Derek Thompson Shares the Four-Letter Code to Selling Anything

January 03, 2020
HIGH POINT – “Successful salespeople offer consumers something surprising that is familiar, or something familiar that is surprising,” said Derek Thompson, staff writer at The Atlantic, and author of the national bestseller, “Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in the Age of Distraction.” “Raymond Loewy, the father of industrial design, called this idea MAYA – or Most Advanced Yet Acceptable, and it’s been proven over and over with hits in movies, technology and design in the last 100 years.” Thompson will share several stories of such hits during his opening keynote presentation scheduled for 8:15 a.m. on February 5, during the #ICFAEdCon2020 at the Kona Kai Resort and Spa in San Diego.
Derek Thompson

“Perhaps one of the most recognized examples of MAYA is the story behind the development of the Star Wars movie franchise,” said Thompson. “George Lucas’ first screenplay was terrible. He rewrote it based on the theory of mythologist Joseph Campbell, as described in his book “The Hero of a Thousand Faces.” The new plot focused on the journey of the archetypical hero found in world myths – a very familiar tale. As a result, Star Wars and its sequels have been among the greatest cinematic hits in the history of American film.”

Want to apply the MAYA theory to the introduction of a new outdoor dining room? Consider offering a table with an unexpected new material used in the construction. Seeking to introduce a new type of technology into an outdoor setting? Include familiar features in the design. “You’re looking for that elusive intersection between bold originality and comfortable familiarity,” said Thompson. “As a designer, it means understanding your clients’ preferences and pushing the envelope so they evolve their tastes, but not so much that clients feel discomfort.”

Even if they are offering the “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” products, salespeople must be flexible and able to shade their personality to match those they are hoping to influence. “A great salesperson is open to the serendipity of the sales experience. While a sales “formula” based on the engrained principles and habits of their job may be useful in eluding errors, they have to be able to read the moment and go off-book to be responsive to the consumer,” said Thompson.

Millennial and Gen Z consumers put a premium on the concept of authenticity, with its antonym being obvious salesmanship. “Younger people are skeptical of advertising and often, even the inference of capitalism. They don’t want to be sold to. If something costs more than they can afford, they want salespeople to be ‘radically transparent.’ Tell them if it’s more expensive than they can afford from the start and explain what the added value means for them. They don’t want to be tricked or deviously handled,” said Thompson.

“The best salespeople don’t come off as salespeople – they play three distinct roles. As an economist, they understand the consumer’s budget limits. As a therapist, they help them stretch a little and become a bit different, but don’t attempt to totally recreate their personality. And as a friend, they listen, and see them for who they are, understanding what makes them comfortable and where they have the potential for growth.“ These are just a few examples of the “lessons to remember and implement the second you get back to work,” that will be shared by Thompson during the keynote presentation.

Sponsors of #ICFAEdCon2020 include: theMART, Glen Raven/Sunbrella, International Market Centers, Ratana, Lloyd Flanders, O.W. Lee, Treasure Garden, Brown Jordan, Castelle Furniture, Dallas Market Center, Outdoor by Ashley, Outdura, Poly-Wood, Sunbelievable, Sunset West, Tropitone, Winston Furniture, Wright Global Graphics, Bella Dura Home, Gensun, Jensen Leisure Furniture, Kannoa, Klaussner Outdoor, Summer Classics, Telescope Casual Furniture, Trivantage, TUUCI, Merchant Lynx, Para Tempotest USA and Elaine Smith.

For more information or to register for the #ICFAEdCon2020 visit or contact ICFA Director of Operations Michele Morris at