Innovation and the Familiar
In 1996, The Sixth Sense was released to much critical and popular acclaim. A child is able to see dead people and his therapist, played by Bruce Willis, (spoiler alert) turns out to be dead at the end. This twist makes you see Bruce’s character in a new way. It takes the familiar character and makes you see him in a novel way. You play back the movie in your head, and suddenly the whole movie is seen in a new way.
Part of what makes all great work qualify for the category, is that it makes you see something in a new way. Think of all the best films, advertising, art, books, photography… think of the best technology and apps and designed experiences. They make you see something in a new way. Said differently, part of innovation is making the familiar novel, or creating some sort of familiarity in the novelty of new. Let’s talk through some new and classic examples.
The recent success of documentaries such as Food Inc or Fed Up are making us see food consumption and production in a different way. A great photograph can show you a relationship in a new way, or a situation across the world in a familiar way with a novel twist. I find recent developments in technology, from Oculus/VR to SnapChat, are all trying to make something incredibly novel and different, based on an insight about something familiar. VR is obviously trying to take the experience of being somewhere, a fundamental concept, and make it feel new. SnapChat takes the way we have conversations in life and mimics the experience in a new way: fleeting moments of who we are, shared with friends. The best ones you want to write down or remember in some way. Not ever-documentable.
Innovations that are entirely novel don’t do well. They’re too foreign. And technology that is the same as another experience isn’t innovation at all. It’s when a piece of work shows me something in a new way, turns the familiar into novelty or makes something novel parallel to something familiar, that the work is truly great. Not always, but with some great work, we learn something new, see something in a new way… and suddenly our world changes. All because of a film, an app, an experience. Let’s go make that kind of work.