By Nicholas Varchaver
December 18, 2016

Good morning.

Have you ever read an article that feels like an elixir for your brain? Well, a few sentences into “The Four Letter Code To Selling Just About Anything,” I started to sense electricity crackling through my synapses. The feature, by Nicholas Thompson in the Atlantic. begins by examining the work of Raymond Loewy, a titan of industrial design decades ago—he helped conceive the look of everything from the Exxon logo to Greyhound buses to Air Force One—who makes Apple’s Jonny Ive look like an underachiever. The article focuses on Loewy’s conception of the sweet spot for new products: “to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.” The article goes on to explore the yin and yang of humans’ desire for the new—and their equally powerful need for the old and familiar. It explains everything from moviegoers’ cravings for Hollywood sequels to parents’ choices in baby names. The science is fascinating:

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.

 

 

 

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