Brian Grazer is a Hollywood producer whose films and television shows have been nominated for 43 Academy Awards and 217 Emmys and grossed $15 billion worldwide. He’s produced everything from my favorite TV show of all time, Friday Night Lights, to critically-acclaimed and Oscar-winning films like Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind.
Grazer credits much of his success to his commitment to a practice he calls “curiosity conversations.” Today on the show, I talk to Grazer, who’s also the co-author of A Curious Mind Expanded Edition: The Secret to a Bigger Life, about why he considers curiosity conversations the “superpower” that fueled his rise as one of Hollywood’s leading producers. We talk about how these curiosity conversations are beneficial to have with everyone from VIPs to ordinary folks, how the ideas and connections they foster can enhance both your personal and professional life, what makes a curiosity conversation effective, and how to make them happen.
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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Brian Grazer is a Hollywood producer whose films and television shows have been nominated for 43 Academy Awards and 217 Emmys and grossed $15 billion worldwide. He’s produced everything from my favorite TV show of all time, Friday Night Lights, to critically acclaimed and Oscar winning films like Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind. Grazer credits much of his success to his commitment to a practice he calls curiosity conversations. Today on the show, I talk to Grazer, who’s also the co-author of A Curious Mind Expanded Edition, The Secret to a Bigger Life, about why he considers curiosity conversations the superpower that fueled his rise as one of Hollywood’s leading producers. We talk about how these curiosity conversations are beneficial to have with everyone from VIPs to ordinary folks, how the ideas and connections they foster can enhance both your personal and professional life, what makes a curiosity conversation effective, and how to make them happen. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/curiosity conversations. All right, Brian Grazer, welcome to the show.
Brian Grazer: Well, thanks for having me on. I was thrilled to be on The Art of Manliness. Can’t go wrong with that. That’s an awesome site.
Brett McKay: Well, thank you. I really appreciate that. So you are an Academy Award-winning movie producer, and your credits include some classics like Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind. You got Splash, among many other films. And you’ve published this book called A Curious Mind, where you share how the virtue of curiosity has played a pivotal role, not only in your professional career, but also just in your life of living a flourishing life.
Brian Grazer: Yeah.
Brett McKay: And I want to start off with this, where you really learned the power of curiosity, and it’s how you got into the film industry in the first place. So how did curiosity lead you from going to law school to working in the film industry?
Brian Grazer: Basically, graduated from USC undergraduate in psychology, applied to USC Law School, got in, planned on going. And as the semester and graduation came to a close, about the first or second day into the summer only, I overheard a conversation in my apartment complex with three law school grads talking about the easiest summer job they ever had. And so, of course, I leaned into that conversation, and I closed my drapes in my little apartment and opened the window further so I could eavesdrop on these three guys discussing the virtues of their easiest job of all time. And one of them sounded awesome because it came with a company car, it was available today because the guy just said, “I just quit my job, but it was the cushiest job of all time.” And I thought, well, what could that be? And so I overheard he said, it was to work at Warner Brothers in the legal affairs as a law clerk. So I thought, I’m gonna call up immediately. I called 411, then 843-6000, asked for the legal department at Warner Brothers.
And sure enough, they said, “Come on in today. We do need a law clerk.” And I got the job that day. Now, I didn’t really want to be a law clerk, but I thought, well, that’s the field that I think I’m going into, or at least planned on going into. And so now I’m in this little desk, I’m in the office, a tiny office with a desk, and nothing to do the whole week, like literally no jobs, no assignment, no filing. And he was right. It was the easiest job of all time. I mean, on the verge of being the most boring job. But then the following week, they said, “Deliver some papers.” And I had to deliver these papers for what was gonna be the movie Heaven Can Wait that would star Warren Beatty. So the papers were to go to Warren Beatty. And I then, as I was delivering the papers to Warren Beatty, an assistant said, “Just hand me the papers.” At 21, I had the presence of mind to just say, Well, the papers will be invalid unless I hand them directly to Mr. Beatty. And so I just invented that on the spot. And eventually, I got up to Mr. Warren Beatty and I spent an hour with him. And that was the beginning of my very first conversation.
