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Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson
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“People gravitate toward products that are bold, but instantly comprehensible: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable--MAYA.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“People prefer paintings that they’ve seen before. Audiences like art that gives them the jolt of meaning that often comes from an inkling of recognition.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“Quality, it seems, is a necessary, but insufficient attribute for success.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“To sell something familiar, make it surprising. To sell something surprising, make it familiar.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: How Things Become Popular
“It is not merely the feeling that something is familiar. It is one step beyond that. It is something new, challenging, or surprising that opens a door into a feeling of comfort, meaning, or familiarity. It is called an aesthetic aha.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
“It is the simplest phrase you can imagine,” Favreau said, “three monosyllabic words that people say to each other every day.” But the speech etched itself in rhetorical lore. It inspired music videos and memes and the full range of reactions that any blockbuster receives online today, from praise to out-of-context humor to arch mockery. Obama’s “Yes, we can” refrain is an example of a rhetorical device known as epistrophe, or the repetition of words at the end of a sentence. It’s one of many famous rhetorical types, most with Greek names, based on some form of repetition. There is anaphora, which is repetition at the beginning of a sentence (Winston Churchill: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields”). There is tricolon, which is repetition in short triplicate (Abraham Lincoln: “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people”). There is epizeuxis, which is the same word repeated over and over (Nancy Pelosi: “Just remember these four words for what this legislation means: jobs, jobs, jobs, and jobs”). There is diacope, which is the repetition of a word or phrase with a brief interruption (Franklin D. Roosevelt: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”) or, most simply, an A-B-A structure (Sarah Palin: “Drill baby drill!”). There is antithesis, which is repetition of clause structures to juxtapose contrasting ideas (Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”). There is parallelism, which is repetition of sentence structure (the paragraph you just read). Finally, there is the king of all modern speech-making tricks, antimetabole, which is rhetorical inversion: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” There are several reasons why antimetabole is so popular. First, it’s just complex enough to disguise the fact that it’s formulaic. Second, it’s useful for highlighting an argument by drawing a clear contrast. Third, it’s quite poppy, in the Swedish songwriting sense, building a hook around two elements—A and B—and inverting them to give listeners immediate gratification and meaning. The classic structure of antimetabole is AB;BA, which is easy to remember since it spells out the name of a certain Swedish band.18 Famous ABBA examples in politics include: “Man is not the creature of circumstances. Circumstances are the creatures of men.” —Benjamin Disraeli “East and West do not mistrust each other because we are armed; we are armed because we mistrust each other.” —Ronald Reagan “The world faces a very different Russia than it did in 1991. Like all countries, Russia also faces a very different world.” —Bill Clinton “Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” —George W. Bush “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” —Hillary Clinton In particular, President John F. Kennedy made ABBA famous (and ABBA made John F. Kennedy famous). “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind,” he said, and “Each increase of tension has produced an increase of arms; each increase of arms has produced an increase of tension,” and most famously, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Antimetabole is like the C–G–Am–F chord progression in Western pop music: When you learn it somewhere, you hear it everywhere.19 Difficult and even controversial ideas are transformed, through ABBA, into something like musical hooks.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“Most consumers are simultaneously neophilic, curious to discover new things, and deeply neophobic, afraid of anything that is too new. The best hit makers are gifted at creating moments of meaning by marrying new and old, anxiety and understanding. They are architects of familiar surprises.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: How Things Become Popular
“When something becomes hard to think about, people transfer the discomfort of the thought, to the object of their thinking.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” In”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“In the psychology of aesthetics, there is a name for the moment between the anxiety of confronting something new and the satisfying click of understanding it. It is called an 'aesthetic aha.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
“In all sorts of markets—music, film, art, and politics—the future of popularity will be harder to predict as the broadcast power of radio and television democratizes and the channels of exposure grow.... The gatekeepers had their day. Now there are simply too many gates to keep.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
“The trick is learning to frame your new ideas as tweaks of old ideas, to mix a little fluency with a little disfluency—to make your audience see the familiarity behind the surprise.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
“Initially [my favorite books] seem to immerse me in another life, but ultimately they immerse me in me; I am looking through the window into another person’s home, but it is my face that I see in the reflection.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
“Some consumers buy products not because they are ‘better” in any way, but simply because they are popular. What they’re buying is not just a product, but also a piece of popularity itself.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
“Cultural products will spread faster and wider when everybody can see what everybody else is doing. It suggests that the future of many hit-making markets will be fully open, radically transparent, and very, very unequal.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
“People have all day to talk about what makes them ordinary. It turns out that they want to share what makes them weird.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
“The line from psychologists is, if you’ve seen it before, it hasn’t killed you yet.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
“It begs for a gospel of perseverance through inevitable failure... There is no antidote to the chaos of creative markets. Only the brute doggedness to endure it.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“The mere observation that something is popular, or even that it became so rapidly, is not sufficient to establish that it spread in a manner that resembles a virus. Popularity on the internet is driven by the size of the largest broadcast. Digital blockbusters are not about a million one-to-one moments as much as they are about a few one-to-one-million moments.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“It is an economic fact that predicting the future is most valuable when everybody things you are wrong.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“This long-tail distribution of returns is why it's important to be bold. Big winners pay for so many experiments.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“In 2012, Spanish researchers released a study that looked at 464,411 popular recordings around the world between 1955 and 2010 and found the difference between new hits and old hits wasn’t more complicated chord structures. Instead, it was new instrumentation bringing a fresh sound to “common harmonic progressions.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“Picking a few hits requires a tolerance for many bad ideas, mediocre ideas, and even good ideas cursed with bad timing. Above all, it requires a business model that supports the inevitability that most new things fail; the most promising ideas often attract a chorus of skeptics; and one big hit can pay for a thousand flops.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“When something becomes hard to think about, people transfer the discomfort of the thought to the object of their thinking. Almost”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“Posting dramatic charts or funny pictures is good and giving people smart reasons to believe what they already think is great.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
“Imitating recent successes is a game that everybody knows how to play. But seeing the next big thing before anybody else sees it is far more valuable... It means being a little bit wrong at just the right time.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
“First, understand how people behave; second, build products that match their habits.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
“This might be the most important question for every creator and maker in the world: how do you make something new if most people just like what they know? Is it possible to surprise with familiarity?”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“This sell something familiar, make it surprising. To sell something surprising, make it familiar.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular
“The consumer is influenced in his choice of styling by two opposing factors: (a) attraction to the new and (b) resistance to the unfamiliar,” he wrote. “When resistance to the unfamiliar reaches the threshold of a shock-zone and resistance to buying sets in, the design in question has reached its MAYA stage: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction

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