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October 24, 2018

Know Your Optimal Tension

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I love it when two opinions I really respect agree on something.  This rarely happens in an academic setting, but fortunately for us it does in the case of Allen Gannett and Jonah Berger.  Allen Gannett, the CEO of TrackMaven, shared in his book, The Creative Curve, that the most important factor to vitality is that the concept has an optimal tension between being novel and being familiar. Basically, this means that people prefer when things are familiar enough to not be overwhelmed but novel enough to catch their attention.

Jonah Barger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of Business, explains a similar phenomenon in his book, Invisible Influence, but instead relates it to our everyday behavior. He says that what we choose to imitate and what we choose to reject also play this fine line between familiarity and novelty.  

The key takeaway is know your optimal tension.  

This exists in your decision making, when pitching ideas at work or in conversation, all throughout our lives.  We are more likely to have success in something when it is positioned correctly given its environment.  

Find your optimal tension by being observant of the things around you. Start ranking how novel and how familiar certain things seem to you, and compare those to the perceptions of those around you. Noting the differences will help you cater your communication with them so that you can better relate with them.  

Beyond that, you can use this for how you identify personally. What characteristic traits would you use to describe yourself, and where do they lie on the novelty-familiarity spectrum in society? You can then translate that to your stance on certain issues, in your style, and the way you exist to create consistency with your own optimal tension.  

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