#42 Guru Derek Thompson: Why Marketers Need MAYA
December 14, 2021
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Someone tags you in a photo on Facebook. You think it’s a terrible photo and immediately untag yourself. “Blurgh,” you think, “but I looked so good in the mirror before I left my house that night.”

So what happened?

Maybe it was the bright lighting; perhaps you were comparing yourself against your literal model friend standing next to you. Surprisingly though, it’s more likely that you just prefer the mirror version of yourself to the photo version.

Okay, you say, but what does all this have to do with marketing. Let’s dive a bit deeper into this talk by award-winning economic writer and author Derek Thompson to find out.


The Battle for Our Brains

It turns out that Humans innately prefer familiar things. Some scientists even believe it’s written into our genetic code, going way back to when our hunter-gatherer ancestors needed to identify the animals and plants that wouldn’t kill them.

But here’s the problem. Today, we live in a world that celebrates the “cult of novelty,” as Thompson calls it.

“In the advertiser formula, the first variable is always novelty,” Thompson explains. “[Researchers] actually went through all of the words they could possibly find in all the advertisements that were out there, and the most common word in all of those ads wasn’t ‘buy now,’ wasn’t ‘risk-free warranty,’ it was ‘new.’


A Grand Theory of Everything

Like familiarity is written into our genetic code, novelty is the defining feature of today’s sales and marketing industry. So how can we, as salespeople, marketers, and creatives, reconcile these two juxtaposing ideas?

Fortunately, a man called Raymond Loewy—an industrial designer who “was like Don Draper meets Steve Jobs for the 20th century,” according to Thompson—came up with an answer we can still use today. His system of perfection, a “grand theory of everything,” is called MAYA: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.


To help us envision how MAYA works (or isn’t being used correctly) today, Thompson gives us some examples:

  • A music app designed to intuitively feed us new songs we might like that did better when old favorites were sprinkled through it.
  • Academics submitting their new research in well-respected journals only to be rejected because they’re too groundbreaking.
  • The way fashions cycle through generations, from clothing to musical styles to baby names.
  • The growing polarization of opinions between Liberals and Conservatives in America.
  • The Earth viewing portal on the space station—invented by Raymond Loewy himself.

And it’s this last point that resonates the most with Thompson. As he says: “I cannot think of a more perfect illustration for MAYA or a more beautiful inspiration to creators everywhere because it says that a window to a new world can also show you home.”


Familiar Yet Surprising

So remember, the key to making your service, product, or even your ideas popular is taking the familiar and making it surprising


Can you think of specific ways you could apply MAYA in your business today? Or do you think it’s more important to consider the ways MAYA might influence your personal life? Share your thoughts and this article on your socials. And if you need more advice, be sure to browse the other marketing guru insights on this page.