Be interested…in everyone

This one I have stolen from Tom Peters, and he seems to have stolen it from Jim Collins who stole it from John Gardner, who stole it from who knows who? (who knows whom?) The text below comes from a piece written by Jim Collins in Business 2.0 (rest in peace).

Jim Collins’ Golden Rule #11 (from Business 2.0)

I learned this golden rule from the great civic leader John Gardner, who changed my life in 30 seconds. Gardner, founder of Common Cause, secretary of health, education, and welfare in the Johnson administration, and author of such classic books as “Self-Renewal,” spent the last few years of his life as a professor and mentor-at-large at Stanford University. One day early in my faculty teaching career — I think it was 1988 or 1989 — Gardner sat me down. “It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting,” he said. “Why don’t you invest more time being interested?”

If you want to have an interesting dinner conversation, be interested. If you want to have interesting things to write, be interested. If you want to meet interesting people, be interested in the people you meet — their lives, their history, their story. Where are they from? How did they get here? What have they learned? By practicing the art of being interested, the majority of people can become fascinating teachers; nearly everyone has an interesting story to tell.

I can’t say that I live this rule perfectly. When tired, I find that I spend more time trying to be interesting than exercising the discipline of asking genuine questions. But whenever I remember Gardner’s golden rule — whenever I come at any situation with an interested and curious mind — life becomes much more interesting for everyone at the table.

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3 responses to “Be interested…in everyone

  1. I love this. Inquisitive people exist in search of answers. They exist because of their perpetual interest in others and things. This is a great way to be. It assists in life and business. It is problem-solving, creatively and innovatively. Curious people create or innovate from being inquisitive.
    There is a difference from being and doing. The former stems from self, the latter often from the opinion of others void of self perspective. It is not that concensus building is not important but rather it is necessary to build from within to gather that which is without.
    Let the doing evolve out of the being. This way there is not the question of the distinction between being and trying i.e., being interested or trying to be. There is, in fact, a difference in approach between trying and doing.
    Curious people are in fact doers; they don’t try anything as if the act itself is tentative. The move forward with confidence, letting the chips fall where they may. Curious people are forever seeking beyond themselves for answers. But the answers first began with them in seeking.

  2. thanks for your comments, judith.
    This might be one of those rules that is affected by age. When you’re young, you feel the need to be interesting. YOu want want to draw people to you. And you think you need to be different, exciting, dangerous, whatever. And as you get older you realize that being interesting isn’t all that interesting. And I think you begin to realize there’s a lot more to learn from listening to other people, whether they’re ‘interesting’ or not. It’s all about the old cliche: everyone has a story to tell. (the problem is that some people haven’t yet figure out howto tell their stories. and that’s why you have to be interested in them. query them. ask them the questions that help them to reveal their own stories.

  3. Beautiful, Erik. I love the fact that we all have stories to tell. I am most interested in the stories of others.
    I most certainly attest to being out there at points in my life, seeking to be different, especially among a family of twelve siblings. My problem was seeking not to be the baby, as I am the youngest. It simply did not and does not work, though I have come to accept certain things and stand against others. I guess we all do this to some degree of another continuously.
    The only problem I see with those in the workplace, for example, is that many say 30+, 40+, and 50+ are still trying to find their voice, still involved in doing instead of being. Now, I know that we all come to certain levels of maturity at difference stages, but at what stage is enough enough? BE!