About the Author
Brian Grazer is an Oscar-winning producer and New York Times bestselling author. His films and television shows have been nominated for forty-three Academy Awards and 187 Emmys. His credits include A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Splash, Arrested Development, 24, Empire, 8 Mile, J. Edgar, The Da Vinci Code, Parenthood, Friday Night Lights, American Gangster, and Genius, among others. He is the author of Eye Contact and the New York Times #1 bestseller A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life and was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. Grazer is also the co-founder of Imagine Entertainment along with his longtime partner, Ron Howard.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
A Curious Mind CHAPTER ONE
There Is No Cure for Curiosity
“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
ONE THURSDAY AFTERNOON, THE SUMMER after I graduated from the University of Southern California (USC), I was sitting in my apartment in Santa Monica with the windows open, thinking about how to get some work until I started law school at USC in the fall.
Suddenly, through the windows, I overheard two guys talking just outside. One said, “Oh my God, I had the cushiest job at Warner Bros. I got paid for eight hours of work every day, and it was usually just an hour.”
This guy got my attention. I opened the window a little more so I wouldn’t miss the rest of the conversation, and I quietly closed the curtain.
The guy went on to say he had been a legal clerk. “I just quit today. My boss was a man named Peter Knecht.”
I was amazed. Sounded perfect to me.
I went right to the telephone, dialed 411,2 and asked for the main number at Warner Bros.—I still remember it, 954-6000.3
I called the number and asked for Peter Knecht. An assistant in his office answered, and I said to her, “I’m going to USC law school in the fall, and I’d like to meet with Mr. Knecht about the law clerk job that’s open.”
Knecht got on the line. “Can you be here tomorrow at 3 p.m.?” he asked.
I met with him on Friday at 3 p.m. He hired me at 3:15. And I started work at Warner Bros. the next Monday.
I didn’t quite realize it at that time, but two incredible things happened that day in the summer of 1974.
First, my life had just changed forever. When I reported for work as a legal clerk that Monday, they gave me a windowless office the size of a small closet. At that moment, I had found my life’s work. From that tiny office, I joined the world of show business. I never again worked at anything else.
I also realized that curiosity had saved my ass that Thursday afternoon. I’ve been curious as long as I can remember. As a boy, I peppered my mother and my grandmother with questions, some of which they could answer, some of which they couldn’t.
By the time I was a young man, curiosity was part of the way I approached the world every day. My kind of curiosity hasn’t changed much since I eavesdropped on those guys at my apartment complex. It hasn’t actually changed that much since I was an antsy twelve-year-old boy.
My kind of curiosity is a little wide-eyed, and sometimes a little mischievous. Many of the best things that have happened in my life are the result of curiosity. And curiosity has occasionally gotten me in trouble.
But even when curiosity has gotten me in trouble, it has been interesting trouble.
Curiosity has never let me down. I’m never sorry I asked that next question. On the contrary, curiosity has swung wide many doors of opportunity for me. I’ve met amazing people, made great movies, made great friends, had some completely unexpected adventures, even fallen in love—because I’m not the least bit embarrassed to ask questions.
That first job at Warner Bros. studios in 1974 was exactly like the tiny office it came with—confining and discouraging. The assignment was simple: I was required to deliver final contract and legal documents to people with whom Warner Bros. was doing business. That’s it. I was given envelopes filled with documents and the addresses where they should go, and off I went.
I was called a “legal clerk,” but I was really just a glorified courier. At the time, I had an old BMW 2002—one of the boxy two-door BMW sedans that looked like it was leaning forward. Mine was a faded red-wine color, and I spent my days driving around Hollywood and Beverly Hills, delivering stacks of important papers.
I quickly identified the one really interesting thing about the job: the people to whom I was bringing the papers. These were the elite, the powerful, the glamorous of 1970s Hollywood—the writers, directors, producers, stars. There was only one problem: people like that always have assistants or secretaries, doormen or housekeepers.
If I was going to do this job, I didn’t want to miss out on the only good part. I didn’t want to meet housekeepers, I wanted to meet the important people. I was curious about them.
So I hit on a simple gambit. When I showed up, I would tell the intermediary—the secretary, the doorman—that I had to hand the documents directly to the person for the delivery to be “valid.”
