The science of successful things: Star Wars, Steve Jobs, and Google’s epic fail

So, how do you make something popular? Simple! You just update something old. This applies to storytelling, design, and even tech gadgets.

So, how do you make a product successful? You make it out of something old. The Atlantic editor Derek Thompson gives a more studious explanation of this answer as he poses the question: why did Google Glass fail and why is the iPhone the most profitable product in human history? Poor design comes to mind, but the answer, Thompson suggests, is much deeper than that. Both were wild new inventions, but Google Glass ultimately failed because it looked like a prototype and not at all like any product that consumers had ever seen before. It seemed alien, and that was a bad thing. Butt the iPhone, on the other hand, is merely a design update of the iPod. Consumers already understood how to work it before they even picked it up, and therefore buyers already knew what they were in for. It's this familiarity itself that is the selling point, as this logic applies to the world of storytelling, too. Derek explains the "hero journey" similarities between Star Wars, The Odyssey, and... The Bible. Derek Thompson's latest book is Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction.

What the early life of Steve Jobs can teach us about success

This infographic, by Anna Vital from Funders and Founders, recaps the significant moments of Steve Jobs’ journey on, and sometimes off, the path of success. 

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is one of the most admired and admonished figures of the technological age. With his razor sharp focus on his work, continuous quest for perfection, unapologetic behavior, selfishness at times, seeming disregard for the feelings of others, and absolute dedication to his life's work, he is like the hero of an Ayn Rand novel. His life, character, achievements and failures are repeatedly debated by admirers and critics alike.

Jobs' path was not straightforward, winding through Indian ashrams, unfinished education, psychedelic experiences, companies found and positions lost. But as Jobs himself says:

"You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

No matter what Jobs did, however—starting companies, looking for spiritual answers, winning over the woman he loved—he did it fully.

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

"I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what's next." (NBC Nightly News, May 2006.)

And his main approach for doing things well, probably rooted in his affinity for Buddhism, was always looking for simplicity, stripping ideas, problems, products to their core, looking for that one, simple, clean essence of things.

"That's been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."

Finally, we should emphasize over and over again, that probably the biggest common denominator between incredibly successful people like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Bill Gates is simply their incredible perseverance and refusal to quit when faced with failure.

"Getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.[…] It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith."

The following infographic by Anna Vital from Funders and Founders recaps the significant moments of Steve Jobs' life for a bit of inspiration and insight into his success.

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