Management consultant; author, "Built to Last" and "Good to Great"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.