Saturday, December 30, 2006

how to be interesting

Russell Davies gave out an unofficial assignment today asking people to become more interesting and therefore better creative generalists.



While I was at the U of O I kept going on about how the core skill of any future creative business person will be 'being interesting'. People will employ and want to work with (and want to be with) interesting people.

And since I’d spent quite a lot of time telling them all the things they should stop doing I’d thought I’d try and teach something useful. Since I don't actually know anything useful I had to make something up. Which is below. It takes about 10 minutes to teach but it’ll take a lifetime for people to work out if it works or not, and by then I’ll be long gone. Ha!

I’ve based it on two assumptions:

The way to be interesting is to be interested. You’ve got to find what’s interesting in everything, you’ve got to be good at noticing things, you’ve got to be good at listening. If you find people (and things) interesting, they’ll find you interesting.

Interesting people are good at sharing. You can’t be interested in someone who won’t tell you anything. Being good at sharing is not the same as talking and talking and talking. It means you share your ideas, you let people play with them and you’re good at talking about them without having to talk about yourself.

The marvelous thing about tinterweb is that it’s got great tools for being interested and great tools for sharing. So I’ve used them a lot. It should, of course, be obvious that there are many other ways to be interesting. Some of them don't involve computers at all. These are just 10 things, and if you do them you’ll get more interesting. Or at the very least you’ll start practising the skills of being interesting.

It's sort of didactic, bossy even, but it's supposed to be instructional, rules you can follow. If you do them, and send me evidence that you’ve done them for three months, then I’ll send you a marvelous ‘I’m More Interesting Than I Was Three Months Ago’ certificate.


1. Take at least one picture everyday. Post it to flickr.

You should carry a camera with you. A phonecam will do. The act of carrying a camera, and always keeping an eye out for a picture to take changes the way you look at the world. It makes you notice more things. It keeps you tuned in.

Posting it to flickr (or other photosharing sites) means that you’re sharing it. It’s in public. This will make you think a little harder about what you shoot and it might draw you into conversation about your pictures.

2. Start a blog. Write at least one sentence every week.

This is pretty easy. If you just did this much I’d be disapppointed. You should write more sentences. Or you should write one true sentence. But I suspect that you won’t be able to limit yourself to just one sentence, I suspect you’ll get bitten and want to do more.

It’s easy to knock blogging as a kind of journalism of the banal but in some ways that’s its strength. Bloggers don’t go out and investigate things (mostly) they’re not in exciting or glamorous places, they’re not given a story, they have to build one out of the everyday lives they lead. And this makes them good at noticing things, things that others might not have seen. And being a blogger, feeling the need to write about stuff makes you pay attention to more things, makes you go out and see more stuff, makes you carry a notebook, keeps you tuned in to the world.


3. Keep a scrapbook

I’ve talked about this before. It’s good. Do it.

4. Every week, read a magazine you’ve never read before

Interesting people are interested in all sorts of things. That means they explore all kinds of worlds, they go places they wouldn’t expect to like and work out what’s good and interesting there. An easy way to do this is with magazines. Specialist magazines let you explore the solar system of human activities from your armchair. Try it, it’s fantastic.

5. Once a month interview someone for 20 minutes, work out how to make them interesting. Podcast it.

Again, being interesting is about being interested. Interviewing is about making the other person the star; finding out what they know or think that’s interesting. Could be anyone, a friend, a colleague, a stranger, anyone. Find out what’s compelling about them. Interviewing stops you butting in too much and forces you to listen. Good thing to practice. (And it's worth noticing the people who are good at it.) Podcasting is sharing. Sharing is something you must get used to.


6. Collect something

It could be anything. It could be pictures of things. But become an expert in something unexpected and unregarded. Develop a passion. Learn how to communicate that to other people without scaring them off. Find the other few people who share your interest. Learn how to be useful in that community.


7. Once a week sit in a coffee-shop or cafe for an hour and listen to other people’s conversations. Take notes. Blog about it. (Carefully)

Take little dips in other people’s lives. Listen to their speech patterns and their concerns. Try and get them down on paper. (Don’t let them see. Try not to get beaten up.) Don’t force it, don’t hop from table to table in search of better eavesdropping, just bask in the conversations that come your way.


8. Every month write 50 words about one piece of visual art, one piece of writing, one piece of music and one piece of film or TV. Do other art forms if you can. Blog about it

If you want to work in a creative business (and before long most businesses will be creative businesses) you’ll have to get used to having a point of view on artistic stuff. Even if it’s not very artistic. You’ll have to be comfortable with expressing an opinion on things you don’t know how to make or do, like music or writing. You get better at that through practice. And through sharing what you’ve written.

9. Make something

Do something with your hands. Create something from nothing. It could be knots, it could be whittling, Lego, cake or knitting. Take some time to get outside your head. Ideally, make something you have no idea how to do. Get something from Make and try it, assuming you’ll screw it up the first time. People love people who can make things. Making’s the new thinking. Share your things on the your blog, or, if you’re brilliant maybe you can share them on etsy.


10. Read:

Understanding Comics - Scott McCloud
The Mezzanine - Nicholson Baker
The Visual Display Of Quantitative Information - Edward Tufte

All these books are good for their own reasons but they’re also good examples of people who are really interested in stuff that others think of as banal and who explain it in a way that makes you share their passion. That's good.

And that's it.

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