Brian Grazer and the Secret to a Bigger Life

Along with Apollo 13, Splash, Parenthood, The Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, J. Edgar and more, Brian Grazer produced A Beautiful Mind, a story directed by Ron Howard — his business partner — and interpreted by Russel Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and Paul Bethany. The movie won 4 Academy Awards.

In A Curious Mind, written with Charles Fishman, Grazer reveals how he got started meeting with people from diverse backgrounds to have open-ended conversations about their lives and work. Early in his career, he learned that to broaden his horizons, he needed to escape the Hollywood bubble:

“I have to feed my curiosity,” he says, “or I’ll end up in a bubble here in Hollywood, isolated from what’s going on in the rest of the world. I use curiosity to pop the bubble and keep complacency at bay. And storytelling gives me the ability to tell everyone what I’ve learned.”

His curiosity conversations A-List spans from science fiction author Isaac Asimov to Muhammad Ali, Jeff Bezos, IDEO CEO Tim Brown, fashion designer Tory Burch, Tim Cook, Steve Jobs, former professional tennis player Anna Kournikowa, anthropologist Maria Lopowsky, supermodel Kate Moss, President Barack Obama, neurologist Olive Sacks, astronomer, astrophysicist, and cosmologist Carl Saga, and more.

“the truth is when I was meeting someone like Salk or Teller, or Slim, what I hoped for was an insight, a revelation. I wanted to grasp who they were. Of course, you don't usually get that with strangers.

[…] For me, when I'm learning from someone who is right in front of me, it's better than sex. It's better than success.”

Many successful careers are forged on good relationships and curiosity opens us to learning as well as building human connections. When he met criminal trial attorney F. Lee Bailey (he had been the lawyer for Sam Shepard and Patty Hearst), Grazer says his curiosity questions were:

“He was winning a lot of important cases. How did he pick them? Does he have a moral compass? How does he communicate int he courtroom — with facts? With Legal points? With the morality of the case?

I wanted to understand the distinction between a lawyer's belief system and what he or she was good at. What was Bailey's purpose in life, and how did that mesh with his talents?”

These are likely versions of questions we have about someone we admire and have been too shy to ask, or dismissed the thought for fear of rejection. Curiosity, says Grazer, is very useful in life and in business:

“I'm a boss — Ron Howard and I run Imagine [Entertainment] together — but I am not much of an order giver. My management style is to ask questions. If someone's doing something I don't understand, or don't like, if someone who works for me is doing something unexpected, I start out asking questions. Being curious.”

“Authentic human connection requires curiosity,” says Grazer. He also says that asking questions allows you to understand how other people are thinking about your idea. For example, when people say no, and they say that a lot — in Hollywood as in all kinds of businesses — he says it's important to understand what they are saying no to. Do you need to re-contextualize your story?

37Signals founder Jason Fried sees curiosity as a prized quality. Extreme learners value the role of curiosity in giving them the ability to learn everywhere and it is one of the characteristics that help us relate to others and become confident, independent and wise decision-makers.