How to Have a Hit

“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.”

If you’ve ever heard of this saying, forget it.  It just isn’t true.  Everything depends on marketing and promotion… and luck.

I was reminded of this recently when I heard a radio interview with Derek Thompson, a senior editor at Atlantic magazine, who has just authored a new book entitled Hit Makers: the Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction.  Although I haven’t had a chance to read it myself, I can identify with everything he said.

His premise is that nothing actually “goes viral”.  Every major hit has a secret history to explain how it caught on.  The most brilliant ideas go nowhere unless they can connect with the right network.  For example, the song “Rock Around the Clock” became a major hit because a 5th grader suggested it to the right person at the right time.

So what is going on here? Thompson discusses a hidden psychology of why we like what we like and the invisible hand of cultural economics.  The simplest explanation is people love a familiar surprise: a product that is bold, yet sneakily recognizable.

Depressing, isn’t it?  Especially if you have a really great idea.  The good news is you just have to keep trying, because some great ideas (as well as some lousy ones) do catch on.



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