What makes something popular?

In Hit Makers, Derek Thompson writes an entertaining and informative overview of what makes a “hit”. He covers a lot of ground, including forgotten impressionist artists, the “mere exposure” effect in psychology, the art of rhetoric, the science of virality, and the role of story. Having looked up Gustave Caillebotte I can attest that he’s as good or better an artist than many more famous painters of the same period.

I had two main takeaways from this book. The first is the importance of combining familiarity with novelty, and Thompson frequently returns to the concept of MAYA (“most advanced yet acceptable”). The second is that popularity is often a product of chance or luck. Many “hits” were simply in the right place at the right time.

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