A prevailing belief about the success of a product is that it must be of high quality and marketed in just the right way in order to be successful. That seems to be true for the most part, but it quality and marketing are not the only elements. Cass Sunstein uses the term social dynamics in this essay to explain, what in previous generations would have been called word of mouth, or what some people would still call buzz, to explain why some things become more or less successful, How Social Dynamics Made You Successful
“Searching for Sugar Man” is a stunning documentary about an unsuccessful Detroit singer- songwriter named Sixto Rodriguez, who released two long- forgotten albums in the early 1970s. Almost no one bought his albums, and his label dropped him. Rodriguez stopped making records and worked as a demolition man.
What Rodriguez didn’t know, while working in demolition, was that he had become a spectacular success in South Africa — a giant, a legend, comparable to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
….Social dynamics — who is conveying enthusiasm to whom, and how loudly, and where, and exactly when — can separate the rock icon from the demolition man, and mark the line between stunning success and crashing failure. An understanding of those dynamics tells us a lot about the role of serendipity in cultural markets, business, politics and other domains — and about why success and failure can be impossible to predict.
I’m not sure about why the iPad is more successful than say a 10 inch laptop with a convertible screen. The laptop is easier to type on, runs full fledged applications and are available in models that switch to tablet mode – where you can surf the web or take notes. I’m not saying the iPad is not a good piece of technology, or that it is not fun to use. It also has a nice form factor which makes reading, viewing pictures and other media easy. While their sales have bottomed out considerably I never got the appeal of a full sized SUV – the Cadillac Escalade and other similar sized SUVs seemed like monsters. Difficult to maneuver around in the city, dangerous blind spots on the highway and even people who could afford them paid a lot for gas. Would the iPad or those over-sized SUVs have ever become popular if we did not start to see quite a few on the road and the advertising was not so heavy.
Successful entrepreneurs, social movements and politicians benefit from the same dynamics that produce best-selling albums. Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were immensely talented and appealing, but countless people voted and worked for them only because they saw that other people were doing so. Other immensely talented and appealing politicians go nowhere, only because they fail to catch an early wave. Science fiction’s “parallel worlds,” exploring how differently history might have turned out, are not as far-fetched as they seem.
True, we can always try to reclaim inevitability by generating after-the-fact explanations of both success and failure.
There is another name for this phenomenon, herd behavior. I know its generally considered an insult to tell anyone they’re part of the herd, but sensitivities aside, such behavior is true for most of us at some time or another. Sometimes herd behavior propels us toward a new generation of innovation. Back when Microsoft and Apple were just getting started someone at IBM is alleged to have asked, who would want a personal computer on their desk.
The 15 items here, range from the purely conceptual work of Italian 60s architects, Superstudio, who designed a continuous monument around the earth, crashing through lower Manhattan to Lindenthal’s serious proposal for an absolutely gargantuan bridge across the Hudson, with towers bigger than some of the tallest skyscrapers and where the keystone, still exists today.
The way previous generations saw the future is fascinating. Sometimes, like the plastic house of the future featured when the first Disneyland opened, it is a relief that their predictions did not come true. Others, like the flying car, remain interesting possibilities.
My post the other day on ethics was probably a little pessimistic for some. Today presents another reason to have such a gloomy outlook, CNN Lets Dinesh D’Souza Peddle Conspiracy Theory That Obama Is “Anti-American”. D’Souza seems to lack any moral qualms about his lack of ethics and a major cable news outlet seems to have little motivation to hold guests to account.