"Transitive Novelty"

Woke up today thinking about novelty.  I had just been dreaming about some novelty store and it got me thinking…

Why is it that people care about news from some organizations and not from others? One reason, I’d suggest, relates to an idea I’ll call “transitive novelty.”  The idea is pretty simple. I have some innovation that helps you be (or at least look)  innovative. This can be an important technological breakthrough that makes my customers able to extend that innovation in novel ways. It might also be a trivial trinket that somehow makes my customers stand out as a trend setter among their friends.  It’s something novel that I give to you so that you can be novel. Transitive novelty.

In my work at Groundwire, we use Salesforce to implement Customer Relationship Management (CRM) databases for groups working to build a sustainable world. Salesforce is an excellent example of a company that embraces the notion of transitive novelty – as do many of the best technology firms. Every few months Salesforce rolls out an upgrade of their service and it almost always has interesting new functionality that helps us be more innovative in our work. In our case, we’re even able to pass that novelty on a third time – to environmental organizations, helping them to innovate in the way they engage their constituents. You could even imagine this innovation extending further, with the constituents of these organizations rolling out all kinds of innovation in their communities as a result of their work with these organizations. Look back up the chain though, and there’s Salesforce creating widespread waves of change fanning out in all directions.

So when Salesforce sends us news about their latest new features, I tune in. I do so because I know that their edge can become our edge. My hope is that when Groundwire in turn sends out ideas to our clients, they tune in as well because they understand that our edge can become theirs.

The notion of transitive novelty is highly dependent upon the behavior of early adopters. Early adopters are the people who thrive on having that edge. They’re not afraid to absorb a little risk, to step a bit out there into the unknown because they know that’s where the rewards lie as well. This is as true for technology dissemination as it is fashion. A good designer knows that part of what they’re giving their early adopters is the thrill of being first.

There’s big cache in knowing about these innovations early in the game. That helps explain why tech publications and fashion publications occupy so much of the rack space at the newsstand – particularly airport newsstands where you tend to find more people who make their living by being on this edge.

News is the way transitive novelty spreads. If people aren’t reading your news, you might want to look deeper at how much transitive novelty you’re actually providing as part of that news. It may not be the only way you provide value, but it’s a pretty darn good one.