In 2012, Oren Uziel sold a script called the God Particle about creepy things happening aboard a space station. In 2018, it was finally released as The Cloverfield Paradox, retrofitted as the third installment in JJ Abrams’ franchise. Despite a Rotten Tomatoes score of 17%, it got 5 million views in its first week on Netflix. Since 2016, the top ten grossing movies each year have been either sequels or franchise films because they are guaranteed to be successful — but they’re rarely the movies that move culture forward.
Startup culture is pretty similar: from a venture capital standpoint, a quick win is steady user growth, which means making it as easy as possible for people to buy in — maybe even sustaining early losses to incentivize early adopters.
In other words, success is making people as comfortable as possible, as quickly as possible, so they adopt, use and return to your platform. It’s built right into the concept of disruption — take something people are comfortable with, change it a little, and re-launch it to the people; that’s why disruption is incremental by nature. If we want to enact real change within an industry, or within culture at large, the goal should be discomfort, not disruption. New things should be disorienting. They should break schemas, and challenge our perceptions of how things ought to be. Clarke’s Law provides one way to sum this up: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. To this, we can add Brent’s Law (named after “The Office’s” David Brent, the patron saint of discomfort): Any sufficiently new experience feels distinctly uncomfortable.
We can see this at play in today’s most successful startups. From the time we’re kids, most of us are told never to get into a car with a stranger, let alone crawl into their beds. But almost ten years into their existences, Uber and Airbnb made these behaviors so ordinary that we do them en masse.
And then we become comfortable again. And new startups are pitched using the shorthand of the incumbent: “It’s the Uber of X,” or “Like Airbnb but for____.” And so we root new ideas in the familiar, placing them firmly in the disruptive but comfortable zone.
In 1985, Terry Gilliam took out a full-page ad in Variety magazine imploring producer Sid Seinberg to release his latest movie. Seinberg argued that some of the bleaker scenes would be unsettling for the audience.
Seinberg was right. The film made audiences uncomfortable, and the box office reception was lukewarm. But from that initial discomfort, Brazil has become one of the most influential movies of its era and earned millions of dollars in DVD and streaming sales.
And unlike The Cloverfield Paradox, it has a very comfortable 96% on Rotten Tomatoes.
This article was part of The Next Page, Chapter’s bi-monthly newsletter that reveals some of the more surprising things that make us human, and gives you a glimpse of life at Chapter.