There are many exercises in this book.
You are strongly encouraged to do them.
This is both to provide a pause so your brain can better absorb what you have just read, and also to emphasize the point that has been made. ¶¶¶
The Exercises, which all appear on right-hand pages, are not at all difficult.
Just note down your thoughts on a piece of paper. ¶¶¶
The Suggested Answers, which all start on the page after the Exercises, are my own.
I have done the exercises immediately after setting them up.
So the thoughts given are from the top of my head—just as you would do the exercises.
The sample answers are not the result of careful consideration.
Almost all the exercises were set up randomly, so the exercises were just as new to me as they will be to you. ¶¶¶
If you do not do the exercises you will only get half the value from this book. ¶¶¶
The book is not a novel to be hurried through in order to see what happens’.
Read through it slowly.
Agree or disagree.
Add your own experience and comments.
Your intention should be to learn something from the book.
If you learn nothing the fault could be either mine or yours.
If you think you know it all already then the value of the book is to confirm your wisdom.
Part 1 — Introductory
This book is not about the interest that comes from celebrity, outstanding feats, unusual experience, an interesting job or special interest groups.
The book is about the interest created by ordinary people living ordinary lives.
Being interesting is a ‘skill’ which can be developed.
Being clever is not enough.
Interest is not just an encyclopedia of facts but is full of possibilities and speculations.
Playground of the Mind
It is in the playground of your mind that interest develops.
It is the activity in your mind that elaborates around what is perceived.
This is the ‘richness’ that is the basis of interest.
A beautiful face and a boring mind is boring, boring, boring.
A beautiful body with a boring mind is boring, boring, boring.
A fit and healthy body with a boring mind is boring, boring, boring.
A clever mind can also be boring, boring, boring.
I have known beautiful women who are very boring.
I am sure there are beautiful women who are very interesting. ¶¶¶
People spend a huge amount of time, trouble, care, worry and money on becoming or remaining beautiful.
How much time do they spend on becoming interesting? ¶¶¶
There are people who exercise and jog for hours every day in order to be fit and healthy.
They watch their diets and carefully select what they eat.
They load themselves up with vitamins and supplements.
The result is often excellent.
But how much time do they spend on developing an interesting mind? ¶¶¶
Magazines and other publications have done a wonderful job in raising standards of attractiveness and health.
People today are more visually attractive than they have ever been.
Some of them are also more healthy than people have ever been.
But all this is boring unless the beauty and health is accompanied by an interesting mind.
So how much time do we spend on developing an interesting mind? ¶¶¶
If you are indeed beautiful (and I use ‘beauty’ in the broadest sense) then you owe it to yourself to be interesting too.
Otherwise all that beauty is wasted. ¶¶¶
If you are not particularly beautiful then you had better work hard at being interesting. ¶¶¶
All this seems obvious and reasonable — but there are two flaws in my argument. ¶¶¶
If you are yourself a boring person do you notice that other people are boring?
This is a very difficult question to answer.
Suppose that a boring person does not notice that someone else is boring: then if you are content to live amongst boring people it should not much matter whether or not you are interesting.
You would not notice how boring they were and they would not notice how boring you were. ¶¶¶
I suspect, however, that even boring people notice how boring other people are.
They can certainly notice when someone is interesting.
So becoming interesting is not a waste of time even if most of your friends are content to be boring. ¶¶¶
Is there perhaps the danger that, if you develop your ability to be interesting, you will notice even more than before how boring other people can be?
If you develop a taste for the finest French wines, do you not notice the awfulness of lesser wines?
I do not think the analogy holds, because in becoming more interesting you become more able to make other people interesting.
It may be hard work but it can be done. ¶¶¶
The second possible flaw in my argument is as follows.
I stated that a beautiful body with a boring mind was indeed very boring.
But many people have beautiful statues which they continue to enjoy even though those statues have even less of a mind than a boring person.
That is true and if you are content to be treated as a statue or object or trophy then being interesting may not be important to you.
Remember, however, that a statue is not expected to be interesting but people are expected to be interesting.
