Long before film and TV producer Brian Grazer met with the likes of Steve Jobs, Barack Obama or Fidel Castro, he was a wildly curious child, full of questions. Once, when he was 5 years old, he was sitting in his Grandma Sonia’s convertible, and a bee made its way inside.
This spurred him to ask: “What goes faster, a bee or a car?”
“Kind of a simple little question,” Grazer said at a Los Angeles Times Festival of Books talk on Saturday. “She answered the question in the most comprehensive way. It wasn’t just like, ‘Well, a car does.’ She examined all possibilities, almost from a point of view of physics.”
Grandma Sonia encouraged him to keep asking questions, telling him curiosity was his “gift” and it would make him “special in life.”
“She constantly validated me for asking questions, and it was completely liberating,” Grazer said.
Grazer carried that curiosity with him throughout his life and developed a practice of meeting with interesting, knowledgeable people to broaden his horizons and grow as a person, which he describes in his latest book, “A Curious Mind.” He calls them “curiosity conversations.”
It began when he was just out of college and working in legal affairs at Warner Bros. Part of the job was delivering papers to people, including actor Warren Beatty.
“I think to myself, ‘If I’m going to go deliver papers to Warren Beatty, I want to see Warren Beatty,’” Grazer said, to the crowd’s laughter. “So somebody would say, ‘No, just deliver the papers, just drop them off,’ and I’d say, ‘No no, the only way the papers are valid is if I drop them off directly to Warren Beatty.’ ”
And that was how the idea of “curiosity conversations” was born, using this speech:
“ ‘Hi, my name is Brian Grazer. I work at Warner Bros. in legal affairs. I want to meet your boss for the following reasons. All I want is five minutes, and I absolutely do not want a job,’ ” Grazer recounted. “Everyone said yes.”
He continued using this technique to meet countless people, including, with much persistence, MCA head Lew Wasserman. Grazer said Wasserman brought him a pencil and legal pad and said, “‘Put the pencil to the paper, and it’s worth more than it was as separate parts,’” before whisking him away.
“Basically, he’s acknowledging my real status and value and saying you’ve got to create value, and the way to create value is to generate or create ideas,” Grazer said.
Grazer went to work, and in seven years, he created “Splash.” Seeing its success, Grazer set a new goal to meet one new person every two weeks, this time with the condition that they could not be in the entertainment business, “all for pure expansion of my intellectual prowess,” he said.
“By doing this exercise every two weeks, many, many things happened, but for sure, it expanded my world view, and many unanticipated opportunities came about,” Grazer said.
That’s the short story, Grazer told the crowd; for the long story, he recommended others read his book to learn about his journey and how they can try his method.
“Always do things that disrupt your comfort zone,” he said. “If you do this with a purist heart, and you don’t approach it with an ask … the dots do connect.”
Check out the Festival of Books schedule for this weekend.
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