Brett McKay: What struck me from your story about how you went from going about to go to law school to becoming a law clerk, where you’re able to rub shoulders with actors and producers in Hollywood, was, you had that curiosity, but you took action. Like you actually did something about it. You called information and you said, I’m gonna actually gonna do something. I think a lot of people, they stop at the interest and that’s as far as they go. And it’s always like a bunch of what ifs, but it seemed like you had this sort of carpe diem, Well, what do I got to lose by trying to talk to Warren Beatty?
Brian Grazer: Yeah. I did think that as long as I’m polite and I’m thoughtful, it shouldn’t be too much of an imposition. I just think that if you come from a place of the generosity of spirit, that people won’t deny you or be offended or cut you short. And I’ve found that that is true. Even when I had absolutely no Hollywood power and no Hollywood identity at all, I just found that if you reach out to people with genuine interest, the worst that’ll happen is you’re just being polite. And that’s not such a high bar. It’s not a function of religion. It’s not a function of anything other than simple things like the golden rule or simple things like having trust in your fellow brother, brother or sister. It’s just really that.
Brett McKay: So you get to have a conversation with Warren Beatty. How did you get him to talk to you for an hour? And what did you ask him? What did you talk about?
Brian Grazer: Well, in order for your curiosity to be effective, and effective means where you get to learn the most about a person, means where you have, I would say a soul connection. You have to have eye contact. You cannot be distracted. You can’t be looking around. You have to be in a peaceful state, looking and communicating eyeball to eyeball with another human being. And literally, as the adage goes, use the windows of their eyes, is the window into their soul. And so I found that by being genuinely curious, not by asking a series of mechanically driven questions, but by just allowing yourself the freedom to just be. And by just being, you’re going to find your way into questions and conversations that are actually real. And the more real you are by the connection of no distraction and eye contact, the better your date will be with that person.
If you have interested eyes, and you’re a good active listener, most successful people want to talk about themselves. And look, you’re a master of it. You get important people on your show and you get them to talk about themselves. Because you have a reputation as someone that approaches things through an attractive thematic, and you have credibility and you ask good questions and you’re a good listener. So it’s as simple, but as hard as that.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Brian Grazer: So with Warren Beatty, I was able to… I knew enough about by reading the trades, even as a little law clerk, I would read the trade publications. By reading the trade publications, it’s somewhat demystifying ’cause you’re getting to understand… You’re getting through the language of Hollywood, ’cause just like every business has a language and the language makes the heartbeat of the business complicated or more complicated than it has to be because it’s the language barrier. Do you ever try to talk to a composer? It’s very hard. It’s very hard to talk to an engineer. And that’s a lot of it is language. But if you can get through the language and become somewhat adept, then you will understand what the goals of that person are. What are their goals? What are the things they are moving towards? What are the things they’re moving away from?
Brett McKay: Oh, yeah. I love that idea of eye contact. I wanna talk more because you have some great advice on eye contact and the power of having these conversations with people in person. But that first conversation, you caught the bug and you started to systemize this, right?
Brian Grazer: Yes.
Brett McKay: That Warren Beatty conversation happened spur of the moment and you were like, this is amazing. I want to do this more.
Brian Grazer: I’m gonna do this all the time.
Brett McKay: All the time. So you made a goal for a while. There was like one a day, right?
Brian Grazer: Yes. So I made a goal that I would do everyone that Warner Brothers had me. They sent me out on a mission, deliver papers to the author of the movie Exorcist. The Exorcist or Barbra Streisand or Mama Cass or I can name a lot of people. So they sent me out on these missions and I would turn the mission into a… Of curiosity conversation. And then I realized I can do this with people that that I don’t even have a mission. I can reach out and say, hi, my name is Brian Grazer. I work at Warner Brothers Legal Affairs. This is not associated with studio business. And I’d love to meet your boss for five minutes. And I’ve researched them thoroughly. And after five minutes I will leave and I won’t make any requests. I will not ask for a job. And every person said yes, every single one.
Brett McKay: And then you also, you started to expand after a couple of years, you started expanding to people outside of the film industry. Like you had a conversation with the guy that invented the hydrogen bomb.
