Content might be king, but distribution is the kingdom. – Derek Thompson

In Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, Derek Thompson explains what makes a hit. He argues that consumers are looking to try new things but are also afraid of anything new. So the goal for making a hit new product is to make something that people will share with their audience.  The way to get there is to make something bold yet instantly comprehensible.

It needs to looks familiar yet be advance. It is a tug of war between the “love of the new versus the preference for the old”. The trick is to frame new ideas as tweaks of old ideas, “to make your audience see the familiarity behind the surprise.”

However, in creating these bold new products, inventors must calculate the odds of its success. In The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis explains that when people calculate the odds of something happening they are really making judgments about similarity. This becomes problematic when people rely too heavily on stories rooted in the past rather than on probabilities.

Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman explain this conundrum. “It is far easier for a Jew living in Paris in 1939 to construct a story that the German army will behave as it did in 1919 than invent a story in which it behaves as it did in 1941, no matter how persuasive the evidence might be that, this time, things are different.”

In sum, we must create familiar yet bold new products. But we must not let our memories of the past warp our imagination of the future.


(Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.)