– Library Journal
“An appealing argument for maintaining open-minded receptivity, with special appeal for film buffs.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“Lively…. As Grazer further explores how curiosity has shaped his life, he sprinkles in numerous anecdotes about the hundreds of people whom he’s sought out for one-on-one sessions he terms “curiosity conversations.”
– Publishers Weekly
“[A Curious Mind] is straightforward and full of great advice for anyone trying to rise and shine. You don't have to try to become a movie producer. In its own way, the book could be a guide for anyone with ambition, nerve and common sense. But first comes curiosity.”
– The Huffington Post
“Grazer himself comes across as a humble seeker, who never let his huge Hollywood success crush his inner child – the child who wants to know everything.”
“Stories like de Negri’s take Grazer’s book beyond Hollywood dish into the mysteries of existence. What makes you curious, it turns out, can also make you stronger.”
“Grazer knows that curiosity doesn’t merely kill the cat, it morphs it into a roaring lion worthy of a Hollywood logo — in this case, a cool cat with a wild, spiky mane after a career of petting his projects against the grain.”
"It'll encourage you and your partner to engage in novel conversations."
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