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New Ideas vs. Old Ones. Does Novelty Matter?

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer writer Mark Twain once said that there’s no such thing as a new idea. Anything ‘new’ is simply a bunch of older ideas that we’ve put through a “sort of mental kaleidoscope”. Today, with a media industry that’s obsessed with sequels, remakes, and remasters, Twain’s observation might seem all the more prescient – but is such a pessimistic viewpoint relevant to modern business?


It’s a fair point that many ideas tend to be fresh versions of an existing product. The best example is, of course, mobile phones, where novelty died right around the launch of the first iPhone in 2007. Gaming too has a fixation with similar themes, although, in many cases, this might be viewed as a necessary thing. The old casino game roulette doesn’t give its designers much material to work with, after all.

Does Novelty Matter
Photo by Ivan Babydov from Pexels

Having said that, roulette designers continue to find new avenues for the pastime to evolve along. The page at lists game variants like European, French, and penny roulette, in addition to ultra-modern roulette wheels such as Roulette First Person and ‘live’ roulette, which features a human presenter on webcam. The focus here is on increasing immersion, rather than making something altogether brand new.
For businesspeople just starting out, it’s worth wondering if novelty is something that customers want or need. The term can come with some negative connotations, especially when people’s money is concerned. For example, a bank that breaks with sacred financial traditions may seem anathema to the entire concept of a bank, while a movie that suddenly switches genres is likely to lose all its fans overnight.

Incremental Upgrades

The reality is that evolution always comes with an element of risk, which is why wholesale shifts like the previous are rare. Of course, incremental changes aren’t exactly popular either, as they tend to come at the cost of a frequent financial outlay for consumers. The website notes that even smoke alarms are now following the example set by the iPhone, appearing with new features at $100 intervals.

Does Novelty Matter
Photo by Essow K from Pexels

Still, not everybody is going to fall into the routine of re-buying products each year to take advantage of an extra sensor, which means that incremental upgrades have a way of appealing to just about every customer personality out there. People who don’t want it now can just wait for the next cycle, whereas others can have it at their fingertips whenever their bank account is willing.
Ultimately, a product should provide value to its users above all else. An original idea can help elevate a customer’s appraisal of something but the novelty is going to wear off. Just look at augmented reality, which went from a smash-hit success in 2016 directly into an “awkward phase”, to quote the article at For just a few months, AR was the most proven technology on earth. Now look at it.
So, does novelty matter? Yes and no. It’ll get people talking but no product gets by on just bells and whistles.

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