West and Grand

Curiosity Killed the Cat and Other Clichés Worth Forgetting (A Review of A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life)

Perhaps no other cliché in modern times has done more harm.  Sure, there are questionable clichés that seem harmless if misguided, all about cows and slabs, apple a days, and knitting and shirts, but curiosity never recovered from its cat killing status.

It’s a shame and Brian Grazer would agree that curiosity was never responsible for the felines’ demise.  The original form of the proverb was “Care killed the cat.”  The 16th century equivalent of “care” would be “worry” today.  This I could get behind: “Worry killed the cat.”  Worrying kills a lot of things and mostly ourselves.  Worrying should be outlawed along with driving and texting.  It’s a killer.

Curiosity “never hurt a flea”.  Brian makes a great case that Curiosity helped him become a prolific Hollywood producer and an interesting all around guy (although it did kill his law career).

Curiosity is an innate attribute of us all.  Some of us more so than others.  Some of us have had the time to cultivate it.  Some of us can’t live without it.  In the world of storytelling i.e. Hollywood, it seems to be vital.

We are curious by nature and we have to sometimes keep it in check.  No one who has seen the Will Ferrell movie Old School can forget his innocent curiosity of the Olive Garden waitress in a classic marriage therapist melt down. Will, naturally, makes it hysterical.

We are all curious in each other. Facebook has demonstrated this better than any form of human communication.  We are all voyeurs to a degree, which may kill marriages along with cats.  But Brian demonstrates how curiosity used constructively can be our most powerful tool; how asking “why?” and “how?” and keeping an exceptionally open mind can take us places which we never could have imagined.

Curiosity is more powerful than imagination.  Curiosity drives innovation and creativity.  Curiosity is the spark.  Brian points out there are no Harvard Professors of Curiosity but plenty Professors of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  Maybe there is a Grazer Fellowship of Curiosity in the making.

Curiosity is great until it’s not.  One of Brian’s chapters is titled “Anti-Curiosity”.  Basically, this is the means of getting something done and it’s essential.  Brian talks about the making of the movie, A Beautiful Mind, the story about the mathematician and Nobel Award Winning economist, John Nash.  No one wanted Brian to make the film.  Everyone told Brian that no one would get it.

This is when Brian stops asking questions.

In fact, he goes into the exact opposite mode.  He blocks all questions and, subsequently, doubt out of his mind.  He puts all of his effort behind his thoroughly questioned thesis and uses anti-curiosity (is that even a word?) to power him through the doubt that will no doubt be on its way.  A Beautiful Mind went on to gross over $300 million and win four Academy Awards.

Brian ends the book with some great examples of his A-List curiosity conversations.  Oprah, Michael Jackson, and Princess Diana are a few and then credits Robert Hooke with spurring on the golden age of curiosity.  The Brits do curiosity right.

My own curiosity was fueled living in London, England.  It’s a city built with what seems to be nothing but curious people looking to fill this need.  I walked by the store front memorializing Dicken’s novel, The Old Curiosity Shop, on my way to school every day.  I never actually got to go inside, as it never seemed to be open, but it still left its mark.

The English do a wonderful job celebrating curiosity, although a certain level of efficiency is sacrificed during the party.  It’s their inner Sherlock Holmes with little regard for how this may come across to the outside world or how to navigate the maze of streets with no order or a language that constantly surprises.

Curiosity could be the theme of another London Landmark, Sir John Soane’s Museum.  Sir John was an architect whose curiosity and will to pursue it seemed to have no bounds.  His house is a curiosa’s amusement park and has been unaltered for 200 years.  It provides an intimate version of the much larger and grander British Museum, another shrine to the human’s endless curiosity.

Brian Grazer uses curiosity as a tool, as energy, and as a north star.  Steve Jobs called it following your heart.  Brian calls it never stop asking why and never stop being interested.  When we stay interested, we stay interesting.  Brian is doing a fine job redeeming the good name of curiosity.  May it serve us all well and perhaps one day I will have enough of it to find what’s inside the “Old Shoppe.”


Blake Casper

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