How to Know if an Idea is Interesting

Being true isn’t enough to capture our attention

Matthew Kent


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

As a writer, it’s in my best interest to come up with interesting ideas to share.

But there’s a problem: How do I know when an idea is interesting? Usually, I end up defaulting to one of two approaches to evaluate my ideas:

  • An idea is interesting if it is true
  • An idea is interesting if I’m fascinated by it

Both of these approaches are wrong. It turns out, there’s a better way to predict what sort of ideas are interesting,

Interesting Ideas Deny Things the Audience Takes For Granted

In 1971 the sociologist Murray S. Davis published a paper called “That’s Interesting!” In it, he argues that an idea is interesting to the extent that it denies the assumptions of the audience.

An idea is un-interesting if it affirms the assumptions of the audience. If you write something that is true but doesn’t challenge conventional wisdom, your audience will accept your message while rejecting the value of your writing.

Interesting ideas are counterintuitive. They fly in the face of conventional wisdom. They take well-known maxims or proverbs and flip them on their head. They take the familiar and add a different perspective.

If you can challenge your audience’s assumptions, you have the seeds of an interesting idea. You can take it further by providing a credible argument. You don’t even have to be right. You just have to defend your idea well enough to make the audience question if you’re on to something.

The Most Viral Ideas Challenge Weakly Held Assumptions

You have to be careful: People don’t like it when you challenge their deeply-held beliefs.

Murray gives this warning:

Those who attempt to deny the strongly held assumptions of their audience will have their very sanity called into question. They will be accused of being lunatics; if scientists, they will be called ‘crackpots.’

Ideas that spread challenge their audience, but not in a way that’s uncomfortable. You…



Matthew Kent

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