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Two more words that might change your life (or at least your lunch hour)

Howinteresting

Things I learned from my horse trainers #42: practice saying, "Hmmmm... how interesting." Say it when you're frustrated. Say it when you're mad. Most importantly, say it before you say or do anything else (including hit the "send" or "post" button).

It should be the first thing out of your mouth when things go wrong--or don't meet your expectations--because:

1) It inserts a pause and gives you a moment to think before you react.

2) It keeps you from taking things too personally
If someone calls you an idiot (or worse) saying "hmmm...how interesting..." changes your reaction from purely emotional to more curious and detached.

3) It helps you ask more questions instead of jump to conclusions.
With horses, the main goal of the "how interesting" technique is to keep you from losing patience and blaming the horse. If you say "how interesting," it helps you explore reasons, including what your own role in this might be. It makes problems feel more like puzzles.

I learned this trick only a few months' ago, and it helped when I had my little incident with Leira. But it also helped my perspective after my Web 2.0 post. Instead of being purely pissed off and defensive at some of the harsher things said about me on other blogs, for example, I thought about my horses and said, "Hmmmmm... how interesting... " which brought me to a new question, "I wonder what it is about Web 2.0 that leads to such strong emotional reactions in some people...?"

And that changed everything ; )

Imagine how it would effect you if you said "hmmm...how interesting" to yourself when a co-worker puts that picture of you on Flickr. Imagine saying this when your dog chews your digital camera's USB cable. Imagine saying this when your six-year old calls her teacher an ass. In class. Imagine saying this when your girlfriend flirts with your roommate (the one that looks like Brad Pitt). Imagine saying this when your clients make you crazy expecting you to, say, make their marketing "viral". Imagine saying this to the compiler.

Imagine saying "hmmm...how interesting" when you tell someone you're mad at them and they cock their head and say, "hmmmm... how interesting..."

So... in what situations could you say "hmmm... how interesting"?

Posted by Kathy on December 11, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

My Dad had a framed scrap of paper on his desk.

On it was scribbled, "I celebrate unexpected problems."

Posted by: Jake Ingman | Dec 11, 2006 10:00:29 PM

i was sure that the first comment on this would be 'hmmm... how interesting.' i was pleasantly suprised. your site is spot on. i love CPU!

Posted by: Marcus Jump | Dec 11, 2006 10:24:45 PM

Hmmm something I should start doing.

Posted by: Johannes de Jong | Dec 11, 2006 10:43:56 PM

"AAaahhh this refactoring is going to take for ever!!!.... What was I thinking when I designed this the first time!!! How interesting...." - Real Life Excerpt from 15 minutes ago :)

Posted by: Ryan | Dec 11, 2006 11:13:28 PM

Einstein's variation of this would be:

"Hmm... Interesting concept..." ;-)

Posted by: Hendy Irawan | Dec 11, 2006 11:13:36 PM

Wonderful post, Kathy! As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus put, "Dogs bark at what they don't understand."

If I may piggy-back on your idea, I'll add this:

My wife and I have the following policy whenever we're discussing a new or challenging topic: if either of us says something that the other person doesn't like or think is a good idea, the OTHER person has to wait 60 SECONDS before saying anything negative about the idea.

Why? AS you pointed out, our initial natural response is to go negative and shoot the idea down. But if you force yourself to wait 60 seconds, then you put yourself in the position of having to think of positive or (in your suggestion) interesting things about the proposal. After 60 seconds, the idea is fair game. But at least you give the new idea a chance — and maybe you'll find something worthwhile as a result.

I try to use this philosophy in my business as well.

Posted by: Roger von Oech | Dec 11, 2006 11:21:06 PM

I don't actually say short 'interesting' comments anymore due to the trauma of constantly being labeled elitist when I failed to come up with a quick follow-up comment. If nothing else it let me to think that people often expect some sort of contextually related response and often judge more based on emotional than logical input. Adopting an easily agreeable but totally noncommital response helped in mitigating the negative feedback immensely but it kind of made me feel dirty...

(fwiw 'interesting' is my natural response to most anything but most people are offended by that, and in the programming world peers and managers are often pissed off at hearing differing input later on via email or whatever rather than in the immediacy of the first-exposure meeting)

Posted by: ben | Dec 11, 2006 11:34:52 PM

*deadpan* You're a psycho puppy-killer, aren't you? How interesting... *smiles cheerfully* And here I thought I was the only one.

Posted by: Michael Chui | Dec 12, 2006 12:41:05 AM

nice post ... Eckhart Tolle calls this awakening :-) in his book "A New Earth" Guess its sometime to bring awakening to the Web 2.0 world ;-)

.... hm interesting. But what do you say when its really interesting - now that you have overloaded the aspect of recognizing interesting!

Posted by: Vinu | Dec 12, 2006 1:30:45 AM

Lovely!

Posted by: Sheamus | Dec 12, 2006 2:09:18 AM

I interviewed Russell Davies for a research project on my blog, about managing creative people, and he gave the example of a manager who always said "Hmmm, interesting" whenever the creatives presented him with some new work - so that his first reaction wouldn't be negative, whether he initially liked it or not. And of course, all creative types like to be interesting...

