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How to be interesting (2006) (russelldavies.typepad.com)
173 points by gscott on Nov 26, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments

Personally, I think the desire to 'appear' interesting vein and is futile. All of these 'tips' are just novelties. Even if you dedicate your entire life to appearing interesting, you'll just end up with party tricks, not real substance.

I quickly learned in my profession that there are two types of people: 1) those who create the perception that they matter, and 2) those that actually matter.

This list is designed to create a perception. How about just doing something you love, do it with passion, achieve success, and go from there?

"I think the desire to 'appear' interesting vein and is futile."

If you are suggesting a difference between "appearing" and "actually" being interesting, I think you miss what interesting means. Interestingness is not some abstract or physical quantity. It's a perception.

If someone perceives you as interesting you are interesting. To them, at least. Someone who sits alone brooding over what they consider interesting topics is not interesting -- except to people who are interested in brooding loners.

Your distinction between appearing to matter and mattering sounds like the difference between getting a job or project done or not. Producing results is orthogonal. Might as well get the job done and be interesting.

I've always produced, but I've only recently learned to be interesting. Being interesting and making connections is great. Life is much better when people like taking an interest in you.

Anyway, I wrote a series on communication skills exercises that help people communicate and make connections -- http://joshuaspodek.com/communication-skills-exercises-6. They work great.

You are right that the word "interesting" is a perception but I think what the parent post was suggesting was that: there is the definite possibility that on doing what the author of the article suggests you appear 'interesting' for some people, but to others you appear as somebody inauthentically 'trying to appear interesting'.

I agree with the parent post. Although I'd consider this kind of person relatively interesting, I'd mentally put them on a lower level for doing 'interesting things' with a lack of passion.

Perhaps I should use different terminology, but in my own interactions with people, I do find myself distinguishing people who "seemed interesting" from those who "really" turned out to be interesting. It mostly has to do with long-term perceptions after we've interacted for a while, and whether the interestingness turns out to be sustainable and have depth.

very interesting and helpful post. thanks for sharing

"This list is designed to create a perception." I don't see how you can read it like that at all. Why else advise someone to read a new, weird magazine they've never read before each week, to eavesdrop on people's conversations and to start scrapbooking? Most of all, why advise people to really listen to other people instead of blabbering on about yourself, if all you care about is making yourself look interesting? None of those things are public in any way, they're meant to broaden your mind.

It probably depends how you approach the advice. If you follow it with a view to sparking new passions and making new connections with people then it could lead you to something of substance. It's very easy to fall into a rutted existence, a little breadth can go a long way.

What about 3) those that actually matter but don't know how to appear like they matter, and thus are perceived as if they don't matter?

or 4) Those that matter to you, but not to this other person

or 5) Those that matter a bit to you, a bit to another person, not a lot to your dog, ...

I think any opinion that starts with "There are 2 kinds of people:" needs to be taken with a large quantity of salt. They're always just flaky attempts to think of people in neat categories.

yes.. trying to appear interesting is not the same as being interesting, but it is a step in the right direction. it's one of those fake-it-until-you-make-it situations, where in the process a person discovers that he actually enjoys taking photos.. these are some great tips to get started IMO. How many people will actually act on those? that is highly dubious..

Do you really want to connect with someone? Or do you just want to "try" to connect with someone?

You might not like this - there are no tricks, really. It's about putting yourself out there..

Guys talking about football is just a proxy for talking about feelings. Talk about how you feel about something, facts are boring...

Emotions are what make people interesting. Even the most logical people are, at the core, irrational beings.

The core of our brain that makes decisions has no capacity to understand language.

I'm only human. The most interesting people to me are the people who are sincerely interested in me. Usually, that is reciprocal. Conversation isn't a Q&A; it's not a give and take. It's a sharing of your lives. You're not going to hit if off with everyone. But if you use inane social lubricants like 'Nice weather, huh?' you are practically guaranteeing a Tivo'd rote, robotic conversation

The more you "put yourself out there", the better your intentions, the better your connections (see below)

> It takes relationships to make relationships. And, in general, to make relationships, you have to allow vulnerability. Vulnerability is the difference between a conversation that starts, "How about this weather we're having?" and a conversation that starts, "Oh my God, let me tell you about how I just fell in a puddle in front of a group of nuns."

The former is so boring that it makes listeners want to crawl under a table; the latter creates a spark and a list of follow-up questions. These are two extreme examples, but generally, the more of yourself you put out there, the more others will have to connect with.