I went to ICM—the great talent agency—to deliver contracts to seventies superagent Sue Mengers,4 who represented Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, Candice Bergen and Cher, Burt Reynolds and Ali MacGraw. How did I meet Mengers? I told the ICM receptionist, “The only way Miss Mengers can receive this is if I hand it to her personally.” She sent me in without another question.
If the person to whom the documents were addressed wasn’t there, I’d simply leave and come back. The guy who had unwittingly tipped me to the job was right. I had all day, but not much work to worry about.
This is how I met Lew Wasserman, the tough-guy head of MCA Studios, and his partner, Jules Stein.
It’s how I met William Peter Blatty, who wrote The Exorcist, and also Billy Friedkin, the Oscar winner who directed it.
I handed contracts to Warren Beatty at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
I was just twenty-three years old, but I was curious. And I quickly learned that not only could I meet these people, I could also sit and talk to them.
I would hand over the documents with graciousness and deference, and since it was the seventies, they’d always say, “Come in! Have a drink! Have a cup of coffee!”
I would use these moments to get a sense of them, sometimes to get a bit of career advice. I never asked for a job. I never asked for anything, in fact.
Pretty quickly, I realized the movie business was a lot more interesting than law school. So I put it off—I never went; I would have made a terrible lawyer—and I kept that clerk job for a year, through the following summer.
You know what’s curious: throughout that entire time, no one ever called my bluff. No one said, “Hey, kid, just leave the contract on the table and get out of here. You don’t need to see Warren Beatty.”
I met every single person to whom I delivered papers.
Just as curiosity had gotten me the job, it also transformed the job itself into something wonderful.
The men and women whose contracts I delivered changed my life. They showed me a whole style of storytelling I wasn’t familiar with, and I began to think that maybe I was a storyteller at heart. They set the stage for me to produce movies like Splash and Apollo 13, American Gangster, Friday Night Lights, and A Beautiful Mind.
Something else happened during that year of being a legal clerk that was just as important. It was the year I started to actively appreciate the real power of curiosity.
If you grew up in the fifties and sixties, being curious wasn’t exactly considered a virtue. In the well-ordered, obedient classrooms of the Eisenhower era, it was more like an irritant. I knew I was curious, of course, but it was a little like wearing glasses. It was something people noticed, but it didn’t help me get picked for sports teams, and it didn’t help with girls.
That first year at Warner Bros., I realized that curiosity was more than just a quality of my personality. It was my secret weapon. Good for getting picked for the team—it would turn out to be good for becoming captain of the team—and even good for getting the girls.
· · ·
CURIOSITY SEEMS SO SIMPLE. Innocent, even.
Labrador retrievers are charmingly curious. Porpoises are playfully, mischievously curious. A two-year-old going through the kitchen cabinets is exuberantly curious—and delighted at the noisy entertainment value of her curiosity. Every person who types a query into Google’s search engine and presses ENTER is curious about something—and that happens 4 million times a minute, every minute of every day.5
But curiosity has a potent behind-the-scenes power that we mostly overlook.
Curiosity is the spark that starts a flirtation—in a bar, at a party, across the lecture hall in Economics 101. And curiosity ultimately nourishes that romance, and all our best human relationships—marriages, friendships, the bond between parents and children. The curiosity to ask a simple question—“How was your day?” or “How are you feeling?”—to listen to the answer, and to ask the next question.
Curiosity can seem simultaneously urgent and trivial. Who shot J.R.? How will Breaking Bad end? What are the winning numbers on the ticket for the largest Powerball jackpot in history? These questions have a kind of impatient compulsion—right up until the moment we get the answer. Once the curiosity is satisfied, the question itself deflates. Dallas is the perfect example: who did shoot J.R.? If you were alive in the 1980s, you know the question, but you may not recall the answer.6
There are plenty of cases where the urgency turns out to be justified, of course, and where satisfying the initial curiosity only unleashes more. The effort to decode the human genome turned into a dramatic high-stakes race between two teams of scientists. And once the genome was available, the results opened a thousand fresh pathways for scientific and medical curiosity.
The quality of many ordinary experiences often pivots on curiosity. If you’re shopping for a new TV, the kind you ultimately take home and how well you like it is very much dependent on a salesperson who is curious: curious enough about the TVs to know them well; curious enough about your own needs and watching habits to figure out which TV you need.
That’s a perfect example, in fact, of curiosity being camouflaged.
