Novel & Familiar (Paradox Pair #62)

When creating something new, the best choice may be to incorporate some of the familiar to ease the cognitive burden of the novel.

Novel & Familiar (Paradox Pair #62)
Novel & Familiar, JLP

We are creatures of habit and our brains are wired to categorize things in familiar buckets. When creating something new, the best choice may be to incorporate some of the familiar to ease the cognitive burden of the novel.

The sound design field offers an excellent example of this in action. Skeuomorphic sounds, those developed to sound like real-world counterparts, are used in UX/UI to tie the trailblazing to the commonplace. We may not have thought much about it, yet there is a clever reason that emptying the trash on your computer sounds like crumpling and throwing away paper, it's a sound metaphor. It mimics the activity in the real world, and provides us a satisfying audible cue to the action.

Any innovation needed in a moment must be appropriately positioned on the innovation spectrum. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The spectrum ranges from incremental to additive to disruptive.

An incremental innovations provides small improvements to existing products, requiring little development and minimal adoption activity. Incremental innovations can be brought to market quickly and the feedback about their use is straight forward.

Additive innovations create a step-change, akin to a whole version number on a software product. Benefits conferred to users require minor changes in how the product is used, and may require moderate development practices to create them.

A disruptive innovation is a radical departure from the norm, it has the potential to change an entire industry. These innovations are bold bets on future outcomes. Product development, funding, and go to market strategies all need to be tailored to support this product introduction. Customers will need education, a higher tolerance of risk, and a vision for how this can be beneficial to them.

Failing to properly size an innovation may be worse than not innovating at all. Underdelivering will miss the market allowing an opening for competition, sending a message of stagnation to the existing customer base. Overdelivering, can be worse, turning a financial risk into a crisis. The phrase "ahead of its time" is a good indicator that the innovation was too disruptive, too complex, too novel for the market.

Through innovation we are making bets on the outcomes, positioning the innovation on the spectrum is critical, and one way to help is to bring elements of what is already known and comfortable into our design of what is groundbreaking.


The Paradox Pairs series is an exploration of the contradictory forces that surround us.  A deeper study finds that these forces often complement each other if we can learn to tap into the strength of each. See the entire series by using the Paradox Pairs Index.