A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life–Notes and Ponderings

Summer reading is a mainstay at many schools, and I always enjoy digging in when I have just a bit more time to read and think. One book is never enough, so I take turns reading a chapter a day in different selections. I find that each reading informs another in some way. My stack this summer included several books on assessment, one on research and design, one on leadership, and A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman. In this book, Grazer outlines his curiosity conversations which have inspired him in his personal and professional life. I offer a summary of quotes and thoughts here, and I encourage you to pick up this quick read. You will enjoy Grazer and Fishman’s perspective and conversation-like prose.

“Life isn’t about finding the answers, it’s about asking the questions.”  pg. xv

ME- This fits so seamlessly into what many educators have been asserting that school should be more about problem finding than about problem solving.

“In the well-ordered, obedient classrooms of the Eisenhower era, it [curiosity] was more like an irritant.”  pg. 6

ME- Is curiosity still viewed as in irritant in many classrooms or schools? How Might We design our work and relationships with children– correction, all learners, young and old– so that curiosity is revered and fostered?

“The quality of many ordinary experiences often pivots on curiosity.” pg. 8

ME- So curiosity is a prerequisite for empathy. Or is it synonymous?

“…curiosity has to be harnessed to at least two other key traits. First, the ability to pay attention to the answers to your questions…The second trait is the willingness to act.” pg. 9

ME- This reminds me of some of my other reading on formative assessment. Assessments are not formative by design or intention. They are formative by action that occurs as a result of them. How Might We learn more about quality assessment through the lens of curiosity?

“Curiosity is itself a form of power, and also a form of courage.” pg. 15

ME- I think this may make some uncomfortable as power can have negative connotations. Yet, if you think about curiosity as powerful courage, then this opens doors to how we might avail ourselves to curiosity as a form of momentum in learning.

“The truth is that when I was meeting someone…what I hoped for was in insight, a revelation.” pg. 25

ME- Again, the connection between curiosity and empathy is palpable! Imagine if we were to design school around learners’ curious quests for insights and revelations.

“…you are much more effective asking questions than giving orders.” pg. 28

ME- Woah! Imagine a leadership training course or retreat revolving around that!

“Yes, asking questions builds confidence in your own ideas.” pg. 33

ME- Yes, and asking questions builds confidence in your capacity to devise solutions. How Might We focus our attention on developing learners’ question muscles?

“…storytelling and curiosity are natural allies.” pg. 35

ME- This reminds me of my DT training, where we try in Discovery mode to have users tell stories to gain better insight. Keeps coming back to curiosity = empathy?

“…he completely disrupted my point of view.” pg. 44

ME-This is a poignant statement and alludes to the power of transformation! Asking questions and being curious are the rocket launchers for learning.

Following the idea of disrupting points of view… “Some of this disruptive curiosity relies on instinct…Some of this…relies on routine…Some of this…relies on systematic analysis.” pgs. 55-56

ME-So the sweet spot in learning lies at the intersection of instinct, routine, and systematic analysis? What could that look like?

“We live in a society that is increasingly obsessed with ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity.’…Curiosity is the tool that sparks creativity. Curiosity is the technique that gets to innovation.” pg. 59, 62

ME- Creativity and innovation are not functional constructs without curiosity. I would rather view curiosity not as a tool or technique, but as a habit of mind.

“If you only get the answers you anticipate, you’re not being very curious.” pg. 63

ME- LOVE this! Are we short-changing our children when we design school to get anticipated answers?

“I’ve learned to rely on curiosity in two really important ways…to fight fear…to instill confidence…You have to learn to beat the no…First, I listened to the ‘no.’ There was information in the resistance that I had to be curious about.” pgs. 100-04

ME- Sounds like a growth mindset to me– Fail Up!

“It [curiosity] does that by getting you comfortable with being a little uncomfortable.” pg. 124

“But familiarity is the enemy of curiosity.” pg. 158

ME- Grant Lichtman, you are being channeled here!

“The real benefit of asking rather than telling is that it creates the space for a conversation, for a different idea, a different strategy…questions can quietly transmit values more powerfully than a direct statement.” pg. 144

ME- Here it is again- the connection to empathy!

“Curiosity equips us with the skills for openhearted, open-minded exploration.” pg. 181

ME- Empathy!!!

“Curiosity looks like it’s a ‘deconstructive’ process…But, in fact, curiosity isn’t deconstructive. It’s synthetic. When curiosity really captures you, it fits the pieces of the world together.” pg. 191

ME- Synthetic? Yes, AND Symbiotic.

“Curiosity–asking questions–isn’t just a way of understanding the world. It’s a way of changing it.” pg. 195

ME- And sadly, perhaps this is why it is not encouraged and fostered…sigh…

Expressions in abundance! The authors are masters at using metaphors and phrases that help us visualize curiosity so that we can literally see it in our mind’s eye. What connections and insights do you gain about curiosity by the following?


1) is the spark that starts a flirtation.

2) is the path to freedom.

3) is the flint from which flies the spark of inspiration.

4) connects you to reality.

5) leads to storytelling.

6) rewards persistence.

7) creates the moment of surprise (and before that the moment of respect).

8) is a state of mind.

9) is a kind of receptivity.


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