10 Traits of Interestingness (how to develop your own interestingness, part three)
It lives at the intersections….
In his book THE MEDICI EFFECT Frans Johansson states:
When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a larger number of extraordinary new ideas.
Johansson calls this “the Medici Effect” after an extraordinarily creative time in fifteenth-century Florence when the Medicis funded a wide range of creatives.
…sculptors, scientists, poets, philosophers, financiers, painters and architects converged upon the city of Florence. There they found each other, learned from one another, and broke down barriers between disciplines and cultures…Together they forged a new world based on new ideas…the Renaissance.
One of the most interesting people I know is a friend of mine named Aaron Cohen, who lives at the intersection of his hard-partying punk rock background (he was involved with the band Jane’s Addiction) and his human rights activism. Aaron goes on slave-retrieval missions in countries like Cambodia, where he infiltrates brothels and drug gangs and works with local governments to rescue young girls trapped in sexual slavery. Aaron’s edgy, long-haired appearance, his ability to have a good time, and his easy, comfortable way around hardcore party scenes allow him to earn the trust of people who might otherwise like to kill him. By combining two incredibly different worlds, Aaron brings the strengths of one to the other and has developed enough interestingness to merit a book (SLAVEHUNTER).
6. ….and at the edges.
“What really matters,” says Guy Kawasaki, “happens at the edges” – where one material, surface or idea meets or changes into another. “The action is not in the centers or areas of sameness.” Guy urges aspiring game-changers to “work the edges”: where people interact with machines, where people interact with other people, where companies interact with people, etc. When you can find ways to bridge the two (such as with a Mac computer), you have interestingness.
7. It is comfortable with ambiguity.
Interestingness is interesting partly because we don’t immediately understand it. The Mona Lisa interests us not because she is beautiful (she isn’t) but because of her enigmatic smile. We want to know more. Further exploration is required. Because interestingness often does combine old ideas in new ways, or goes off in new directions, it’s not like you can predict where it’s going with a map or a plan or a business proposal.
The most intriguing people often tend to be contradictory in some way. They combine opposites. Ambiguity can be a powerful feature of seduction: Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo dressed in a “masculine” way that only served to highlight their femininity; Betty Boop and Marilyn Monroe and even Britney Spears combine a childlike vulnerability with an adult sexual maturity. Some of the most clichéd and stereotypical characters maintain their hold on our collective imagination because of the opposites they embody: the hooker with the heart of gold, the gentle giant, the dude who is mean and tough on the outside but secretly loves babies and kittens. Superman masquerades as Clark Kent: the hero is also the dork. And was Tiger Woods more interesting before or after he fell off his pedestal?
8. It has an element of risk.
Because interestingness is interesting partly because it contains the unknown, and partly because it challenges you to look at things in a new way, you don’t always know what you’re getting, or what you’re getting into. When you follow your interests – which, by the way, is the most important part of becoming interesting, but more on that in another post — you don’t always know where they’ll take you. You could hit the jackpot, or you could meet with disaster, but either way, life will be interesting.
What interesting will not be is safe and familiar. Which is why the Chinese proverb – “May you live in interesting times” – was often said as a curse to people you didn’t like.
9. It has a point of view….
Interestingness doesn’t try to please everybody. It’s too busy being interesting. Opinions that are mild or tame tend not to be very interesting, which is why commentators, journalists and talk show hosts tend to go to extremes. They have to be interesting, or they won’t have an audience.
10. …and is comfortable with controversy.
People with true interestingness, as Sally Hogshead points out
don’t just talk at us. They get under our skin and into our conversations. They challenge and move us. They’re unafraid to ask questions, and along the way, change the way we think.
Interestingness often provokes “strong and immediate emotional reactions” – a love it or hate it response.
Sally Hogshead and her team developed “the F score” to “objectively evaluate the level of fascination “generated by a product, brand or personality.” (For ‘fascination’ please substitute ‘interestingness’). What she discovered is that a high F score isn’t the same as likeability or respectability. (Likewise, something can be liked and respected without being particularly interesting.) Personalities with the highest F scores were also the most controversial.