Frames of Interest
I was having a drink with Buzz Aldrin and his charming wife Lois at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles.
Whenever I looked it Buzz there was always that mental frame: ‘This man has actually walked on the moon.’
That is so powerful and so permanent a frame of interest that it outweighs everything else, but it so happens that Buzz is indeed very interesting in his own right quite apart from that remarkable fiat. ¶¶¶
I used to know Peter Habler, the Austrian who was the first to climb to the top of Mount Everest without using oxygen.
Again the frame of interest is very strong. ¶¶¶
Clare Francis is a slight and very attractive woman who sailed single-handedly around the world.
She then went on to write successful thrillers. ¶¶¶
All these people were humble and not at all pretentious.
Yet that powerful frame of interest makes them interesting. ¶¶¶
Then there are people who have had interesting lives or done interesting things.
A woman who lives for months with a tribe in the Amazon is going to be interesting.
A nun who leaves the convent after ten years as a Reverend Mother is going to be interesting.
Someone else might have been in the FBI or the Mafia or a spy in Moscow. ¶¶¶
Someone may have an especially unusual job — like training fleas for a flea circus or being a wine taster.
Another person might be notorious for having had eight wives in succession — or all at once. ¶¶¶
Then there are the usual celebrities of film, television, etc.
There is even derived celebrity: a girl who knew a man who once danced with Princess Diana. ¶¶¶
It is difficult to separate curiosity from ‘interest’.
If you are ‘interested’ in that person then anything that person does becomes interesting.
So fans would probably be interested in the color of Tom Cruise’s pajamas. ¶¶¶
I want to make clear that this book is not about frames of interest.
If you want to become interesting by walking across the Sahara with two camels that is up to you—I shall say no more.
If you want to become interesting by falling in love with a serial killer that is again up to you.
Interesting jobs, interesting feats and interesting experiences can all make someone more interesting.
But it is also possible to be interesting doing an ordinary job and living in an ordinary suburb.
That is what this book is about.
There are racing fans who can discuss in minute detail the harm of a particular horse.
There are experts on fifteenth-century Italian art who can discuss with intense interest the development of the artist’s palette.
There are stock-market analysts who can discuss with great interest the imminent collapse of high-tech stocks.
There are skillful gossips who can discuss the complex relationships of everyone at a certain party: who was with whom and who was deliberately not with whom. ¶¶¶
Special-interest groups who play the game skillfully are always of interest to each other.
That is also not what this book is about.
If you wish to become an expert in champagne or post-modern architecture that could certainly make you a more interesting person.
I do recommend the development of such special interests but that is not what this book is about. ¶¶¶
People belonging to special-interest groups are usually of interest to other people in that group.
Occasionally a person with a special interest can also be of interest to others outside the special group.
This all depends on a person’s ability to make the subject interesting to others who do not already have the full background.
Some people can do this while others cannot.
The sort of ‘interest’ I shall be discussing in this book does not depend on having, acquiring or communicating knowledge of a specialized field.
I fully acknowledge that all the types of ‘interest’ that I have outlined here are indeed a powerful way of becoming ‘interesting’.
The challenge is to see how an ordinary person leading an ordinary life can yet be interesting.
It might be difficult to shine at basketball if you are not unusually tall.
It might be difficult to shine at tennis if you do not have quick reflexes.
But anyone can be more interesting if they pay attention to some of the things in this book.
It is up to you.
I have known some very clever people who are not at all interesting. ¶¶¶
Intelligence is like the horsepower of a car.
Thinking is like the skill with which the car is driven.
There may be a powerful car driven badly and a humble car driven well.
Thinking is a skill which, like driving skill, can be taught and developed.
That is why I am involved in various projects around the world for the direct teaching of thinking as a specific subject in schools.
It is astonishing that the most fundamental of human skills should be neglected by education.
It is assumed that thinking cannot be taught, but only learned as a by-product of some other subject.
This is an absurd and old-fashioned view. ¶¶¶
Some very clever people are only clever within their particular field.