In an encounter like that, we’d categorize the salesperson as either “good” or “bad.” A bad salesperson might aggressively try to sell us something we didn’t want or understand, or would simply show us the TVs for sale, indifferently parroting the list of features on the card mounted beneath each. But the key ingredient in either case is curiosity—about the customer, and about the products.
Curiosity is hiding like that almost everywhere you look—its presence or its absence proving to be the magic ingredient in a whole range of surprising places. The key to unlocking the genetic mysteries of humanity: curiosity. The key to providing decent customer service: curiosity.
If you’re at a boring business dinner, curiosity can save you.
If you’re bored with your career, curiosity can rescue you.
If you’re feeling uncreative or unmotivated, curiosity can be the cure.
It can help you use anger or frustration constructively.
It can give you courage.
Curiosity can add zest to your life, and it can take you way beyond zest—it can enrich your whole sense of security, confidence, and well-being.
But it doesn’t do any of that alone, of course.
While Labrador retrievers are really curious, no black Lab ever decoded the genome, or got a job at Best Buy for that matter. They lose interest pretty quickly.
For it to be effective, curiosity has to be harnessed to at least two other key traits. First, the ability to pay attention to the answers to your questions—you have to actually absorb whatever it is you’re being curious about. We all know people who ask really good questions, who seem engaged and energized when they’re talking and asking those questions, but who zone out the moment it’s time for you to answer.
The second trait is the willingness to act. Curiosity was undoubtedly the inspiration for thinking we could fly to the moon, but it didn’t marshal the hundreds of thousands of people, the billions of dollars, and the determination to overcome failures and disasters along the way to making it a reality. Curiosity can inspire the original vision—of a moon mission, or of a movie, for that matter. It can replenish that inspiration when morale flags—look, that’s where we’re going! But at some point, on the way to the moon or the multiplex, the work gets hard, the obstacles become a thicket, the frustration piles up, and then you need determination.
I hope to accomplish three things in this book: I want to wake you up to the value and power of curiosity; I want to show you all the ways I use it, in the hopes that that will inspire you to test it out in your daily life; and I want to start a conversation in the wider world about why such an important quality is so little valued, taught, and cultivated today.
For a trait with so much potential power, curiosity itself seems uncomplicated. Psychologists define curiosity as “wanting to know.” That’s it. And that definition squares with our own commonsense feeling. “Wanting to know,” of course, means seeking out the information. Curiosity starts out as an impulse, an urge, but it pops out into the world as something more active, more searching: a question.
This inquisitiveness seems as intrinsic to us as hunger or thirst. A child asks a series of seemingly innocent questions: Why is the sky blue? How high up does the blue go? Where does the blue go at night? Instead of answers (most adults can’t explain why the sky is blue, including me), the child might receive a dismissive, slightly patronizing reply like, “Why, aren’t you the curious little girl . . .”7
To some, questions like these feel challenging, even more so if you don’t know the answers. Rather than answering them, the adult simply asserts his own authority to brush them aside. Curiosity can make us adults feel a little inadequate or impatient—that’s the experience of the parent who doesn’t know why the sky is blue, the experience of the teacher trying to get through the day’s lesson without being derailed.
The girl is left not just without answers, but also with the strong impression that asking questions—innocuous or intriguing questions—can often be regarded as impertinent.
That’s hardly surprising.
No one today ever says anything bad about curiosity, directly. But if you pay attention, curiosity isn’t really celebrated and cultivated, it isn’t protected and encouraged. It’s not just that curiosity is inconvenient. Curiosity can be dangerous. Curiosity isn’t just impertinent, it’s insurgent. It’s revolutionary.
The child who feels free to ask why the sky is blue grows into the adult who asks more disruptive questions: Why am I the serf and you the king? Does the sun really revolve around Earth? Why are people with dark skin slaves and people with light skin their masters?
How threatening is curiosity?
All you have to do is look to the Bible to see. The first story in the Bible after the story of creation, the first story that involves people, is about curiosity. The story of Adam, Eve, the serpent, and the tree does not end well for the curious.
Adam is told explicitly by God: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”8
It is the serpent who suggests challenging God’s restriction. He starts with a question himself, to Eve: Is there a tree whose fruit God has put off limits? Yes, Eve says, the tree right at the center of the garden—we can’t eat its fruit, we can’t even touch it, or else we’ll die.
Eve knows the rules so well, she embellishes them a bit: Don’t even touch the tree.
The serpent replies with what is surel...
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