Made to Shake!

March 16, 2013

IMG_3117Why do some ideas go mega viral? Why did Gangnam Style get over a billion views on YouTube? Why did “Harlem Shake” move the world? Don’t know about you but if there is anybody who DOES know the answers then it’s the Heath Brothers. Viral hits or pretty much all great ideas are simply about “SUCCESs”! Sounds easy doesn’t it? Not quite. What is “SUCCESs”? Is it some kind of secret formula that can help you cook up that magic one hit wonder? Well I seem to be asking more questions than giving answers! So here goes…

I have used the “Harlem Shake” to illustrate SUCCESs in an attempt to explain both the concept and the reason behind Harlem Shake’s success! What the…!

  • Simple – First and foremost simplicity trumps complexity every time. It’s no different for an idea as absurd as the Harlem Shake. It’s brutally simple. You don’t need any skill whatsoever (even I could do it…in fact I did!). It needs no choreograph artist to tell you what to do or nothing like that. Simple works. As Albert Einstein once said “Simplicity is the purest form of genius”. That’s probably why simplicity is hard. Steve Jobs too was known to have been a strong believer in simplicity. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” he said. Although the Harlem Shake was not a deliberate attempt at making something go viral. It is inherently a simple idea.
  • Unexpected – The kind of ideas that change the world and get noticed are also ‘disruptive’ by nature. They challenge the status quo. They surprise, amaze, shock, whatever it takes to break our schema of what something is. They explore the boundary of what is possible and then go beyond. Harlem Shake too is unexpected. Of all dance clips in the world. The unexpected context, and rhythm have the power to surprise and engage the audience. So it did.
  • Concrete – Big ideas are concrete. They are not a myriad of abstractions. Although mystery is a key tool to impart information and tell engaging stories, they are still however concrete at every step! So what is concrete? A sweating glass of iced tea on a hot summer afternoon is a more concrete description than saying a hot July afternoon. Or the imagery that comes to mind when saying “currency” vs. “a crisp five dollar bill”. In the same way the Harlem Shake is very concrete. For one it is 30 seconds long. Nothing more. Nothing less. It has a set beginning that reaches a crescendo at a certain fixed point where it goes from one person acting crazy to everyone going crazy. It’s vivid. It’s clear. It’s concrete!
  • Credible – Source of an idea matters. Who’s saying it matters! That’s why celebrity endorsement works. There is more to driving credibility than that. A powerful demonstration also works. Remember the iconic anti-drug ad that used the analogy of eggs to show how drugs affect the human brain. Raw egg = Brain. Fried Eggs = Brain on Drugs. It worked! The same way anti-authority also works. The no agenda nature of Harlem Shake was the source of it’s credibility. It all started with a couple of friends recording their crazy antics. That’s it. It is authentic.
  • Emotional – During the last five years if there has been any research on the human brain it has all pointed out to one simple fact – our emotional brain drives 95% of all our decisions. We are creatures of emotion. Another popular analogy is Homer Simpson vs. Spock. Despite many denying this reality we are in fact a lot more like the impulsive, free-spirited Homer than we are like the calculated, self-restrained Spock. So anything that tugs at our heart strings is going to move us into action. Music is by nature emotional and therefore Harlem Shake inherently has that going for itself to a certain extent.
  • Storytelling – We all love a great story. From Aesop’s legendary fables to the kind of stories told in a 3D Cinema Theatre today. Stories are not just entertainment but a truly human way to impart knowledge and information. Unfortunately storytelling has been largely limited to the entertainment industry. But in fact stories are powerful means to change the course of a nation, a generation and even an organization. The Harlem Shake story is probably a bit of an over-analysis on my part. But I do see a story here. Not just one story but many stories. One of them is a story of transformation. A story that starts with a loner, a loser, who is  acting crazy, not getting support from anyone! To a story where the protagonist becomes their leader, their inspiration, their guide as everyone joins him as one! (I know I pushed it here but maybe this was a subliminal message that perhaps was a key driver to it’s fame!)

So there you have it! The formula is yours. If you are intrigued to learn more. I suggest you go and pick up a copy of “Made to Stick” right NOW! It is the source of the “SUCCESs” recipe and it is a great read for anyone looking for their next BIG IDEA!

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