“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things.
Where is beauty to be found?
In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”
“The human soul can always use a new tradition.
Sometimes we require them.”
I just had a discussion with a smart friend about … uhm … the crap you see sold in those obnoxious “call now” tv commercials.
And it reminded me of the importance of rituals when thinking about innovations, new products and positioning your business or communicating to someone something you want them to purchase.
Having worked with a couple of the best new product/idea innovation groups in the world I have seen stage gate development, innovation funnels and a variety of modeling systems which are an attempt to develop innovations which have a likelihood to succeed <i.e., people want them>. I even think I have a white paper on innovation available on my site.
Anytime I discuss innovations and rituals I bring up Snuggies. Yeah. Snuggies. Stupid name. cheaply made product. But talk about maximizing a ritual <”curling up on the couch and ….”> this may be the new product development idea of the century.
Why do so many new products die?
Shit. A variety of reasons but many die because they attempt to fuck with someone’s ritual.
Some of the blandest new product innovations one can think of <and I have worked on> have been successful because they have enhanced a ritual and not detracted from one … think of thicker softer bathroom tissue, bathroom scents and water proof radios for the shower.
For marketing people I would also suggest that finding a consumer insight which is within an existing ritual can be one of the most powerful insights you can discover.
Let me take a minute and talk about the role of rituals in our personal Life.
“Having my coffee in the morning” is maybe the most famous … but think about how you take your shower and the order you do things … brush your teeth … what you do as soon as you get in your car in the morning … heck … even your “morning constitutional.”
Many of these very personal rituals manage transition moments in our daily lives. In other words … they are not simply ‘task routines’ <even though they may simply look like necessary evil type tasks> but rather ‘prep’ moments for managing our Life and days.
Rituals play an incredibly important role in terms of successfully navigating our Life.
In a world in which far too many people stress out over too many things to do and not enough time and distractions and technology and … well … just lots & lots of stuff trying to cram its way into someone’s Life … we maintain rituals as either as momentary barriers to the barrage of stuff or they are also quite possibly the epitome of a ‘slow down to speed up’ tactic in our Life.
“Slow down/speed up’? The rituals are the moments in which we seem to calibrate ourselves.
I could argue that personal rituals may be the most important thing in grounding someone’s Life.
Let me be clear on the rituals which I believe are important and, to marketing business folk, the ones that matter.
I am talking about the unplanned rituals, non-contrived behavioral aspects of our Life, and not any of the numerous “6, 8, 12 rituals to improve the quality of your Life” type crap.
I am speaking of the rituals that are so common in our lives we tend to overlook them. But we absolutely love them.
They anchor us. They provide some reliability and security and … well … a safe haven from change.
Rituals actually play an even more important role. In their inherent ‘slowing down within Life” these rituals remind us of what is important and provide a sense of stability and continuity in our lives. In our minds these rituals, subconsciously, help us to work more effectively and stay focused on desired goals.
And while there are gobs of articles about how to build rituals into your Life to improve your life <and I assume create some happiness … which ‘creating happiness’ continues to sound absurd to me> I will suggest the most natural rituals are the most powerful ones.
And the ones we naturally build into our lives tend to fulfill four requirements <I lost the source for this>:
- It must be intellectually satisfying.
- It must be emotionally satisfying.
- It must have a strong beginning.
- It must have a strong ending.
You may haggle over the words but this simplistic formula makes sense. It balances satisfaction and relevance and meaning <practical output> as well as fulfills a self-interest aspect <which feeds into a belief it should be maintained>.
And the clarity of a beginning and the end creates some relationship with significance … or not wasting time & energy. That significance is fulfilling as well as enabling.
If you doubt this formula … well … go back to Snuggies.
Intellectually I have smartly <good investment> made the ritual easier to enjoy. Emotionally I feel even more in balance with the potential of the ritual. The beginning, putting on the Snuggie, clearly establishes the entry moment to my ritual. Taking off my Snuggie establishes a well defined ‘ending’ to my ritual <… in your head … ”okay … that was great but Life demands me to start something else … sigh.”>
In the end … something like a Snuggie, or something that enhances a ritual … does something John Green suggested … some infinities are bigger than others.
But let me go back to the happiness point.
I think part of the reason we try and actually consciously try and build rituals into our lives is because … well … some ritual activity is actually necessary to achieve happiness.
But, once again, I would argue that real happiness is created, and maximized, because of the natural aspect of the personal ritual … not through any contrived ritual.
It is the subconscious ritual which builds some structure & consistency into our lives.
Therefore when we consciously attempt replicate, or create, the subconscious ritual benefit … we are … well … kind of missing the whole point of the subconscious ritual.
The most effective ritual is one which you don’t try … it just happens.
They provide a form of structure that makes life flow more easily. They are the ultimate in “life lubricants.”
You do them without thinking which kind of means your mind rests and therefore your body kind of rests.
And within this kind of structure you calibrate and orient yourself for what comes next.
Marketers who attempt to affect people’s behavior need to remind themselves of the importance of rituals … and how they should not attempt to fuck with them <because it is fraught with peril>. Without rituals, or changing a ritual, people lose some basic structure. And important structure … the things we like and calm us. The things that sometimes make us quietly happy in their consistency which, inherently, help to construct a new day with aspects of predictability and certainty <which makes us happy … just as increased unpredictability & uncertainty tends to make us unhappy>.
Businesses seeking to tap into consumer’s attitudes & behaviors and develop new products completely fuck up rituals in a variety of ways.
Mostly they either try and force new behavior <which never is received well> or use gimmicks to try and show people it could be easier, more fun or ‘smarter’ to use the new product. They screw things up mostly because there is massive pressure to differentiate and be unique which inevitably steers someone the wrong way.
When dealing with rituals you are more likely to be successful if you can almost seamlessly slide into the ritual and enhance it from the inside out rather than attempt to get someone to ‘rethink their ritual.’
I could be completely nuts on this but in reviewing some of the best new product innovations I have ever worked on … if I strip away all the business hyperbole <which almost seems like a mandatory these days to convince people you have a great idea> I see that the best ideas weren’t viewed by a consumer as a ‘completely new way of doing something’ but rather ‘slipped seamlessly into my daily rituals and made that ritual even better.’
But maybe that is just a reflection of what I have worked on and not real truth. But it sure does sound like it makes sense.