Brian Grazer, producer of films including Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, knows how to click with people -- audiences and critics alike.
A self-diagnosed dyslexic, Grazer started pursuing what he calls "curiosity talks" with various experts after her graduated from the University of Southern California as a way of learning about new fields, one that came more naturally to him than books and lectures.
He started the practice while working at Time Warner as a 22-year-old, where he managed to turn deliveries of documents into 40 minutes conversations with people normally difficult to access.
"I realized that every time I was going to deliver papers, I would kind of be inventive," he said Tuesday at the QuickBooks Connect 2015 conference in San Jose.
What started as the creative schmoozing of an ambitious grad has turned into a lifelong habit of meeting up with people he finds interesting for conversations where he learns about their areas of expertise. He's met with the likes of Jonas Salk, who developed the first successful polio vaccine, and William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist.
Here are some tactics you can borrow from Grazer to improve your own network and knowledge base.
Elbow your way into a conversation.
At Time Warner, Grazer was sometimes charged with making deliveries to the company's clients, some of them high-powered executives in Hollywood. When he would arrive wherever a person was staying, he would frequently be assured that others could take the papers and pass them along. But Grazer concocted the narrative that the papers were too important not to be delivered directly. The story worked, and the future producer turned each handoff into an enlightening 40-minute conversation about the film industry. "I definitely, definitely believe the harder you work, the more prepared you are and the more resourceful you are, the more opportunities - the more things will come to fruition," he said.
Know that you don't know.
Architecture is a topic that never interested Grazer. He saw it simply as the practice of manipulating space. Still, he pushed himself to arrange an interview with architect Rem Koolhaas. Koolhaas started the conversation by saying he saw architecture as a living organism, not the description Grazer expected. Grazer has found in the 1,000 meetings he has had that he holds similar misconceptions about a lot of things. "I was wrong probably almost every time," he said. The lesson? Go into the conversation ready to learn.
Networking is like dating.
Grazer goes into conversations with a strategy. He thoroughly researches the person ahead of the meeting. He makes a point of engaging with the person. In short, he keeps them interested so that they keep talking. "It's like a date," he said.
Context is understanding.
Grazer said that when he first started arranging these get togethers, "I thought each one of these meetings was like a dot: Within the dot was the person, and the subject, and those insights -- and then there would be a greater constellation of dots." That constellation, as he anticipated, gave him greater context for new "dots" as he added them. The more connections you make, the more valuable each connection becomes. This matters when it comes to understanding anything, including customers. "You have to understand the customer; you have to understand the psyche of the customer. And only through understanding different perspectives, can you do this."