Brian Grazer: Yeah. Jonas Salk, who created the polio vaccine, Princess Di, Henry Kissinger, 100s of Nobel laureates, including John Nash, which became a beautiful mind, astronauts, CIA directors, which later became the television series 24, the rockstar Bono, Mick Jagger, of course, all the tech founders, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page. I mean, I made a point to meet all of those people and presidents of the United States.
Brett McKay: And how did you decide like, I need to talk to this guy? What was going on in your life where you’re I need to have a curiosity conversation with Bono?
Brian Grazer: Well, I’m a restless person. So what goes on in my life is a constant flurry of activity, intellectual and emotional energy. So I burn a lot of energy, just thinking, like many people, I’m not a special, but I’m a learner. I’m a lifelong learner. And the way to learn is to import people or subjects into your universe, your mental universe, ’cause you if you’re have an actual day job, which I did, even as being a movie producer, television producer, I had a day job that was to do that. But I was never going to give up on these curiosity conversations. I found them literally the most fulfilling thing I was doing… That I’ve done in life. I found that they served as a greater constellation of dots and experiences with new worlds and people, and that they often connected and proved to give me a very competitive advantage in storytelling and movies and television, I was able to sign Denzel Washington or Tom Hanks or Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, so many of these people that everybody wants or Russell Crowe to three movies and Jodie Foster, everybody wants those actors, everyone, I was able to get the best talent.
Brett McKay: But the thing is, that wasn’t a side effect. Like, that wasn’t your goal going into this…
Brian Grazer: No, that was a side effect. That was a side effect.
Brett McKay: Okay. So curiosity got you from law school to the film industry as a law clerk, but how did you go from being a legal clerk, where basically you were just a gopher? You’re just delivering papers.
Brian Grazer: I was just a gopher.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Brian Grazer: I was just to file papers periodically and go for things around. Yeah.
Brett McKay: So how did you go from that to producing Apollo 13?
Brian Grazer: Oh, okay. Oh my God. How did I do? Okay. So that was quite a distance.
Brett McKay: Sure.
Brian Grazer: But basically the way it started is, I realized I had no resources, no money, but I had a very active imagination and I was a doer. So I would act on things quickly, well-intentioned, but act, do things, do, do, do. And I started writing short stories, just could be one page. It could be two pages or 10 pages, no longer than that really. And with these stories that I wrote, I would protect myself by copyright and I’d go pitch them. And eventually two of them became movies for television that I produced at 25 years old. One was called Zuma beach, the day in the life of Zuma beach, kind of American graffiti at the beach, 24 hours. And where you break down the beach and the culture and the people in it, and it got very, very high ratings. And then the other one was a 20 hour mini series on the 10 commandments, using each commandment as an underlying theme in a contemporary story. So now I have some credibility, my imagination and the doing-ness, acting got me to a place where I was now produced two high quality projects.
And then from there, I just… My career began. And I then wrote the story and script to a movie called Splash, just a man… Tom Hanks falling in love with a mermaid. And that was really just about Brian Grazer finding the perfect girl. And then I defined what that would look like. And then to get us to Apollo 13, which is quite a distance, I spent 10 years writing and producing comedies like that, produced the Nutty Professor and Liar, Liar and Parenthood and Kindergarten Cop, many of these movies. And then I realized you can make a lot of money, but you don’t get enough respect producing comedies. So I thought I’m gonna do a drama. I want to do something that’s really thoughtful and is taken seriously. And I learned through my curiosity conversations, the expertise of space and traveling into space and who does that, but an astronaut, I learned about astronauts. I learned of Jim level, who was the captain of the flight of Apollo 13.
I learned that he had written a 10 page outline, not so different than what I used to do on his failed mission to travel around the moon, to get to the moon and travel around it. And then I said, I reached out to Jim level and said, I’d really like to make this into a movie. And he had belief and trust that I could do that, because I had prior success. And I was earnest in my conversation. And that became the beginning of what became the movie Apollo 13, which got nine Oscar nominations. And that’s what that was.
Brett McKay: Well, one of the stories that stuck out to me in the book, you mentioned when you’re telling your shortened version of it, that you started writing stories, writing scripts, but it was a curiosity conversation that got you writing scripts. You talk about how you got a meeting with Lou Wasserman, who was the head of MCA. And this guy has been in the… He was a legend. He was in the movie industry since 1936, like head of MCA.
