An iconoclast is someone who destroys religious symbols. The classical example of iconoclasm is a guy named Konon, who you may or may not know as Leo III the Isaurian - further proof that names were more interesting 1200 years ago.
Today we use the term a little more loosely. It’s common to associate the term with business figures who up-end markets; Steve Jobs comes to mind. (Steve I the Appleonian?)
To Gregory Berns, Distinguished Chair of Neuroeconomics at Emory University (a fine institution that made the mistake of granting me a wholly undeserved degree) and author of Iconoclast: a Neuroscientist Reveals how to Think Differently, an iconoclast is “a person who does something that others say can’t be done.”
Setting aside the needless redefinition of the word iconoclast (what’s wrong with innovator?), Berns’ book provides excellent, and well-researched, information on how, and why, people generate iconoclastic (innovative!) ideas.
In the process, the book also provides some insight, from the perspective of neuroscience, on how to market those ideas.
Summarizing the results of several research studies, Berns shows that dopamine – sometimes thought of as the ‘pleasure chemical’ of the brain – is highly associated with the desire to seek out new experiences. Individuals with highly active dopamine systems are more likely pursue novel experiences and – here’s the kicker – young people have more active dopamine systems. The bottom line: market new ideas to the under-thirty crowd, they’re more receptive.
But what does this mean if you have to market to people who, like me, wouldn’t survive very long in the world of Logan’s Run? (This is tech blog, if you don’t get that reference you’re in the wrong place. Turn off your com-put-er, call a friend and start making fun of geeks).
Still with us? Good.
If you’re target demographic are grey-hairs, Berns points out that wrapping new ideas in the ‘cloak of familiarity’ can drive a “new idea to be adopted by a large percentage of an older population.” In other words, don’t position a new idea as ‘revolutionary’ to a 50-year old C-suite executive; demonstrate how it fits neatly into the world he or she already understand.
There’s much more to the book and, despite the misuse of the word iconoclast, it’s worth reading. There’s also a fabulous section that details which illegal narcotics to take in order to stimulate iconoclastic thinking. Buy the book for neuroscience, read it for the psychotropics.
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Behind The Scenes: Ogilvy PR, Washington, D.C.