18 Ideas About How To Create A Hit From The Book “Hit Makers”

A must-read for creators.

Josh Spector
Jul 6, 2018 · 8 min read

Hits are never guaranteed.

However, there are a TON of things you can learn about how hits happen that will drastically improve your odds.

The book Hit Makers: How to Succeed in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson is a must-read for anybody trying to get traction for their work and I highly recommend you check it out.

It’s also a great follow up to my previous post in which I shared 17 ideas to improve your creative work from the book Perennial Seller.

Here are 18 ideas from the book (with quoted excerpts) which I found valuable and hope you will too.

1. Most hits are familiar surprises.

2. Instagram became an instant hit thanks to Twitter.

As a result, when Instagram debuted in the App Store, it was downloaded 25,000+ times on the first day and shot to the top of the app charts— driving even more downloads. (page 9)

3. People like what they’ve seen before.

4. SportsCenter became a hit by narrowing its focus.

5. The key to memorable speeches and hit songs is the same: Repetition.

6. To create a hit, tweak an existing genre.

“‘You take 25 things that are in any successful genre, and you reverse one of them,’ he said. ‘Reverse too many, and you get genre confusion. It’s a muddle, and nobody knows how to place it. Invert all the elements, and it’s a parody.’ But one strategic tweak? Now you’ve made something that is perfectly new, like a classic western adventure story, but set in space.” (page 114)

7. Social media is the new teenage fashion.

In a new age of cool, the smartphone screen displaced the embroidered logo as the focal point of teen identity. It was once sufficient to look good in a high school hallway, but today Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram are all high school hallways, where young people perform and see performances, judge and are judged. Many decades after another mobile device, the car, helped to invent the teenager, the iPhone and its ilk offered new nimble instruments of self-expression, symbols of independence, and better ways to hook up.” (page 159)

8. Nothing goes “viral” — at least not the way you think it does.

9. People like what’s popular because it’s popular.

The people who saw the rankings consistently downloaded the “popular” songs more often than the people who listened to the songs without rankings.

As the book explains, “Some consumers buy products not because they are ‘better’ in any way, but simply because they are popular. What they’re buying is not just a product, but also a piece of popularity itself.” (page 206)

10. Sharing online isn’t sharing.

So when somebody shares information — like an article, a joke, or a button — are they doing something for other people or are they just talking about themselves?” (page 211)

11. Influence isn’t about the influencer, it’s about the audience.

12. Our online conversations are more self-centered than our offline ones.

13. Your predictions are most valuable when nobody believes in them.

14. There’s a big difference between business and baseball.

‘When you swing, no matter how well you connect with the ball, the most runs you can get is four. In business, every once in a while, when you step to the plate, you can score 1,000 runs. This long-tailed distribution of returns is why it’s important to be bold. Big winners pay for so many experiments.’” (page 249)

15. What it takes to create hits is similar to what it takes to be a fighter pilot — speed of adaptation.

According to Boyd, the key to a successful fighting force wasn’t just a brilliant plan of attack. It was a facility for learning and changing strategy quickly, when the enemy inevitably adapted to counter the initial strategy. ‘The speed of adaptation was the key factor in whether you could win or lose in a dogfight,’ Haile said.” (page 278)

16. Super-awareness is the new cultural capital.

But a lot has changed since 1980. Cultural markets have become more transparent, blurring the line between stated and revealed preferences. Billboard has become an honest reflection of music, and Chartbeat a more transparent view of reader interest. In a culture like this, where status is a performance but tastes are transparent, the socially correct posture is not to like any one thing too much, but rather to be exquisitely and unblinkingly aware of it all. There is something more prized than ‘cultural capital’ in an age of media abundance, and that is what you might call ‘cultural cognizance,’ a global awareness of the news and opinions that make up the cultural landscape. So you saw Hamilton? That’s fine. You can cite its rap references, and suggest why its universal praise might be overrated, and contextualize its significance in twenty-first century race relations? Now we’re talking. Super-awareness is the new cultural capital.” (page 279)

17. Big hits come from things created for narrow audiences.

18. Most artists’ best work comes AFTER they’ve had a hit.

It is self-evident that a person’s best work might emerge after years of practice, as artists refine their skill. But there is something more at play here: These artists and teams produced their most resonant work after they had already passed a certain threshold of fame and popularity. Perhaps genius thrives in a space shielded ever so slightly from the need to win a popularity contest. Rather, it comes after the game has been won, after the artist can say, essentially, ‘Now that I have your attention…’” (page 287)

This is just a small taste of the amazing stuff in this book — you can get yourself a copy of it here.

For The Interested

Actionable ideas to help you produce, promote and profit from your creations.

Josh Spector

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I run the For The Interested newsletter and help clients use social media and newsletters to grow and activate audiences. ForTheInterested.com/subscribe

For The Interested

Actionable ideas to help you produce, promote and profit from your creations.

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