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, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

A client has given me the not-so-small task of helping make his company viral. This seems like an incredible challenge and I’m not sure if it’s even possible with a company like his.

Nevertheless, I think about this assignment constantly and have slowly started building a conceptual framework for understanding “viral companies.”

I’ve always believed that economics was the study of incentives – the drivers of decisions. And to understand incentives, I needed to understand how people perceive their options. It is in the understanding of perception that economics gets a bit wobbly.

Having long been a student, I’m quick to grab a book when faced with something I don’t well understand and in this case I’ve turned to George Santayana and his book “The Sense of Beauty Being the Outline of Aesthetic Theory“. Why here?

Well, first I agree with Daniel Pink – we live in an age where commodities are many but beauty is rare. Second, I think being viral requires becoming the standard and ideal by which all other competition is judged. And, finally, I think this is a field still undeveloped despite the 1OO-year gap between the time when Santayana wrote the book and now.

Santayana wrote:

“Psychology has studied first the function of perception and the theory of knowledge, by which we seem to be informed of external things; it has in comparison neglected the exclusively subjective and human department of imagination and emotion.

We still have to recognize in practice the truth that from these despised feelings of ours the great world of perception derives all its value. Things are interesting because we care about them, and important because we need them.”

I think Beauty has been ignored for the sake of understanding how knowledge is built and leveraged but at the cost of not understanding how to best employ that knowledge. I think those things and those companies that do go viral somehow manage to combine both knowledge and beauty to, as Santayana says, furnish works of art that are so far beyond any measure of excellence that they become the standard by which critics measure inferior effects.

Plus, I like feeling smart reading 1OO-year-old philosophy texts.


This is spot on. Something that’s perfectly attuned to a user’s needs or sensibilities IS beautiful.