TODAY, EMPATHY IS THE KEY CONNECTOR AND CURIOSITY IS THE PATH TO EMPATHY

By Kevin Sullivan

At the outset of the pandemic, one of my goals was to read more books.  Instead, I have watched more TV.  My wife, Jo, and I have binged some great shows:  The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Yellowstone, Away, The Missing, three-plus seasons of Schitt’s Creek, Mrs. Wilson and Tiger King.  Okay, Jo bailed early on Tiger King, but not me. That time would definitely have been better spent with a book. We’ve tried Longmire and recently started The Crown

I enjoyed Hard Knocks and The Cost of Winning on HBO, The Quest for the Stanley Cup on ESPN+ and The Circus on Showtime.  I miss Billions terribly. While visiting my mom, we re-watched a couple seasons of The West Wing, which, thanks to the writing of Aaron Sorkin, is the closest thing on TV to reading a book.  

I have read a few books, however, and one has proven to be especially relevant to my consulting work: "A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life" by Brian Grazer, the Academy Award-winning producer.                                      

Throughout the pandemic and the national movement to end racism this year, it’s been clear to me that empathy is the key to connecting with and earning the trust of an audience.  Prior to this year, I advocated energy and likability as the great connectors.  While still important, empathy is now the key.

Grazer’s book revealed curiosity as an effective generator of empathy.

"Curiosity is what creates empathy,” Grazer writes. “To care about someone, you have to wonder about them. I’m talking about the human connection that is created by curiosity. Curiosity creates interest. It can also create excitement.”

Even though the book was published in 2015, its lessons are particularly relevant today. "One of the most important ways I use curiosity every day is to see the world through other people’s eyes, to see the world in ways I might otherwise miss,” Grazer writes.

"Curiosity helps you dispel ignorance and confusion, curiosity evaporates fogginess and uncertainty, it clears up disagreement. "Being curious and asking questions creates engagement. Using curiosity to disrupt your own point of view is almost always worthwhile, even when it doesn’t work out the way you expect."

Curiosity as a path to empathy is a best practice for leaders. 

“Curiosity at work isn’t a matter of style,” Grazer writes.  “It’s much more consequential than that. If you’re the boss, and you manage by asking questions, you’re laying the foundation for the culture of your company or your group. Asking questions is the key—to helping yourself, refining your ideas, persuading others. And that’s true even if you think you know what you’re doing and where you’re heading.
“And you can’t Google a new idea. The Internet can only tell us what we already know. What I do, in fact, is keep asking questions until something interesting happens."

Grazer also sees a direct link between curiosity and storytelling:

"Nothing unleashes curiosity in an audience like good storytelling. Nothing inspires storytelling, in turn, like the results of curiosity.”

If Grazer, decorated producer of dozens of hit movies and TV shows had produced a documentary about curiosity, it probably wouldn’t have taken me five years to get to it, but as it turns out, the timing for these lessons is perfect.