Brian Grazer: Oh, my God.
Brett McKay: And you somehow get in I’m gonna get in a meeting with this guy. I wanna talk to him ’cause I want to know how, so what he does and how I can become a producer. And I love the story. He says, “Look, buddy, you somehow found your way into this office. You’re basically full of it. I can see that. There’s two ways you become a producer. You got to have money and you got to know people.” And he says, “You don’t have any of those things. So the only thing you can do is you can write, you gotta own the stuff.” And he handed you a legal pad and a pencil. He’s all right, start writing. And then you wrote those TV scripts.
Brian Grazer: Correct. That is exactly what happened. He spoke the truth that I had nothing, ’cause no one had like just said that directly to my face. And I acknowledged that that was truthful. And so I thought, well, then I better find… Be really, really, really resourceful and figure out what I might have. So what I did have was a tremendously an active imagination like many other people. But I knew that I had to write those ideas down and turn them into either stories and in many of the cases into screenplays. And that’s how it started, because one man with a lot of wisdom cut me off from going into his office and said, Stop right here and told me I was full of shit basically. And you better have something the next time you walk into this office.
Brett McKay: Another important relationship that you develop because of these curiosity conversations was with Ron Howard, right? So Ron Howard directed Apollo 13, but you all have done lots of movies together. How did your curiosity start that relationship with Ron?
Brian Grazer: Well, I still had… That was the early stages of my curiosity conversations. And in that discipline, I would sentence myself to doing one per day. And they could know a whole variety of types of people at that time. They weren’t always Nobel laureates or Henry Kissinger or Edward Teller, who was the father of the hydrogen bomb. They could be anybody. That piqued my interest. I’m on my office at Paramount as the 25, 26 year old producer of television shows. I look out my window and I see Ron Howard, Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. And I thought, I have got to meet Richie Cunningham. He’s an American icon. He’s right in front of me, basically, and I’m going to call his office and set a meeting.
So I do. He reluctantly comes to my office because he’s quite shy. And as he entered, energetically, I felt a different person than I had ordinarily felt. In other words, energetically, he exuded an energy of goodness about him, which translated to me that whatever he tries to do, he will succeed at it. So whatever he wishes more than ever, he could become, in this case, was to be a theatrical movie director, which he wasn’t. If he wishes for that to happen, and that’s his obsession, I bet that will happen.
And that’s how that all came together. And I sort of trusted his soul and his energy, and I told him the three or four ideas that I had written, and he loved the one that was an R rated movie called Night Shift, which later starred Michael Keaton and Henry Winkler. And then at that moment where he wanted to do the R rated movie, I said, Well, I also have a PG rated movie that would be my preference. And he says, well, I promise you I’ll do it after? And that was called Splash, about a man, a regular guy who falls in love with a woman and later learns she’s a mermaid.
Brett McKay: Why did Ron want to do the R rated movie? What was going on there?
Brian Grazer: Well, what was going on there is that was the time where he was the very wholesome image of Richie Cunningham. And of course, he was also Opie in the Andy Griffith show. And so he wanted to get rid of that image, that super wholesome, squeaky clean image, and turn the dial a little. He wanted to reveal that he had more edge and that’s what his goal was. And that’s why he said he wanted to do the R rated movie.
Brett McKay: When you first had that meeting with Ron Howard, did you go into it thinking, Okay, I want to have this conversation, so we work together, or you just wanted to know what was going on with him.
Brian Grazer: No. I just wanted to know what was going on with him, what made him tick. All these meetings, I defined these meetings for me, that I would not ask for anything. I wouldn’t have an agenda and an ask. That I would permit myself to just have a pure conversation about that person, what they do for a living, what they’re passionate about, what they think their superpower is, and get to the root of who they were as people and how they were able to optimize what they were or that superpower into their professional power.
Brett McKay: We’re going to take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. And now back to the show.
Something you talk about in the book. When you have these conversations with people, you are curious in a specific kind of way. You call it emotional curiosity. What do you mean by emotional curiosity?
