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What makes somebody 'interesting'?

. 6 min read .

What makes a person interesting?

I asked my circle:

To have interesting stories to tell.
To know interesting facts and be able to hold a conversation that naturally flows.
To have hobbies and interests that depart the 'normal'
To have different perspectives than my own
To have an element of mystery
To be passionate

What makes a person uninteresting?

Has nothing to contribute to the conversation.
Is uninteresting the same as boring? I assume yes. To be boring is to be a normie.
Stiffness. Resistance to try new things or take risks.
Can you give me an example of an interesting person in your life?
He has read 100 books and can recall facts from all of them that enrich every discussion
He is fascinated with LEGO structures. He watches YouTube videos and even goes to LEGO convections and competitions
Her interests are so wide. Every time we catchup is an explosion of stories and

Can you give me an example of the quintessential uninteresting person?

Goes home after work and watches Netflix for 3h. Day in day out. Their usual complain is that they are out of new series to watch. Their most interesting topic for discussion used to be GOT
Has no ambition, no dreams, no desires. He is just carried by the current.
He is your usual participant in the rat race. Has a fancy car, a grand house, a family of 4, works 10h a day until the next promotion and that's about it.
Agreeable. Has no opinion about anything. Gets bored with most discussions.

I tried to decompose and define how can one be 'interesting'.

Why be interesting?

Interesting is engaging, memorable, entertaining.
Interesting does not have to be attention-seeking, show off or insecure.

The 4 elements of interesting-ness

Surprise

Interesting-ness has an element of surprise built into it. Surprise is created from the difference between what we are used to and what is novel. Surprise causes an emotional reaction to the observer. That emotional reaction is an integral part of people perceiving other people as interesting.

To be ordinary or normal or expected is not interesting.
To be interesting is to be different. To depart from the status quo.

Different either in a way that is:

  • familiar but extraordinary. For example, a dude that watches football (an ordinary past-time) but knows all the players names and stats about the matches for the last 5 seasons inside out. Or a girl that enjoys going to the gym (an ordinary hobby) but is an absolute beast, deadlifting 2x her weight.
  • familiar building blocks but uniquely combined. For example somebody who has an artificial leg but is also a competitive skier. Or a lady that is a banker in the morning and an exotic dancer at night. Juxtapositions -combining contradicting elements, like the last example- are the most effective combinations.
  • unfamiliar. Something that is very special and niche like a person who is fascinated with the study of butterflies or somebody who went on a polar expedition on a sled and 20 huskeys.
  • vulnerable. Not many people open up these days to show their weaknesses, the ways in which they are weird or times in which they really struggled. When people that have the courage to open up and show their human side -not just their superhuman super polished side- we inevitably find it interesting and charming.

Familiarity

Wait what?! Didn't we just say that novelty is interesting?

Some subjects interest us more than others. I might be fascinated with extreme sports. And so, when I find another person of my tribe, I instantly jump in excitement and interest. We are tribal animals who are built to seek other people 'like us'. There might not be surprise like with a guy that has a super peculiar interest but there is nevertheless common ground.

At the same time, a person fascinated with African warrior masks might sound super interesting at the beginning due to novelty but can grow boring very fast if the domain itself  does not interest us in some aspect personally.

People with whom we share some part of our identity like a hobby, a dream, a memory, a taste, a career, a personal characteristic are people we find interesting due to resonance but usually that interest is short lived if not supplemented with any of the other elements.

Communication

A person might have all the substance in the world but unless they showcase that interesting part of themselves, they cannot be interesting by definition. It is like having a treasure but hiding it in the basement.

To be interesting, one has to talk about their contrarian opinions, they have show that crazy tattoo back-piece they had done when they were 17 and they have to share their quirky hobby of reading gothic Japanese comics.

The comes a filter: from all the things I can share, what would this person find interesting given what I know about them? A lot of factors come into play here: their background, interests, motivations etc.

And on top of the 'what' we communicate, there is the 'how'. How to make it engaging for the audience. How to communicate with simplicity and clarity and not too much blabber.

Mystery

Ehmm.. how can one open up and be communicative but be mysterious too?! Isn't that a contradiction.

Yep; you got that right. Yet another contradiction. You didn't see that one coming huh?

Interestingness has an element of desire. The unknown intrigues the observer that can only fantasize about what is behind the curtain. This tension creates a desire to know more. And this desire inevitably creates interest. Hence an aura of mystery, always adds into making something more interesting.

Somebody revealing they have gone to jail in the past but not revealing why adds mystery and hence makes them interesting. Somebody who says they have had a blog for 6 years under a pseudonym but not revealing what that is and what they are writing about is extremely intriguing.

My recipe for interestingness

Not all 4 ingredients need to be present. But the most interesting people would have all of them.

  • Surprise: They would be interesting as humans by means of novelty of knowledge/ achievement/ experience/ wisdom/ perspectives / character etc
  • Familiarity: They would have some commonality with the observer that would make the two resonate in some dimension
  • Communication: They would be a good communicator that sells well what is already behind the curtain
  • Mystery: Finally they would give enough hints as to what is behind the curtain but not open them fully. They always keep something hidden to create an aura of mystery.

You might notice that the 2 pairs of ingredients are contradicting pairs.
How can somebody or something be surprising yet familiar?
How can somebody or something be open yet mysterious?
Well; this is the most interesting part. To be interesting, it turns out is an art. It requires a balance of these two dimensions:

Familiar yet Surprising.
Packaged sleekly, sprinkled with mystery and made personal.

To be interesting is to be contradictory in a sense. It is a fine balance between:
Feeling familiar but not too familiar.
Being surprising but not too surprising.
Being open but not too open.  
Being mysterious but not too mysterious.
Pitching yourself but not too hard.
Being interested but not too intruding.

mindf*ck.

How to be more interesting

These principles hold for an individual or a collection of people (a community, a company, a club).
They hold true for ideas as well: a physical or digital product, a service, an event, a venue.
They hold true for art: a written piece, a video, a painting.
They hold true for pretty much anything I think.

How to inject more interesting-ness to your product, your idea or yourself:

Familiarity

  • Start with establish common ground. This creates an initial spark of interest. As the interaction warms up you can throw in more and more novelty.
  • Ask questions to discover things you share and point them out.

Surprise

  • Lead an interesting life. Have interesting experiences to share. Achievements, stories, interesting facts, pieces of wisdom or advice. The more peculiar and exotic, the more interesting. No replacement to that.
  • Be different. Don't follow the status quo and instead seek what makes you tick. That by default will be unique and interesting. Be honest about who you truly are and your opinions.
  • Be well read. Have some interesting pieces of knowledge to share to spark conversation.
  • Open up. Be vulnerable with your quirks and weirdnesses.

Communication

  • Be interested first. Make it a two way conversation, not a monologue. Via your questions, seek to understand your subject. Plus, let's be honest, everybody loves sharing parts of themselves. That makes a conversation interesting to begin with.
  • Share pieces of information that you think your subject will find interesting. Not everything is interesting to everybody depending on their context, agenda, background, interests etc.
  • Lubricate the conversation by asking specific and non-shallow questions.
  • Learn to be an engaging communicator by the use of voice tonality, hand movement and energy.
  • Be laconic. Share the essence in as few words as possible. No fluff, no blabbering.
  • Use storytelling.
  • Sprinkle emotion, not just dry facts.

Mystery

  • Keep people guessing for a little bit. Be enigmatic.
  • Leave some details to the imagination. Create intrigue.
  • Make more questions than give answers. Listen more than you talk.