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March 9, 2017

John Hendricks On Being Curious

By Lauren Jade Hill

This story originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Elite Traveler.

The man behind the Discovery Channel explains how a childhood passion for road maps sparked his lifelong thirst for knowledge – as well as being the driving force behind his entrepreneurial spirit.

John Hendrix

Everything begins with curiosity. As a boy, I was captivated by my father’s old road maps of Colorado and Utah, as well as his stories about the majestic red-rock canyons he had discovered while traveling in western Colorado as a young man. Many evenings, after my dad came home from work, I would climb behind the wheel of his 1952 Plymouth Cranbrook and, armed with the colorful maps, set off on an imaginary drive to Provo, Grand Junction, Rifle and Zion. Adding to the wonder of each imagined trip were the illustrated dinosaurs on the map covers that told me I was traveling to the land of Tyrannosaurus rex. It would be some years before I made the journey in real life, but I am grateful for the powerful curiosity that my father (and his map collection) sparked in me.

In 1985, I launched the Discovery Channel, the flagship network of a company dedicated to enabling people to explore their world and satisfy their curiosity. There needed to be a channel devoted to the documentaries and educational programming that I found most interesting. The success of that business is testament to the market
and power of people’s curiosity.

I have my own theories about what it takes to be an entrepreneur – a fundamental sense of purpose and passion bordering on obsession, in addition to confidence, self-reliance and optimism that seem to outsize logic and facts. New business ventures are started only by people who are powerfully driven by their curiosity to find solutions and solve puzzles. In my experience, about a quarter of people in the world are fundamentally curious. That is not to say that 25 percent of people will launch a business. But the attribute of curiosity is an essential building block of those who create initiatives of any sort.

Since stepping away from Discovery, I have dedicated my time and energy to a new venture, CuriosityStream, a streaming service like Netflix for high-quality factual programming. The third revolution of television – shows on demand on any device – has enabled us to dream bigger in our mission to bring knowledge content to curious people all over the world.

In my memoir, A Curious Discovery, I outlined a plan to use our collective archives of content, technology and fresh teaching techniques to bring information and education to the entire globe – or at least the 25 percent or so with a thirst for knowledge. Thanks mainly to advances in technology, this dream is now doable. The dollars are small – in the low billions – for such an investment. And the obstacles of organization and politics could be overcome by enlisting nations, with collaboration from NGOs and multinational corporations, to participate in the empowerment of their own citizenry, especially children, with education.

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In 1995, following my childhood curiosity, I discovered one of the most awe-inspiring spots on the planet. In Gateway, Colorado, at the confluence of the Dolores River and West Creek, is one of America’s most stunning redrock landforms: the Palisade. As you stare up 2,500ft of canyon wall, the colorful layers of sandstone convey 300 million years of geologic history. Here, the planet opens up to tell its story, complete with dinosaur tracks, fossils and rock art from the Ute and Anasazi Native American tribes.

In 2004, I began to wonder if Gateway could also become a place where the curiosity of others came to play. Like Discovery before, the idea captured my imagination and began to consume my every free moment. I created Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa, a destination resort devoted to
“curiosity adventures.” In addition to physical adventures (like the six-hour round-trip climb of the Palisade), the resort hosts brainier activities, such as informal lectures and field trips exploring topics in technology, history, the arts, geology and Native American culture.

My hope is that my own adventures will inspire others to pursue their own
curiosities and, in that process, explore and better understand our world.

John Hendricks is the founder and former chairman of Discovery Communications and the founder and chairman of CuriosityStream.

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