They have learned well the thinking idioms required in that field but have no generalizable thinking skills.
When you talk to them they lay their thoughts before you just as if they were giving you a book to read.
There is no interaction.
You take it or leave it. ¶¶¶
Some clever people are caught up in the ‘intelligence trap’.
This is a phrase I coined many years ago to describe why being intelligent was not enough.
For example, many clever people believe that ‘critical thinking’ is enough.
It is enough to be able to judge (‘critical’ comes from the Greek word kritikos, for judge).
Such people are very ready to criticize but not so good at the generative thinking required to produce ideas.
Another of the traditional nonsenses of education is to believe that teaching critical thinking is sufficient.
Judgement is an important part of thinking just as the front left wheel of a car is an important part of the car.
But a car needs more than a front left wheel.
Teaching critical thinking is not enough. ¶¶¶
A clever person might be interesting while explaining the intricacies of his or her particular field but is not necessarily interesting on other matters.
Being interesting involves an interaction with the listener.
It is what happens in the listener’s mind that makes the listener interested.
If the listener is not interested then, by definition, the speaker is not interesting. ¶¶¶
An interesting conversation is very like jazz.
There is improvisation.
There is a to and fro.
Themes are taken up and elaborated.
Instruments talk to each other.
There is always an onward flow.
There is development.
Sub-themes are taken up.
The developments and interactions of jazz have their parallel in ‘interest’.
Just as a jazz musician develops skill in jazz so a person can develop skill in being interesting.
This book is about the different components of that skill.
The way we think and the way we express those thoughts will decide how interesting we are both to others and to ourselves.
Facts and Figures
I have written this book very much as I would conduct a conversation.
This is not a reference book for facts.
There are times when I shall suggest a speculation for which a particular reader may know the exact answer.
There are times when I may quote a figure which is in fact incorrect.
As usual readers will rush to put me right. ¶¶¶
What I shall put forward are the sort of remarks a person might make in an ordinary conversation and not in an examination thesis.
‘I believe . .
‘I seem to have read that...’
‘I was once told. .
‘This may not be so but...’
Of course, the truth is always of the utmost value but being interesting involves possibilities and speculation.
If we did not dare to say something until we had double-checked the facts first then conversation would be most limited and uninteresting.
We might as well just sit and read an encyclopedia. ¶¶¶
The Italians have a very useful category which is not ‘truth but something which ‘should be true’.
A story is said to be ben trovato, which literally means ‘well found’.
If the story is interesting in its own right then it should be true.
At the same time it is acknowledged that it may well not be true.
There is nothing more dull than a pedant who insists you do not open your mouth unless you have completely checked out what you are going to say. ¶¶¶
Provided you do not make false claims with competitive arrogance, the use of speculations and possibilities is a key part of being interesting. ¶¶¶
Part of being interesting is the ability to ‘play’ with ideas.
Solemn pomposity is the opposite of interest.
Provided things are not claimed as absolute truth and provided they are not accepted as absolute truth, there is the fun of play.
Young animals play in order to enjoy it and also to develop the life skills they will need.
Playing with ideas is exactly the same.
Playground of the Mind
It is what happens in your mind that makes you interesting. ¶¶¶
It is how you express what happens in your mind that makes you interesting. ¶¶¶
It is what you cause to happen in the mind of a listener that makes you interesting. ¶¶¶
Your mind is your playground.
Your mind is your garden.
You play as you wish.
You grow what you wish.
Just as an impresario puts on a stage show so you are the impresario of what goes on in your mind. ¶¶¶
There is a huge difference between the mind and a camera.
The camera just records passively what is placed in front of it.
The human mind does very much more than record passively what is in front of it.
Past experience is called upon
emotions, feelings and values are tapped
speculations and possibilities are opened up.
It is the ‘richness’ of all this activity that is the source of ‘interest’. ¶¶¶
The cover of the book shows a spiral.
This is because we ‘create’ interest as we spiral around a subject, moving ever wider to make further connections.