Brian Grazer: Well, simply that would be, as we all talk about it as EQ. I basically want to know what drives them. Often there’s an injury, an emotional injury in their life that drives them. And it doesn’t have to be grand. It could just be being cut from high school football, which was mine, in front of 200 kids. And that makes you… The emotional injury either causes you to get through the emotional injury to attain your potential, to attain your goal. The movie 8 Mile, which I produced with Eminem, was really about that. His emotional injuries as a young kid living in a trailer park with an abusive mom, an abusive, irresponsible mom, caused him a lot of problems early in life in the movie. And it caused him a problem of not being able to even look at the audience when he was supposed to rap to the audience. And that is a huge barrier. And in that movie, it’s about getting through those barriers and to liberate yourself from those issues that are holding you back.
Brett McKay: Okay. So, yeah, when you have these curiosity conversations, you’re not going to Ron Howard and ask him, Well, tell me about your technical approach to filmmaking. You want to know, why does Richie Cunningham want to make an R rated movie?
Brian Grazer: Exactly. That’s 100% right. Why does Richie Cunningham now want to make an R rated movie?
Brett McKay: Or you had one curiosity conversation with the guy who developed the hydrogen bomb. You’re not asking him, Well, tell me about the science. You want to know the story behind the story. Like, how do you deal with grappling that you created this weapon that can kill 10s of 1000s, 100s of 1000s of people.
Brian Grazer: Yeah. You’re 1000% right. It’s just I want to know what drives people.
Brett McKay: Yeah. So with these curiosity conversations, you’re still doing them? Do you still go for just, like, regular people? Like, you’re not going for the big names. Do you have curiosity conversations with, I don’t know, the waiter or a barman at a hotel you’re at?
Brian Grazer: A 1000%. Only just recently, I took an Uber car, and the driver, I spoke to him, and he sounded Russian. He said, No, I’m Serbian. I said, Okay, what’s it like? And I started talking to him about Serbia, what it was like. What did he do? He was in the military, then in security. I said, Do you still do security? I do part time. And then I asked him, Well, you must do a form of martial arts. Which one? I bring up Krav Maga. I bring up Wing Chun. I bring up several of these aikido karate… Several of these disciplines that, in fact, I’ve tried myself also through curiosity. And he said, No, I do one called systema.
And I thought, what is systema? I got super excited, and so he drops me off the house. I said, Show me what systema looks like. So he shows me what it looks like. And I said, Can I pay you to teach me this art form? He said, Sure. And so I started paying him by the hour to teach me this art form. So the answer is yes, yes, yes, I do this with regular people.
Brett McKay: No. Yeah. I think Uber drivers are some of the best people to have these curiosity conversations. I do this. Not all the time. You put the feelers out, and maybe the person wants to talk, maybe they don’t. But I’ve had some great conversations with Uber drivers during my time. I had one. My wife and I were in LA a couple months ago, and she was a taxi driver. It wasn’t an Uber driver. She was a taxi driver. But she was from Jamaica, and she just started telling us about, Oh, yeah, I was born in Jamaica, but then I lived in the United States, and I went back to Jamaica to take care of my mother, who was old, and it was amazing.
She just talked nonstop, and we just kept asking her questions and just learning some really cool stuff that I otherwise wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t had this taxi drive with this woman.
Brian Grazer: Yeah, I agree with you with taxi drivers and Uber cars. Not long ago, I was making a movie in Hungary, in Budapest, and I was supposed to that night have dinner with the ambassador to Hungary, the US ambassador to Hungary, which I did. And on the drive there, the Uber driver told me so much about what was going on in Hungary and the refugee crisis, and it made me smart for that dinner that I was having, like, 15 minutes from then.
Brett McKay: You’ve done 1000s of these curiosity conversations and you talk about lots of them in the books. But have any conversations been duds? And if so, what makes them a dud?
Brian Grazer: Yeah. Okay, I’ll tell you. Duds would be… Well, I’ve done a lot of research and I have expectations based on the research of learning something new and being mystified a little bit because all these conversations should be mystifying as I should be mystifying to them. So you lean in, things are being revealed. So that was someone that created a natural foods. He’s famous, so I don’t want to say his name, a natural foods brand. And he was a dud because he wasn’t really into it at all. I think he just wanted to own a rest… I don’t know. He just wanted to own a restaurant. And his motives were impure, I thought. I don’t now.
