MiB: Derek Thompson on What Makes a Hit

This week on our Masters in Business radio podcast, we speak with Derek Thompson of The Atlantic, author of Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction

Thompson explains why certain songs, movies, books, paintings, etc. seem to become hits when other similar products of equal quality fail to catch on. What we think of as “viral” is very much misunderstood.

The concept of “Fluency and Disfluency” is explained — how we tend to like things that are both familiar yet new and different, but not too different.

Repetition is a key part of our what we recognize, like and appreciate. Thompson explains the critical tension exists between “neophilia” (love of novelty) and “neophobia” (dislike of anything new). How audiences simultaneously crave “the new” even as they fear it drives a lot of content creation.

The sweet spot is the “Aesthetic Aha” — that space in between the familiar and the surprising. This is why so many Rock and Pop songs sound so familiar (No Woman, No Cry; Paparazzi; Don’t Stop Believing; With You or Without You), relying on similar chord structure (C, G, A Minor, F). Check out this amusing video that references all of the songs that rely on the familiar Pachabel’s Canon in D.

We also discuss Raymond Loewy’s concept of MAYA — Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.

All of the books Thompson discussed can be found here.

You can hear the show on Bloomberg Radio, or stream/download the full show, including the podcast extras, on iTunesSoundCloud and on Bloomberg. All of our earlier podcasts can be found on iTunesSoundcloud, and Bloomberg.




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