Excerpt from a Nerve article on 'am I doomed?'


I ran across this recent good advice:

> "Richard Feynman was fond of giving the following advice on how to be a genius. You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say: <i>'How did he do it? He must be a genius!'</i>"

"Ten Lessons I wish I had been Taught", Gian-Carlo Rota http://alumni.media.mit.edu/~cahn/life/gian-carlo-rota-10-le...

The article doesn't actually draw any connection between business success and being "interesting". This is just taken for granted by the author, but not supported.

The article's advice isn't so much about how to be "interesting", as it is about how to "repeatedly put yourself out there in a public way".

Being able to fail publicly is a useful business skill, mind you. There was an interview on HN a while back, can't find it know, where a super-rich fellow explains that willingness to fail publicly was the key factor in him outperforming more skilled competitors. But this is distinct from being interesting.

Maybe it doesn't draw that connection because not everything in this world is about business success? You're probably right that the author believes that "being interesting" is a marketable quality yet doesn't really explain why that would be, but I really like this piece much more as a guide to personal development. You know, to help us be a nice and fun and interesting human beings.

The author immediately frames the exercise as part of business training. That's why I drew the connection between "interestingness" to business success.

Come up with 10 ideas per week for a month. Next month come up with 20 ideas per week. The following month come up with 30. Continue until it becomes impractical.

As a wise professor once told me, 'creativity is a skill and you improve it by practicing'.

A friend did something similar. For every programming puzzle he solved, he would try to find 5 alternative solutions.

I think it's good to be interested kind of across the spectrum, both in abstract ideas and very concrete stuff. Some people never take the bird's eye view, but it can be a very powerful source of inspiration; some people stay there all the time, which isn't very fun.

My random idea is to keep two books on your nightstand, one being something like for example an introduction to Hegel's phenomenology of spirit, and the other being something like a biography, novel, or history book.

I've always found that thinking is most fun when you get these little sparks between the abstract and the concrete. "Oh, the way this saxophonist is tracing out different lines but always returning to the zero state of the modal backing chord makes me think of Deleuze & Guattari — I wonder if you can think about the 'body without organs' of a jazz tune?" (This is also a good way of being a bit pretentious about all sorts of stuff...)

Don't miss the backstory:

"And it soon becomes apparent that this issue goes a lot broader. Their course is designed to churn out mini-art directors, mini-account people, mini-planners for a world that increasingly just wants creative generalists."


I was an art student at UO at the time, briefly participating in the journalism department's advertising club that brought Russell Davies to visit. So far, generalism is working out.

Perhaps the title should be "How to be more interested" because that is what the tips are for. And in general, more interested people are more interesting.

I think if you don't believe yourself to be interesting you've got deeper problems to address before you start following this article.

If you truly believe that you are a boring person that nobody wants to talk to, you probably have a self esteem problem. Low self esteem is something people are naturally attune to. Talk like a loser ,and people will assume you are a loser. (the converse is not necessarily better however...)

I think something different can be taken from the article -- how to be inspired.

Okay, let's suppose one manages to be "interesting". How does one translate that to a fatter bank account?

I liked the article but I'm wondering if anyone knows of resources (or has opinions) that address the next step.

A fatter bank account its not 'a next step' from "interesting". Its almost entirely separate....

Making money from real creativity is usually pretty hard - those that are creative tend to break the barriers whilst others make the money....

Thanks for replying.

It's the next step I would personally like to take. I've been told repeatedly that I'm "interesting". I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do with that (other than get into hot water). I feel I've made some progress in the right direction but I am still working out pieces of it in my head and looking for resources to help me put the final pieces in places.

Being interesting lets you show off your other good qualities. Like being reliable or able to build interesting things. If you build something small that people use and like, by being interesting I feel you could land funding to build something bigger.

I think a couple pieces are missing from this advice:

1) Don't open your mouth unless you have something to say.

2) Don't repeat yourself.

3) Don't talk down to people.

It's impossible to be interesting if you are boring people.

I find people most interesting when their jobs involve observing the state of the world and then drawing big conclusions.. Bankers etc.

This advice is great if one wishes to become a dilettante.

I largely agree with this, but reading it made me realize that I'd rather be interested than interesting. I love soaking up interesting developments in tech and the world at large, I love reading and stimulating my brain. But I don't really care if I stimulate anyone else's. I suppose that is selfish.

fuck everything about this article

That catchphrase is stupid. This isn't reddit.

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