Dorothy Parker, a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, writer and member of the Editorial Board for the New Yorker, once wrote, the cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. This statement pretty much explains my approach to living in Las Cruces.
There are multiple steps I am learning about why talking to interesting people from across the globe is scary work, yet when successful, rewarding. The steps involve research, persistence, ability to listen and absorb in real-time what is being said, then act.
Last week I was talking to Tom Ingersoll. He just helped close the sale of Sky Box to Google for half a billion dollars. Tom works from his phone. No office, well maybe his car is his office. He likes short emails, short conversations, and action. He agrees to talk to us because we absorb what he is saying and we act. Talking is not enough, listening must be accompanied by action to dispel the boredom or to continue dialog with interesting people. There are all kinds of ways to be effective, to make a difference. Las Crucens want to make a difference, we have a great community because there are people who have figured out the cure.
Disrupting my point of view is benefit of curiosity. Stephen Covey gave us an exercise when I was at a retreat he was teaching. We had to sit across from a stranger and get to know something about them, clarify or repeat back what we learned in a way to find out one more thing. The point was to listen actively first then determine what I really wanted to know next. If your conversation partner thought the question was bogus, trite or an insincere interest, he or she was not obliged to answer. The guy I sat across from started yelling at me almost immediately after my first question to him. I was shocked. Surprise, he did not follow the directions of the exercise. I was totally thrown off balance. What did I learn?
Dr. Covey asked me that question. I went into the exercise expecting the normal, polite exchange of boring “getting to know you” conversation. I got the unexpected, what did I learn about myself? I was scared, embarrassed and angry. Zero to sixty in less than 10 seconds, not bored anymore. How did it change my point of view? I decided each conversation is a choice. I don’t have to talk, and if I do, make it worthwhile.
Only later did Dr. Covey’s coaches tell me they knew I’d appreciate this exercise because I am a talker, and I wanted to get better at listening. Upon further discussion with the coaches we agreed I needed to explore becoming more conscious about who I talked with and how I spent their time, disrupting the idea that it was my time.
The work of putting on the space symposium here each year includes talking to hundreds of people. The curiosity conversations that shape the conference number in the hundreds. The conversations are humbling, purposely. We understand burn out. The people who work with me daily on this conference mention periodically their phone headsets are growing into their scalps. But they keep listening because the conversations are also fascinating. Until I read Brian Grazer’s book, A Curious Mind, I never understood the conversations we have Mr. Grazer calls curiosity conversations.
He schedules a curiosity conversation every two weeks, and has done so for thirty years. Mr. Grazer is the Hollywood producer who produced Apollo 13. His business partner in Imagine Entertainment is Ron Howard. Grazer is the guy with the hair that stands straight up. One of his curiosity conversations took two years to set up. It was with Fidel Castro in Cuba. Grazer brought a couple of friends with him to Cuba, they spent four days touring around waiting to find out exactly when they would meet Castro. The day they were to leave they got notice; drivers would pick them up and take them to Castro.
After hours of false starts, the group finally met Fidel. He talked straight for 3 hours, and as the meeting ended he turned to Brian Grazer and asked only one question, how do you get your hair like that? Curiosity also helps dispel ignorance.
We live in a sort of isolated island here in Las Cruces. Yet, the only ignorance I want to dispel is my own. My next curiosity conversation I am truly looking forward to is with the President of Dona Ana Community College, Renay Scott.