Posted by: Mark McGuinness | Dec 12, 2006 2:42:04 AM

Fascinating! to quote Mr. Sulu's catchphrase and provide an alternative option to "how interesting"... seems to roll of the tongue as easily as a swear word too.

I have been meaning to post a comment for a while as I have been one of the many 'lurkers' that you read your posts without contributing but to tie together a number of your recent and not so recent posts:
I was at Sun (in the UK) for 6 years in Sun IT (I had some great managers - mostly all US based). However I only survived 6 months of outsourcing to CSC.
I did not take the opportunity to do something wonderful, but rather jumped to another multinational with an even greater focus on producing profit (I thought CSC had been bad) and a greater commute to boot. Not long after that my wife was made redundant too and since then we have been planning our escape. So next year we have a year out, the house is sold, the job is quit. After a month skiing in the French Alps we are off to New Zealand for 3 months with the mountain bikes (not just on your recommendation!). This is training for the main event of the year - cycling from Mexico to Alaska along the Rockies. We finish the year in Patagonia doing a stint as environmental volunteers monitoring Condors and wild pigs. And then as far as we are concerned it is Life 2.0

Posted by: Lewis Crawford | Dec 12, 2006 3:16:34 AM

Brilliant! Yet another article that resonates with me very deeply...

Over the years friends and colleagues have had a good laugh at my expense over my use of the term interesting. As a techie for many years I would occasionally pause and say "... interesting ..."

As one colleague loved to point out, "we always know when something is going to be difficult because you thinks it's interesting..." and it is! The more difficult problems and the more complex issues really are interesting as are the small oversights which you miss if you DON'T stop and say "interesting" occasionally... The number of glaring errors in my own work, assumptions, code and life in general that I would have missed if I wasn't "interested" is huge.

It's nice to see someone else verbalise so aptly how I have always felt!

Thanks.

Posted by: Salubri | Dec 12, 2006 4:22:46 AM

Using "interesting" (with or without the "how") is a great way to describe an idea, product, or performance that you otherwise might trash. Not only does it save face for all concerned, but it actually leads to a more engaging review than saying either, "It sucked." or "Great."

Posted by: John Windsor | Dec 12, 2006 6:03:38 AM

"Hmmmm... how interesting." Is something you can say while keeping one of my favorite rules. That rule is "Never pass up the chance to keep your mouth shut." "Hmmmm... how interesting." will allow me to bend my own rule and yet honor the spirit of keeping my mouth shut. Thanks.

Posted by: Joe Lipka | Dec 12, 2006 6:04:42 AM

I also like the phrase 'You could be right'... a real diffuser. It leaves both parties with the chance to have the idea heard and considered. Of course that's just my opinion...

Posted by: DenniS S | Dec 12, 2006 7:42:57 AM

I've been saying "interesting" like this for a while. Sometimes people interpret it as being aloof or detached. I don't think it is, although I started training myself not to say it anymore. I think this helps me reason through why it's okay to say in conversation.

Posted by: Chris Norris | Dec 12, 2006 7:46:10 AM

I have another 'first-thought' response that's been valuable: "Let's Find Out"

"Can you stop this default behavior of MS Word?" - Let's find out.

"Why is this breaking for only the people in the Iowa office?" - Let's find out.

It defuses an argumentative "attack" and includes the attacker in the solution.

Posted by: joelfinkle | Dec 12, 2006 7:55:14 AM

How funny...My horseback riding instructor always says "Iiiinteresting...". I never know how to continue our conversation after that, or it pretty much ends my monologue. I think you are right - it works with a lot of people.

Posted by: Oksana | Dec 12, 2006 11:21:01 AM

Love it. When I take students on mission experiences, things invariably don't go according to plan - both because we are dealing with teenagers and the nature of logistics.
That is a great response I'm going to keep in mind.

Posted by: tony sheng | Dec 12, 2006 11:21:18 AM

I actually disagree; I like it when people criticize my ideas. The "Hmmm...thats interesting" approach also has a nasty side affect of diluting the first reaction.

My best friend and business partner is very candid and says "it s**ks" about many of my ideas. But when he says "hmmm...that’s interesting", I know that I am on to something.

Having been the contrarian, I would like to sweeten the comment by saying that I always keep your posts to then end of the blog reading session so I can give them the time they deserve.

Posted by: Yoav | Dec 12, 2006 11:41:16 AM

Most people on here are probably too young to remember Laugh-In (as the series ran from 1968 to 1973, I think that's a safe bet!) Arte Johnson, one of the actors on the show, did a recurring routine as Wolfgang, a Nazi who said "Verrrry interesting... but stupid!" He also appeared as the same character on Sesame Street (Nazis on Sesame Street-- go figure).

To this day, thirty-three years after the show ended, I cannot here the word "interesting..." without completing in my mind "BUT STUPID!"

Posted by: Paul | Dec 12, 2006 12:02:51 PM

Hmm... Interesting post.

Posted by: Lance Fisher | Dec 12, 2006 12:22:47 PM

I think I love you. And not just because you have cute horses. ;)

Posted by: Lothie | Dec 12, 2006 2:18:34 PM

When you write Kathy Sierra a brilliant email about how you want to hear from her but instead recieve no response what so ever.

Hmmmm.... how interesting.

Posted by: David Guzak | Dec 12, 2006 3:33:10 PM

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