The Saturday Read – Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman ‘A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life’

Are you curious about the people who work for you? Academy award winning producer Brian Grazer thinks you should be. He manages his organization with curiosity, by asking questions. His book, ‘A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life’ was released earlier this year and is a memoir of his success and it’s source, listening to the answers.

“If you’re the boss, and you manage by asking questions, you’re laying the foundation for the culture of your company or group. 

You’re letting people know that the boss is willing to listen. This isn’t about being “warm” or “friendly”. It’s about understanding how complicated the modern business world is, how indispensable diversity of perspective is, and how hard creative work is.”

The initial reviews of the book focused on the ‘curiosity conversations’ Grazer has utilized throughout his career to network with a variety of folks in his unique quest for lifelong learning. But in the acknowledgements at the end of the book he addresses the reader directly on his purpose in writing ‘A Curious Mind’.

“a book not about my curiosity, but about what curiosity has enabled me to do, about what curiosity can enable anyone to do…”

“I didn’t want to write a book about all the people I’d had conversations with – I wanted to write about the impulse to have those conversations. I wanted to use the conversations to tell a story: the story of my steady discovery of the power of curiosity in my own life.”

For Grazer, it’s not just a hobby, but a commitment to intentionally integrate questioning into both his work and life outside of work.

“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…The second trait is the willingness to act.”

In the early chapters he describes the power of curiosity to motivate, spark creativity, and build confidence. He is the ‘bard of curiosity’ sharing his career story intertwined with his capacity for discovery. But it’s in chapter five where the storytelling turns to management advice. “…the human connection that is created by curiosity…Human connection requires sincerity. It requires compassion. It requires trust.”

“Can you really have sincerity, or compassion, or trust, without curiosity?

“I don’t think so. I think when you stop to consider it – when you look at your own experiences at work and at home – what’s so clear is that authentic human connection requires curiosity.”

Here is the ‘gem’ of the book.

“To be a good boss, you have to be curious about the people who work for you.”

How many of you have a BA in business, an MBA or certificate from a prestigious executive management program? Has anyone ever suggested management by curiosity? We have all been taught to listen. And we don’t. But no one ever explained in this way, how critical the right questions are to getting to the fundamentals when decisions are being made.

“I use curiosity every day to help manage people at work…as a tool to build trust and cooperation and engagement.”

“And curiosity is the key to connecting and staying connected.”

Reading ‘A Curious Mind’ reminded me of a quote buried in dialog in the 2012 novel by Mark Helprin, ‘In Sunlight and in Shadow’:

“It’s a defining difference, curiosity. I’ve never known a stupid person who was curious, or a curious person who was stupid.”

The week@work April 13 – 19 Apollo 13, Brian Grazer & Adderall in the workplace

The week@work celebrated authors and their books at the LA Times Festival of Books in Los Angeles, commemorated the courage of the astronauts on Apollo 13 and explored the growing abuse of attention deficit disorder drugs in the workplace.

It’s interesting how the dots connect. Yesterday I was sitting in a large auditorium at the University of Southern California listening to an interview with Brian Grazer, producer and now writer, describe a self-improvement process he has utilized since graduating from college. Each week he identifies at least one person, a stranger, he would like to meet and have a ‘curiosity conversation’. It’s a practice he continues to energize and expand his capabilities. Speaking earlier this year at SXSW he emphasized “Curiosity is the source of all my success.”

In 1995 he produced the film Apollo 13, recounting the story of the astronaut’s survival. The key word is survival. His process in selecting this project connected back to a woman, Veronica Denegra, who had been tortured for 18 months in Chile for her opposition to the government. It wasn’t his interest in space, but his memory of Ms. Denegra’s story of survival that connected him to Apollo 13.

“You can never know how the dots will connect; how opportunities will come alive when you never knew they existed.”

The talented professionals at NASA who brainstormed their way through to a successful conclusion of the Apollo 13 mission were honored this week at the San Diego Air and Space Museum on the 45th anniversary of the mission. The story of the ‘real life’ events led by mission commander Jim Lovell and flight director Gene Kranz remains a model case study of problem solving, teamwork and creativity in an extremely high risk work environment.

In the December, 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review three authors described their findings on how CEO’s innovate. In ‘The Innovator’s DNA’ Jeffrey H. Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen identified “five “discovery skills” that distinguish the most creative executives: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. We found that innovative entrepreneurs (who are also CEOs) spend 50% more time on these discovery activities than do CEOs with no track record for innovation. Together, these skills make up what we call the innovator’s DNA. And the good news is, if you’re not born with it, you can cultivate it.”

Here we have Brian Grazer, producer, who appears to be the poster boy for the innovator’s DNA, telling the story of another illustration of innovation, in the story of the Apollo13 crew and the folks on the ground at NASA who brought them home, 45 years ago this week.

“The conversations are the artistic fertilizer of what comes up on the screen. It enriches everything that lives in your mind in terms of exploring possibilities.”

The third story this week appears on the front page of the Sunday New York Times, ‘Abuse of Attention Deficit Pills Graduates Into the Workplace’. A generation that employed attention disorder drugs to stay up late to study for a final or complete a paper has now continued the practice, ordering ‘pills on demand’ to complete work assignments.

“Doctors and medical ethicists expressed concern for misusers’ health, as stimulants can cause anxiety, addiction and hallucinations when taken in high doses. But they also worried about added pressure in the workplace — where the use by some pressures more to join the trend.”

Young professionals believe they need these drugs to get hired. And once hired, believe they need chemical support to sustain their productivity, to be competitive.

We are only at the beginning of this story, but leaders should be paying attention and consider the effects of an organizational culture that facilitates this behavior. A dose of management emotional intelligence and creativity might go a long way to building an alternative workplace, a place where productivity is fueled by ‘curiosity conversations’, not drugs.

Mr. Grazer believes “Curiosity is the solution to every problem that you’ve got.” And he may be right.