10 Traits of Interestingness (how to develop your own interestingness, part three)



Medici-Procession-BR700 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.

Aug 3, 2010

10 comments · Add Yours

Wow! Your breakdown on interestingness has so much insight. I’ve been looking for good writing on this topic for a long time. I write about how people influence and affect one another, and I never quite knew how to define or address “interestingness,” yet I knew there was a lot hiding under that stone. You’ve come up with a wonderful model here.

I follow your blog, and reading your work is always rewarding. I can’t wait to point people to these posts. Thank you for your interesting and insightful writing.


This is really cool! I’ve been going through a really dry period, writing-wise, and I think this new perspective might help me through it. Thanks!


Scott and Jessica —

Thanks so much! And I really recommend Cal Newport’s book — although it’s aimed at high school students, it’s a great read for anybody who is interested in interestingness (HOW TO BE A HIGH SCHOOL SUPERSTAR: a revolutionary plan for standing out without burning out). His blog is great too.


I use the word ‘interesting’ far too much. It’s my default. Things are usually ‘interesting’ or ‘nice’ – ‘nice’ is my other fallback. I looked up ‘interest’ in the dictionary to see its origins:

third person sing. present tense of interesse, to be between, take part in

Interesting things consume our interest, they absorb us. There’s also the financial definition of interest, a charge added to a loan, and I think that contact with interesting things adds to our personal worth.

What can I say? Three very interesting articles.


Hello again Justine,

I’ve been following this very “interesting” series and I just love the way you’ve analyzed the creative persona. But I ask myself (and not you) can one LEARN to be unique and deep? Or is it something you either are or aren’t? Can one write a multilayered story if one does not LIVE a multilayered life? Or THINK past the obvious? Past level one, and two and three? Can one decide to be deep, as in, interesting? And if one IS deep, does it take another deep person to recognize that quality?

For me, the answers to these questions are mute points because all I can be, is me. And although I tend to get “heavy” in the way I see the world, my questioning has never brought me into expanded popularity. Or at least the kind I recognize, which begs the question; is any of that important? If I saved a child from slavery, now THAT would be important! THAT would have interestingness!



I read this whole series on my iPhone with one foot on the floor and one still under the covers. I was literally half-way out of bed, and couldn’t stop reading. Really wonderful insights weaving together so many great ideas. And then I come to leave a comment & am immediately distracted by more great posts. I hardly know where to begin. ;)

I am inspired by what I’m reading here because I’m in the process of changing the face I show to the world. For a long time I was mostly anonymous, for the past few years (following a divorce, my induction into the amazing world of single motherhood, and my first foray into running my own business) I’ve been starting to chip away at the shell with my new egg tooth, but it’s only in the last few months that I’ve really started to get a sense that great things are in store if I can just push beyond my inhibitions about being myself.

“Interesting” is often sacrificed for a chance at general approval. We don’t do or say anything out of the ordinary because we crave the approval of “them” … we want what “they” say to be positive. But the truth is that “they” don’t even see us. They don’t care. Meanwhile, there are other people out there who would see us and who would care passionately if we would only show ourselves as we truly are – share our interestingness with the world.

Thank you for writing this great series. I’m looking forward to reading MUCH more!


“was Tiger Woods more interesting before or after he fell off his pedestal?”

To me, before. Now he’s just one of the cheating and whining sports guys.

I just recently found your blog and it is very inspiring :-) Thank you :-)


that concept about intersections blew my mind. that is so much what many within the web comics community (a community of which I am a member) try to achieve: an intersection between several different fields (technology, web design, comic illustration, story telling).


“The Mona Lisa interests us not because she is beautiful (she isn’t) but because of her enigmatic smile.”

Whoa there, Judgy McJudgerson.
Had you been talking about a portrait of a man, would you have felt the need to make a passing shot at his lack of beauty?


Hey there, Judgy McJudgerson yourself. If I’d been talking about a portrait of a man, his beauty would not have been an issue (unless he was exceptionally so). It wasn’t a “passing shot” at someone’s “lack of beauty” so much as an observation that female beauty is what this male-gaze-dominated culture tends to find fascinating, at least initially, about a woman. But it’s interesting you would choose to interpret it as such. (So she isn’t beautiful. So what? A woman requires conventional, photogenic beauty in order to be charismatic? Don’t think so.)


Add your comment