Brett McKay: Well, another one that stood out to me was Isaac Asimov.
Brian Grazer: Well, Isaac Asimov, who was the most prolific science fiction writer, that was a dud, but I was the dud. Because it reads as though he was. But he wasn’t. He was an expert in science fiction and this tremendous writer. And he and his wife met with me in New York and after less than 10 minutes they just got up and left. They said, We’re leaving. We’re afraid you’re not… They didn’t feel intellectually stimulated by me. And I say they’re right. Because I probably didn’t know science fiction well enough to attract his interest and that he didn’t have outside interest, really. Those were his interests. You got to be prepared.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Got to be prepared.
Brian Grazer: You got to be prepared.
Brett McKay: And then also make sure that the person you’re having this conversation with understands what you’re doing. I imagine what happens, oftentimes you’ll set this curiosity conversation with an important person. There’s all these gatekeepers and you get on the schedule and the person’s schedule is just set by a team of people. They have no clue. They’re going to sit there like, Okay, talk to Brian Grazer. Who’s Brian Grazer? I don’t know. I got 15 minutes with him. And they have no clue what’s going on. They’re just trying to get through with this so they go on to the next thing.
Brian Grazer: Yeah, I mean, I met with, I hope my assistant’s taking some notes, but I got to meet with the CEO of Sequoia Ventures, John Leone, or could be Leone. Oh, it’s Doug Leone. Sorry, Doug Leone. And I swear I think he thought I was the CIA and I said to him, because he was so guarded, unbelievably guarded. He said, What are you doing? What are you driving at? He said to me, I said, Well, you seem very guarded. You’re like a mafia boss or something. And that was enough to get him to understand what I was trying to say and flatter him at the same time because he’s a serious guy, man. He’s a really serious. And he looks like a formidable guy to me. He looked also like a bodybuilder. Now, he’d probably laugh if he heard me say this. I say it only as a compliment. And then the walls came down and we had a great conversation.
Brett McKay: So you’re big on having these conversations in person.
Brian Grazer: In person.
Brett McKay: And you’ve been talking a lot about eye contact. And in fact, you wrote a whole book about the importance of eye contact.
Brian Grazer: Yes. Which is incorporated into my new book called A Curious Mind. So hopefully people will be… It’s New York Times bestseller, I hope people go see it and read it.
Brett McKay: What is it about the in person aspect? Why can’t you do this on Zoom. Did you do these things on Zoom during the lockdowns, during the pandemic? And how are they different?
Brian Grazer: I did do them on Zoom when we couldn’t meet at all during COVID. They were not very satisfactory because you can’t see people’s… There’s no… You can’t study their body movement, so you can’t feel their energy or chemistry in any way. You can only kind of learn in the same way you might learn it through a textbook or a video.
Brett McKay: Yeah. And the eye contact is important, too.
Brian Grazer: Super important.
Brett McKay: And on Zoom, you can’t look people in the eye.
Brian Grazer: You can’t look people in the eye. And you never, almost never laugh on a Zoom. There’s very little humor on Zoom. There’s very little Zoom humor.
Brett McKay: No. It’s why I don’t use video on my podcast because of that reasoning. I can’t look people in the eye. And for me, it’s distracting. I’d rather just hear your voice and make it almost like a phone call than have to deal with looking at the screen, than looking up at the camera and looking back down. I don’t like that. So I just go, audio only.
Brian Grazer: Really interesting.
Brett McKay: But speaking of eye contact, you’ve got some tips on how to get the most out of eye contact. How can you do eye contact? I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with looking people in the eye because they don’t want to be creepy. Any tips on eye contact without being a creeper?
Brian Grazer: Yeah. Look, you know if somebody could think you’re a creeper or they’re leery… What you do is you look at them briefly so they see that you’re seeing them as a person. But then you do divert your eyes down submissively so you’re not trying to have power over them in any way.
Brett McKay: So something I’ve read is that you want to keep eye contact for about five seconds. So that’s about as long as it takes to speak a sentence. So you’re looking in the eyes or the eye. I mean, I think you can really only look at one eye at a time. And something else I read is that looking at the right eye is best. And then you look down for a beat, then you look back in the eyes. So you’re not locked in, you’re not staring them down.
