How to be interesting
A couple months ago a video made its viral way around the internet as some videos do. It was a mashup of the Sesame Street movie Follow that Bird and the Beastie Boys’ song Sabotage.
Mashups aren’t uncommon. Afterall, that’s a huge lesson most of us already know about creativity. Great ideas are often the collision of a couple different disciplines, technologies, inventions, etc.
But is that all there is to it? Or is there something a bit deeper about that video and why it became so viral.
Why was it so interesting?
Murray Davis was a professor of sociology at Northern Illinois University. In 1971, he published an interesting paper. Literally. It’s called “That’s Interesting!”
Davis investigated why some researchers and their theories get people’s attention and others don’t.
He found that ideas don’t become interesting because they are simply true. “All of the interesting propositions I examined were easily translatable into the form: ‘What seems to be X is in reality non-x’.” In other words, what seems to be a mess is really organized. Or what appears to be a bad thing is really a good thing.
“An audience finds a proposition ‘interesting’ not because it tells them some truth they thought they already knew, but instead because it tells them some truth they thought they already knew was wrong.”
We crave ideas that attack what we had taken for granted.
The creator of that Beastie Boys + Sesame Street video, Adam Schleichkorn, isn’t new to viral videos. His channel is called isthishowyougoviral, and it’s racked up 23 million views. That’s not his only channel. He has another channel called hiddentracktv2 with over 38 million views.
In fact, Adam Schleichkorn might be labeled the first viral YouTube star there ever was when he uploaded a video of his friend plowing into a fence, giving birth to a trend called “Fence Plowing” over 10 years ago.
This wasn’t his first mashup either. He’s been doing them for years. 3 years ago he racked up 1.8 million views on a Beastie Boys + Muppets mashup. 1 year ago it was 4.5 million views with Bone Thugs n Harmony, and 3.5 million views with Warren G and Nate Dogg, both mashed with Sesame Street.
If you look at Adam’s videos and you analyze it with Davis’ insight into what makes things interesting, I think we can further identify what makes some of Adam’s stuff so popular.
Many of his mashups are of things that you’ve now taken for granted. Pieces you now ignore because they’re for different audiences or different generations.
Sesame Street? It’s for kids. Follow that Bird? It’s from 1985. Beastie Boys? I love them. But I’m 39. Sabotage is from 1994. Crossroads from Bone Thugs N Harmony is from 1995.
He took things we’d long forgotten and assumed were not worth our time and artfully put them together. This is stuff we’re certain wasn’t worth paying much attention to anymore until Adam showed us it was.
Or look at Fence Plowing. You take fences for granted. They keep people out. People don’t just go through them. It’s a counterintuitive idea.
Or another video he posted 6 years ago. How long do you think the average YouTube video is?
You take for granted you need to commit a little time to watching another thing on YouTube. So Adam crafted the Shortest Video on Youtube.
It measures 0 seconds.
Now, this isn’t a blueprint for creating viral videos. And this isn’t all to Adam’s success obviously. Just telling you to form your projects with counterintuitive things is like teaching you to draw an owl with a couple circles:
Adam’s been making mashups and editing video for longer than YouTube has even existed. He’s got skills, just like those researchers Davis studied. There’s still an enormous amount of work and skill involved with creating theories and papers that would be labeled interesting.
But this is a lesson for boosting your chances to get people’s attention. As you look at the world and plan your book, video, product, or business, you need to show us how wrong we were to take something for granted.
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