Masters in Business

Derek Thompson on Hit Making

There's art and science to pop-culture success.

This week on our Masters in Business radio podcast, we speak with Derek Thompson of the Atlantic magazine, author of “Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction.” 

Thompson explains why certain songs, movies, books, paintings and theater productions become hits when similar products of equal merit fail to catch on. He elaborated on the concept of “fluency and disfluency” -- how we tend to like things that are familiar yet new and different, but not too different.

Repetition is a key part of what we recognize, like and appreciate. Thompson explains how this critical tension exists between “neophilia” (love of novelty) and “neophobia” (dislike of anything new). In short, audiences simultaneously crave the new even as they fear it.

The sweet spot is what Thompson calls the “aesthetic aha,” or that space in between the familiar and the surprising. This is why many rock and pop songs sound so familiar (“No Woman, No Cry,” “Paparazzi,” “Don’t Stop Believing,” “With You or Without You,” just to cite a few), relying on similar chord structures (typically C, G, A minor, F).

You can hear the show on Bloomberg Radio, or stream/download the full show, including the podcast extras, on iTunesSoundCloud and Bloomberg. All of our earlier podcasts can be found on iTunesSoundCloud and Bloomberg.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Barry Ritholtz at britholtz3@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE