HBR: You say curiosity helped you in your career. How so?
Grazer: In the business of storytelling—movies, television, or documentaries—you’re looking for originality in the subject and point of view. Being interested in other fields and meeting experts outside entertainment—whether it’s a two-hour conversation with John Nash that turns into A Beautiful Mind, or talking to people in architecture or fashion, CIA directors or Nobel laureates—has given me a better sense of which ideas feel authentic and new. Also, if you’re engaging in these conversations, you’re becoming a better, smarter, more interesting person, which gives you an endless amount of confidence. When everyone in the business is trying to work with Tom Hanks or Russell Crowe or Denzel Washington or Eddie Murphy, I think I get the tip on the ball because they know I care about more than just the dynamics of Hollywood.
Can people learn to be curious?
I think some people have more curiosity than others, but to use it as a tool does take work. You have to say, “What other subjects are out there?” And then “What’s my entry point?” For example, with Apollo 13, I didn’t know anything at all about aerodynamics or the space program of that era. But when I saw a 12-page outline of what was going to be a book by Jim Lovell, I thought, “Wow, what would it be like to survive a situation like that?” So that was my entry point—survival. And then I wondered, “What resources were available to these three astronauts? Who did they communicate with?” You have to assault a topic kind of like a scientist would assault a subatomic particle, to get very granular and ask endless questions. You often think you’re asking your best ones first. But I find that they usually come somewhere in the middle, because that’s when you’re most engaged. People like to talk about themselves. The sexiest guys are the ones who look into that girl’s eyes and ask her all the questions she’s always wanted to be asked. It happens in romance, and in the full spectrum of life.
You’re clearly ambitious. Where did that come from?
I like challenges; I like excitement. I like entering different worlds and trying to succeed—not excel, but succeed. I took up surfing because I watched kids do it and I thought, “How does this work?” The drive? That probably comes from a lack of self-worth that I’m always trying to compensate for.
-Alison Beard via Harvard Business Review