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What’s the secret sauce of communication? A familiar surprise

Comm Lead has a tradition of asking each incoming cohort to read a common book to kick off their journey through our master’s program. Our selection this year is Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction. Published just after the inauguration, The Atlantic’s senior editor Derek Thompson presents a powerful guide to why things (songs, social media platforms, politicians) become popular. He posits that humans are enticed by novelty, but also crave the comfort of what they already know, so a simple formula for impactful communication is to offer elements of both — a familiar surprise.

We’re excited to announce that Thompson, a precocious first-time author who’s on all the 30 under 30 lists, will be joining us in Seattle in early October for some special Comm Lead events around the book. More details on that soon!

So why did we pick Hit Makers as the first text our 89 incoming students will read in the program?

Threaded through the book are key facets of communication that are central to Comm Lead: storytelling, human relationships, and technology.

One of the conditions for a common book is that it speaks to both our degree programs — the Master of Communication in Digital Media (MCDM) and the Master of Communication in Communities & Network (MCCN) — and in the best cases, the book shows the interconnected nature of the two degrees. Hit Makers does this beautifully. To start, Thompson understands that the common denominator of our Comm Lead curriculum — storytelling — is at the heart of all popularity. The craft of storytelling is central to both our degrees. As any MCDM student can tell you, technology has the power to amplify messages in breathtaking ways. But as any MCCN student knows, understanding the interpersonal dimension of scaling messages is paramount as well. The two elements of messaging — technology and personal relationships — are woven throughout Hit Makers.

The book introduces some interesting case studies of creatives who blew past the status quo while trying to make their respective mark. By doing so, they became leaders in their field. Think everyone from prolific industrial designer Raymond Loewy, to filmmaker George Lucas, to Donald Trump.

Hit Makers will form the basis of early assignments in our Autumn core class, which emphasizes personal narrative and leadership styles through the lens of communication. As students consider what “leadership” really means, the individuals that Thompson introduces us to in the book will serve as prime examples. What made them tick? What informed their life choices? How are their values evident in their work? What does leadership look like to them?

Just as importantly, Thompson’s book is an exercise in critical thinking: challenging assumptions, dismantling myths, and holding experts accountable. Few skills are as vital to graduate school than critical thinking married to clear and accessible writing. This book has both.

That doesn’t mean students have to agree with everything Thompson says — we certainly expect them to challenge parts they feel would benefit from an alternative perspective! That’s what critical thinking is all about: wrestling with ideas, thinking deeply about them, and engaging in healthy debate. We are all better with a diversity of opinions and perspectives in the mix. That’s the kind of environment where real leaders are made.

pelcdvWhat’s the secret sauce of communication? A familiar surprise
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