Brian Grazer: No, don’t stare them down. You make sure you blink. Don’t do anything that could seem to be aggressive.
Brett McKay: Yeah. And you had to learn how to use eye contact. You tell a story where I think you had like an assistant or somebody tell you, Hey, Brian, you know, you don’t look at people in the eye when you talk to them. And you’re like, I had no clue.
Brian Grazer: Yeah, it was actually Ron Howard.
Brett McKay: It was Ron. Okay.
Brian Grazer: He said… Because I have a little ADD. And so my tendency is to bounce around. And I was talking to the writers, the very, very successful writers of all of our successful comedies, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. And Ron said, when you talk to Lowell and Babaloo, I don’t think they feel respected by you. And I go, Well, why? He says, Because you don’t look at them. I go, But I already know what they’re saying and I’m paying attention, [0:34:10.6] ____ He says, You are, but you’re not looking at them. And I know they don’t feel respected. I said, Okay. And I changed that immediately.
Brett McKay: Let’s say someone’s listening to this and they love this idea of curiosity conversations, just having a conversation, having that emotional curiosity, wanting to figure out what drives people, what makes them tick. How do you recommend getting started? I imagine it’s not try to get a conversation with the president of the United States. Who’s that first rung in the ladder, do you think?
Brian Grazer: Anyone that you think is authentically expert at anything. You could just be… I love this one guy so much. He was the best dad I’ve ever met. I mean, there were so many more successful people that are around me. And this guy, he was an assistant caterer. No, he was the number two caterer on the Amtrak that goes from LA to San Diego. And he was just a great father. First had a conversation with him, and then we became friends. And I was always proud to have him as a friend because he was such a good dad. It could be as simple as that. Someone that’s a really good parent or a good teacher or your martial arts instructor or your trainer, ask your trainer a question. You go to a gym, there’s probably a trainer there. Ask them. It’s so easy.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Well, that guy who was a good dad, what made him a good dad?
Brian Grazer: What made him a good dad is beyond just that he spent a lot of his time… He spent time with his kids. He understood what they were interested in and became interested in it himself. He became really interested in skateboarding or wildposting stencils. He would have shared interest. They’d listen to songs together. They’d both sing to songs. So they’d put on a playlist and they’d both sing to songs. And there was actually three kids, so he would do it one on one or one on two or one on three. But he was always that person. He was very in the moment.
Brett McKay: Okay, so starting your social circle, you have right now, if you see someone that’s got some kind of quirky interest that they’re an expert at, find out what got them into it, what drives them to do that, and it requires you to pay attention. That’s another thing that curiosity requires.
Brian Grazer: Yeah, pay attention.
Brett McKay: It requires you to pay attention. So when you’re at work, if your coworkers work at cubicles, they probably got pictures or tchotchkes set up there that say a lot about them.
Brian Grazer: No. Good point point.
Brett McKay: Like, well, they coach baseball or they love this film genre, I don’t know. And then you can use that as well. Tell me about that. Tell me more about it. What do you know about that? So, yeah, pay attention. Let’s say people start doing that. How do you go about setting up a curiosity conversation with VIPs? How do you make the pitch?
Brian Grazer: You always pitch to their staff. Or if you meet some VIP, you might say, version of, Oh, my God, I’d really love to have a conversation with you. I’d really like to have five minute conversation with you and with a disclaimer that I don’t want anything, I just wanna… But some kind of… You have to come up with something, and then don’t ask them for their contacts, ever. And then you have to find them, and they’ll be impressed that you found them and you did it through the channels, through their assistants. Then you befriend the assistant. That’s easy to do. Just treat them respectfully, like human beings and usually… Try to make people laugh, ultimately. Get to know the assistants.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Okay. So I think that’s some good advice there. Respect the communication channels.
Brian Grazer: Yes.
Brett McKay: And then also just make it very clear you’re not looking for anything. You have no ulterior motives, you don’t want a job…
Brian Grazer: You don’t have an agenda.
Brett McKay: Yeah, you don’t have an agenda. Because I’m sure these VIPs, they’re constantly dealing with people with an agenda, which is why they put gatekeepers in front of them, because they just want to avoid that stuff.
