California Rolls And The Power Of “Familiar But Different”

Nir Eyal says, “People don’t want something truly new, they want the familiar done differently.” When we’re explaining our products and services to others, this is one of the simplest and most important insights to remember. 
Whenever someone isn’t “getting it,” we should troubleshoot what we’re doing to determine if our message isn’t different enough from something they already know/use, or if we’re being too different and therefore too foreign/complicated/etc. The path from “get it?” to “got it!” is only a baby step long when designed correctly. 
Eyal uses the example of the California Roll. In the 1970s, Americans didn’t eat sushi. Raw fish was “weird” and “gross.” Then, in a flash of brilliance, someone (it’s a more hotly contested story than you’d think) came up with the idea of an inside-out roll combining rice, avocado, cucumber, sesame seeds, crab meat, and a barely visible seaweed wrapper. It was Americanized sushi, perfectly named and perfectly made to be just familiar enough to get a non-sushi eater to say, “I’ll try that.” 
In time, the California Roll became America’s gateway into the rest of Japanese cuisine. Sushi is a multi-billion dollar industry in America today. We can get sushi at grocery stores, gas stations, High-end restaurants, and everything in between. That certainly wasn’t the case in the pre-California Roll era. This is the power of familiar done differently. 
When we’re introducing our own products and services, we should look for our own California Roll-style steps. There are two key types we should be aware of: the socially familiar and the personally familiar. 
Socially familiar steps are like computers using file folders, note pads, and trash cans. They take advantage of social and environmental conventions as metaphors to make adoption easier. 
Personally familiar steps are how we understand an individual’s preferences and frames of reference. Engineers tend to do better with technical details, while artists tend to do better with broader concepts. These utilize a person’s natural thinking process to make what we’re doing fit into their world. 
Once we know how our individual clients (or target client demographics) see and interact with their world, we can apply the California Roll concept. We can look for the social conventions we want to be related to, and consider the individual preferences or frames of reference that will make our story resonant. 
Getting “familiar but different” right is how we can do work that matters. All it takes are baby steps. Simple, small, and explained in a way that they are absolutely worth taking. 

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