Interesting vs. interested
March 30, 2006
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.
It is apparent that this same advice can be an inspiration to any brand. As a brand it would be good to keep in mind Gardner’s advice – “It occurs to me, (insert your brand here), that you spend too much [money] trying to be interesting. Why don’t you invest more [money] being interested?”
Yesterday’s article in the green section of USA Today, titled “Amateur Advertisers get a Chance,” talks about what some brands – Converse, Ban, Sony and MasterCard – are doing to be interested. Converse created ConverseGallery.com. Sony Electronics showed their interest in consumer’s creativity when it worked with CurrentTV in a similar make-your-own-ad endeavor. Ban was interested in finding out what teen girls would like to ban. And MasterCard asked consumers to create their own Priceless ads on their website, www.priceless.com.
Not only are brands interested what consumers have to contribute to their communication with the rest of the world, but some brands have proved their genuine interest by asking consumers to participate in product design and even product engineering. Jones’ Cream Soda is an example of a brand that talks WITH the consumer not AT the consumer. They print their consumers? pictures on their bottles and even ask consumers to create soda flavors. They have created “Our Jones’ TV,” “Put Yourself on Jones’ Map,” and “Your Jones’ Music.”
The pack of gum in your pocket is even interested in what you have to say. Dentyne had a good idea to start a good conversation with their consumers when they asked consumers to send in their own Dentyne-isms; for example, “Dentyne-ism #27: Why is abbreviated such a long word?.” The only problem, when you go to the Dentyne site it doesn?t say anything about Dentyne-ism. Oh well, good idea in theory.
Everywhere you look you can see how brands are investing more in “being interested” rather then “being interesting.”
An interesting example of an interested brand is Virgin Mobile. Virgin Mobile proved they were interested and listening when they surveyed 409 consumers and found out that 95% of them make regret-ful drunk dials. Virgin now has an anti-drunk-dial service where their consumers simply dial 333 plus a number and they will not be able to call that person after a certain hour.
For us bloggers and branders, this consumer participation trend amongst brands is nothing new. And now that brands are realizing the importance of being genuinely interested in consumers, the market for consumer participation can become easily over-saturated. When all brands are interested, will none be interesting?
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