Brian Grazer: Yeah, exactly.
Brett McKay: Okay, so how do you prep for a curiosity conversation? So you can have these on the fly, right? You can have them with your Uber driver, etcetera. But let’s say you set something up because you want to talk to, I don’t know, the head of the wildlife department in your state, for whatever reason. I’m just coming up with this. How do you prep for that sort of conversation?
Brian Grazer: Well, it’s not hard. You would search them and you try to find out what their interests are. You go to social channels, you go to Instagram, you might go to Twitter. But I like Instagram because it’s visual. You learn a lot. And if the person’s well known, I always go to YouTube. I love YouTube.
Brett McKay: Are there any starter questions you recommend to help people get the conversation going? Do you have any default ones you like to go to?
Brian Grazer: I usually try to learn something about the person as we’re talking about. And I would ask them a question that they wouldn’t expect. So you don’t ask a scientist about science, really. You’d probably go to their sports or what are they obsessed with doing that is in the non science world or what’s an offshoot of that? Or what got them into it? But you try not to ask them… You try not to get the keys to the kingdom, like, immediately.
Brett McKay: Yeah. You know who does a really good job at this…
Brian Grazer: Who?
Brett McKay: Is Tyler Cowen. He’s an economist at George Mason University. He’s written a couple books, but he has a podcast called Conversations with Tyler where he has different people from all walks of life. But he asks the weirdest, obscurest questions, but he does it in a way that it digs out a lot from the person he’s talking to. So I think if you are wanting to look for some examples of some really good kind of oblique questions or off the wall questions that can get to some bigger things, check out Tyler Cowen’s podcast, Conversations with Tyler. So okay, you have the conversation and of course you want to be paying attention and then you want this to be an organic thing. You ask follow up questions and say, tell me more about that. And then the conversation is over. Do you do anything after the conversation to process it?
Brian Grazer: I write notes or I have somebody write notes for me. Or sometimes I will ask very seldom, but I might say, Can I record this? And they’ll say, Yes. That’s what I do.
Brett McKay: Okay, so you write notes. And what’s interesting, you talk about with a lot of these conversations. And you write the notes. You often don’t take action on it right away. Sometimes you sit on it. You don’t even know what you’re going to do with the stuff for a long time.
Brian Grazer: A 100%, I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. That’s exactly right.
Brett McKay: And so, yeah, you had a conversation with the director of CIA, had no intention of creating a TV series out of it, but like 24 came out of it.
Brian Grazer: Yeah, well, 24 was influenced by it.
Brett McKay: Influenced, right. Yeah, but it’s there. And so when you’re out living your life, you’re working, you can be like, Oh, I had this conversation. There’s this nugget there. Maybe we can use that stuff.
Brian Grazer: Yeah, exactly.
Brett McKay: And I imagine these conversations, they beget more conversations like you talk to Warren Beatty and then that can lead you to talk to some other person.
Brian Grazer: 100%. Because then he’ll have a point of view about why he makes movies or his sense of pur… If he is purpose driven, what is the purpose? And then someone else is going to be of similar levels of accomplishment. You’re going to ask them and see if they’re motivated by the same things, or you just look to constantly expand your mind, bombard your mind with new things.
Brett McKay: I really love this. So I hope people, after they listen this podcast, they’re going to go out and have a curiosity conversation. Uber driver is a great way to start, barista, person on the checkout line, start practicing. But where else can people go to learn more about the book and your work and how to have more curiosity conversations?
Brian Grazer: Well, you can order the book and I think you probably could order it on Amazon, I’m assuming, and you can buy it. There’s a bunch of places. All you have to do is look it up. A Curious Mind. You can order it on Amazon and I would suggest they just do that.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Brian Grazer, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Brian Grazer: Yeah, it’s been a privilege. I’ll talk to you again, I hope.
Brett McKay: My guest today is Brian Grazer. He’s the co author of the book A Curious Mind expanded edition. It’s available on Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. Check out our show notes at aom.is/curiosityconversations where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast. Make sure to check out our website at artofmanliness.com where you find our podcast archives as well as 1000s of articles that we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple podcast or Spotify. It helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it.
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