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Have you ever stopped to think about how creative ideas become trends?

Let’s agree that not every idea generates a product or even good writing with the potential to reach thousands of people.

So, is there an explanation for why some creative ideas generate so many results while others disappear into limbo?

According to Derek Thompson, author of the book Hit Makers, there is, and we’ll go into detail on the subject now.

These days, it’s hard to walk around some cities, offices, or homes without seeing a product designed by Apple.

In the 1950s, it was equally impossible to travel across the United States without encountering something designed by Raymond Loewy and his company.

Loewy was a French orphan who arrived in New York in 1919 after losing his parents to the flu pandemic.

Within a few decades of his arrival in the city, he would be widely known as the father of modern design.

He helped recreate the sports car, modern train, and Greyhound bus; designed the Coca-Cola font and the iconic Lucky Strike cigarette pack.

He seemed to guess people’s needs before they could even understand him, just as Steve Jobs did.

And believe us: he knew of this visionary gift of his and created a theory called “MAYA” to explain the phenomenon behind his creative ideas that were turned over and over into products that dominated the market.

The MAYA concept behind creative and viral ideas:

MAYA is short for “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.”

Unbeknownst to the late Loewy, this insight has been used to explain the songs that stick in people’s heads in pop music, blockbusters in theaters, and even the success of memes in digital media.

These days, many people yearning for the new hit from Nike, Apple, or Disney seems as natural as waiting for the season changes.

For millennia, the ancestors of today’s fashionistas wore the same clothes, and the children of every generation didn’t seem to mind wearing their great-grandparents’ tunics.

Fashion as we know it was not written into human DNA.

It is a recent invention of mass production and modern marketing.

People had to be taught to desire so many new things eagerly, and Loewy was one of the first to use this concept to make his creative ideas come to prominence.

Much like any record label or Hollywood studio, Raymond Loewy’s workshop was a hit factory of its day.

He believed he needed to know his audience in depth before creating products to suit their habits.

He piggybacked on people’s behavior instead of designing products that would force them to change their lives.

However, Loewy felt that his sensitivity to his customers’ familiarities was connected to a deeper layer of psychology.

His MAYA theory, Most Advanced Yet Acceptable, addressed the tension between people’s interest in being surprised and feeling comfortable.

How to find out if you’re facing creative ideas with viral potential:

Imagine walking into a room full of strangers.

You glance around, looking for someone you know, but you can’t find a single familiar face.

And then, all of a sudden, the room opens up and, through the crowd, you can see your best friend. How would you feel about having someone you know around you in a new environment?

Safer and more comfortable, I bet.

Let’s go to another imaginary test:

Which of the following two options do you prefer?

A. Be 100% sure and earn $10,000 now.

B. Have a 55% chance of winning $20,000 and a 45% chance of not winning anything.

Which would you choose?

A or B?

Most people choose option A simply because it is the safest like feeling more relaxed going to a party with a partner.

We don’t know if you’ve noticed the pattern so far, but good creative ideas are those that bring with them this hint of familiarity in addition to the innovative factor.

But let’s continue to transform how this happens in practice to become more transparent.

Was the last song you listened to a new song or a song you had already heard before?

The fact is that 90% of the time, we listen to familiar songs.

To understand this better: on Spotify, there is a playlist with a selection of new songs every week, called “News of the Week.”

Once, a bug happened, and this playlist started playing familiar AND unfamiliar songs.

Guess what?

It was the highest engagement rate ever for this playlist! 

And, of course, from then on, Spotify used it to their advantage, making this playlist a mix between the new and the familiar. 

Like scientists, film producers have to evaluate hundreds of projects a year, but they can only accept a tiny percentage of them.

And what are they looking for?

Something that has a new face but brings something already known to the public.

To get your attention, screenwriters often frame creative and original ideas as a new combination of two familiar hits:

“It’s Romeo and Juliet on a sinking ship!” (Titanic)

“It’s Toy Story with talking animals!” (Pets — The secret life of animals).

The trick is to learn to frame new creative ideas as if they were adjustments to old beliefs to make your audience see the familiarity behind the surprise.

And when a creative idea goes viral?

The consumer is influenced in his choice of style by two opposite factors:

1. Attraction for the new.

2. Resistance to what they are not familiar with.

Loewy’s theory explains why some creative ideas spread while others fail.

That’s because no change in habits, whether consumption of products, movies, books, or texts, happens overnight.

The small innovations in already-known items gradually build the image in people’s minds.

Another theory that explains the success vs. failure of creative ideas very well is the “Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell.

Regarding smartphones, none of them had an on-screen keyboard, as the technology was still expensive and not as efficient.

Steve Jobs knew how to bring together several technologies that had been created until then to bring a product with a slight change but with significant impact on the market.

The 3 Lessons of the MAYA Principle

Consumers aren’t looking for new products.

Essentially, minor improvements and adaptations of the products they love, 80% of which is already known and 20% are innovated, can have a considerable impact.

1. The public doesn’t know everything, but they know more than the creators.

The most successful artists and entrepreneurs tend to be geniuses. But they don’t know how their customers live, what they do every day, what annoys them, nor what touches them.

If familiarity is the key to liking, then people’s familiarities, ideas, stories, behaviors, and habits are the keys to their hearts.

Loewy had his theories of beauty, but he knew that designing for strangers was, in the beginning, like groping through a dark tunnel toward a tiny point of light.

2. To sell something familiar, make it surprising.

To sell something extraordinary, make it familiar. Most products and art, in general, serve audiences wherever they are. And with a small dose of innovation on top of what is already done, they would win the market as Apple did when launching its iPhone.

3. People don’t know what they want until they’re enchanted.

Loewy was constantly pushing his way for tastes amid an audience that didn’t know how to want something new.

In the final pages of his memoirs, Loewy tells a well-known joke about a Boy Scout and his master discussing the mandatory Good Deed of the day.

“And what good deed did you do today, Ray?”

“Me, Walter, and Henry helped a lady across the street,” says the boy.

“Very well. But why did it take you three to do this?”

“She didn’t want to cross the street.”

If Loewy had been a Boy Scout, he would have been like the boy.

In other words, if you want creative ideas for writing stories, producing content, or selling your books to lots of people, don’t just copy and paste the hit content you see out there.

Want to see your creative ideas taking over the world?

Do the same.

But do it your way.