Big Think – The Science of Successful Things: Star Wars, Steve Jobs, and Google’s Epic Fail | Derek Thompson

The Science of Successful Things: Star Wars, Steve Jobs, and Google’s Epic Fail | Derek Thompson

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My book Hit Makers is essentially about the science of why we like what we like. And one of the most interesting answers to that question is MAYA, most advanced yet acceptable. And this was of the theory of everything by Raymond Loewy the father of industrial design in America. And a lot of people today don’t know who Raymond Lowey is, but this is a guy who was essentially kind of like Steve Jobs meets Don Draper from the 1950s. He invented or designed the first…

He designed the most famous car design in the 20th century the 1950 Studebaker, the modern train, the modern greyhound bus, the modern tractor, even that pencil sharpener that looks like an egg that was his design. And in thinking about this question how could one person understand what consumers want from things as different as cars and pencil sharpeners his answer was this, MAYA, most advanced yet acceptable. People are torn between neophilia on the one hand, they like new things, and neophobia on the other hand, they’re afraid of anything that’s too new. And he was this genius essentially of combining familiarity and surprise.

I think the most useful way to think about the MAYA principle is to think of it as to sell something familiar make it surprising, but to sell something surprising make it familiar.

Let’s take an example like Star Wars. George Lucas was working on Star Wars for a long, long time. The script was absolutely terrible. He was sharing it with his best friends like Francis Ford Coppola and they were all telling him that the script was absolute garbage. And he had essentially built this incredibly surprising novel new world filled with Jedis and forces and magic and creatures that no one had seen before. And then he was reading this book by Joseph Campbell on the mono myth, on this idea that every great story in human history has essentially been the same story of an ordinary person who goes on an extraordinary journey, defeats a nemesis intimately involved in his own origin story and then comes back to the real world as the hero. And so he said this is it this is the story that explains that is Jesus, that is Buddha, that is the Odyssey and the Iliad, I’ll take this incredibly familiar structure and I’ll put it into this incredibly surprising world building exercise and that is Star Wars, it essentially sales an incredibly surprising world in an incredibly familiar narrative setting. And I think that’s one reason why we like it. It’s not so much that it’s novel, it’s that it’s a novel setting that is essentially telling the oldest story known to man.

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