Friday, July 15, 2011

Two Sides of Cool (or a Lesson from Miles Davis)


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'What's the ROI on Cool?' is the question Joe Rinaldi (from Happy Cog) asked recently. He questions the desire of creative agencies and their clients to output work that wins awards and has a high 'cool factor' at the cost of usability and business effectiveness.

For the most part, I agree. Making something just to be flashy, hip, and trendy but that negates basic usability—and ultimately doesn't solve the users problem—is not what building great products is all about.

But there is a flip side to this coin of cool.

For those who tout usability over all else there is a slippery slope waiting dump them into the pit of bland. Doing things the same way they've always been done just because they work does not delight anyone (see yesterday's post for more on the importance of delighting your customers).

Delight is essential to good business. If your customers find your product or site accessible and easy to use to solve the problem you want to help them with—that's wonderful! You've got a good product.

But its not a cool product just because it works. A cool product is one that delights. It has to resonate with the user and hopefully causes them to fall in love with all that you do.

So how do you get to cool?

Let's take a lesson from the father of cool: Miles Davis. Why do we think Miles is cool? Because he forged his own trail; he innovated at the cost of popularity.

Miles was at the forefront of jazz, in the thick of the Bebop movement of the 40's. Bebop was new and hip. It was trendy. And it was certainly all about flash—fast, up-tempo and all about how well you could out-solo your contemporaries.

Miles quit all of that (which is part of what made him cool). He (with piano man, Bill Evans) took jazz in a completely different direction into what they called modal jazz. They slowed it down, got emotional, and made it sensual, all while placing a high importance on improvisation. They completely bucked the trends of the time in the jazz scene. And it struck a chord with many. He is by far most known for his modal jazz sound.

However Miles would do this again and again in his career, creating new genres of music, with little regard for how the mass public—or even how his jazz contemporaries—would respond.

The Miles Davis Cool is an attitude. It's a way of life. It's not caring what the crowd of sheep is doing and forging your own trail.

For your product to be cool, the essence of your brand, the core of your company has to have this attitude: willing to put it all on the line in order to do things infinitely better and infinitely more delightful. Push boundaries; question everything; poke this; pull that; surprise and delight.

If you just want to make money, quit the talk about being cool. But if you want to rock the world, create culture, make people fall in love with you, change people's lives: forge your own trail.

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