What makes something cool?

Part of the art of marketing is making something cool, but not too cool.

What?

Research shows that we gravitate toward the familiar, but that we’re also bored by it. We cherish the new, but we’re also scared of it. The art is in finding something innovative that still has roots in things we already trust and understand.

This is why Apple so rarely pioneers technology and, instead, leverages things that have already been tried and haven’t yet been optimized, Then they nail it.

And it’s why truly innovative companies can be “ahead of their time” and tank.

An article in The Atlantic provides some interesting examples in the context of a long piece on the brilliant designer Raymond Loewy who coined the term MAYA (“Most Advanced Yet Acceptable”) and said: “To sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.”

There’s plenty of science to back this up:

In 2014, a team of researchers from Harvard University and Northeastern University wanted to know exactly what sorts of proposals were most likely to win funding from prestigious institutions such as the National Institutes of Health—safely familiar proposals, or extremely novel ones? They prepared about 150 research proposals and gave each one a novelty score. Then they recruited 142 world-class scientists to evaluate the projects.

The most-novel proposals got the worst ratings. Exceedingly familiar proposals fared a bit better, but they still received low scores. “Everyone dislikes novelty,” Karim Lakhani, a co-author, explained to me, and “experts tend to be overcritical of proposals in their own domain.” The highest evaluation scores went to submissions that were deemed slightly new. There is an “optimal newness” for ideas, Lakhani said—advanced yet acceptable.

We can lament our intolerance for innovation. But it seems that understanding it is a good place to start if you want to effect change.

Read more, including how Spotify figured out that Discover Weekly playlists should include songs you already know.

 

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