Curiosity Conversations

Brian Grazer is the producer of A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Splash, Arrested Development, 24, 8 Mile Empire, and J. Edgar, among others.  His films and TV shows have been nominated for forty-three Academy Awards and 149 Emmys.  In 2007, he was named one of Time‘s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

He also has a habit of constantly seeking out “curiosity conversations” and has interviewed the likes of Andy Warhol, Barack Obama, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Norman Mailer and many more.  From his book, A Curious Mind:

I started having what I called curiosity conversations.  At first, they were just inside the business.  For a long time, I had a rule for myself:  I had to meet one new person in the entertainment business every day.  But pretty quickly I realized that I could actually reach out and talk to anyone, in any business that I was curious about.  It’s not just showbiz people who are willing to talk about themselves and their work–everyone is.

For thirty-five years, I’ve been tracking down people about whom I was curious and asking if I could sit down with them for an hour.  I’ve had as few as a dozen curiosity conversations in a year, but sometimes I’ve done them as often as once a week.  My goal was always at least one every two weeks.  Once I started doing the curiosity conversations as a practice, my only rule for myself was that the people had to be from outside the world of movies and TV…

…I have meetings and phone calls and conversations all day long.  For me, every one of those is in fact a curiosity conversation.  I don’t just use curiosity to get to meet famous people, or to find good scripts.  I use curiosity to make sure movies get made—on budget, on time, and with the most powerful storytelling possible.  I’ve discovered that even when you’re in charge, you are often much more effective asking questions than giving orders…

…I use curiosity as a management tool.  I use it to help me be outgoing.  I use curiosity to power my self-confidence.  I use it to avoid getting into a rut, and I use it to manage my own worries…

You’re born curious, and no matter how much battering your curiosity has taken, it’s standing by, ready to be awakened

…Curiosity itself is essential to survival.  But the power of human development comes from being able to share what we learn, and to accumulate it.  And that’s what stories are: shared knowledge

…I want the opportunity to be different.  Where do I get the confidence to be different?  A lot of it comes from curiosity….

…That’s what curiosity has done for me, and what I think it can do for almost anyone.  It can give you the courage to be adventurous and ambitious.

My emphasis added.  I could go on, but hopefully the excepts that I have shared give you a flavor of the role that curiosity conversations have played in defining and shaping Brian Grazer’s life.  I found his book to be fascinating.

And I couldn’t help but think of its implications to our business.  What is the difference between those who succeed in financial services and those who struggle along or fail?  Surely, connections, storytelling ability, confidence, persistence, and wisdom are among the defining characteristics of those who succeed.  And what better way to develop those attributes that to constantly seek out opportunities to learn from people of all walks of life.  Perhaps, you are saying to yourself, “Yea, but if I reach out to someone and ask for an hour of their time to learn from them, they will surely perceive a hidden agenda of simply trying to turn them into a client.”  There is no doubt that this will be a major obstacle.  Brian Grazer’s book was filled with all the opposition he received from people about sitting down with him for an interview.  But, he persisted.  Furthermore, as Grazer points out, people generally like talking about themselves and many people will be flattered by your request.

Financial services is nothing if not a people business.  A more organized and concerted effort to engage in these types of conversations could very well enrich our lives in many ways beyond the monetary.

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