I’ve always been curious about people. When I was a kid, my mom said I would talk to the women in the nursing home when we went to visit my great grandmother. I would talk to the people at McDonald’s and the grocery store. In high school, I would take people I wanted to get to know out for coffee and ask them about their passion, their plans, their hopes, the things that bothered them.
It was natural, then, that I pursue a career in journalism. This fascination with people – both alive and gone – fueled my desire. It didn’t make me a particularly skilled journalist. For that, I think, you need more than curiosity, you need to care as much about issues and the public interest as you do people. But it made me better at managing sources and anticipating their take on the day’s events or news. This curiosity made for a natural transition into my work in the agency world, where I spend most of my days wondering about people, thinking about people, anticipating people’s needs.
While my work plays on my curiosity, it largely consists of thinking about people in abstract, thinking about types of people instead of individuals. And, while satisfying, I miss the challenge and rigor that my career in newspapers and magazines provided related to talking to people of all stripes and kinds one-on-one.
I’ve also always been pretty good at getting myself in doors in unexpected ways. When I was 12 I managed to get my parents, sisters and I a private tour of the design lab at Converse – the shoe company. When I was a little older, I found a way (before the internet) to start a pen-pal relationship with the owner of Orvis, one of my favorite companies. Not long ago, I became fascinated by Aaron Draplin, the designer and creator of Field Notes notebooks, one of my favorite things. A couple of e-mails and a phone call later and I found myself contributing to a project he was working on.
Working in new business for my agency, I’m constantly looking for ways to get to the people I am interested in or find ways of building a connection for my company. I don’t claim any secrets when it comes to getting in front of influential or interesting people. Instead, it’s the same curiosity that had me talking to elderly women in that Wisconsin nursing home that is often the key to getting in the door.
This year, I wanted to add a little rigor to the things I’ve done by instinct and on occasion my entire life. I’m setting a goal of introducing myself to and interviewing people twice a month — that is, I will identify two new people every month and make contact. How long it takes to actually get an interview is another story. I have little control over that. The point is that I want to add my natural fascination for people to my regular schedule, to make curiosity a part of my routine.
I just finished Brian Grazer’s “A Curious Mind,” his book about his life-long pursuit of interesting people. The book was fantastic, not for its writing, but because I recognized in it a lot of the way I think. If you haven’t read it, give it a try. He offers not only his thoughts on the value of curiosity, but an introductory guide to having meaningful conversations with the people you admire or are interested by.
I believe curiosity in people is an essential element in a well-rounded life. It certainly is in mine. I’m happier when I’m meeting new people. I am delighted by the pursuit. As these interviews happen (and if the person on the other end doesn’t mind), I will share them here. Maybe you’ll learn something interesting. Maybe you’ll be inspired to find people of your own.
Do you know someone you think I might be interested in? Drop me a note in the contact section and let me know.