Production image by Joan Marcus
I can remember thinking how annoyed I was when people would gush over Hamilton, when it first became popular. I kept thinking, "I'm sure it's really good. But COME ON—it can't be THAT good."
Well, full disclosure, I am now one of those people. I can't stop thinking about, talking about, or listening to Hamilton...because it really is THAT good. Another reason why I enjoy this history-making historical musical is the way it steals the show from quite a few cognitive biases—that could have definitely stopped the production from becoming a reality if they had entered the scene.
So, hats off to you, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Here are a few of the biases I think you totally crushed:
1. Negativity Bias—If Lin-Manuel Miranda stopped you on the street in 2009 and told you he wanted you to come see his new historical musical about the least famous found father, would you have bought a ticket? Would you even think it was a good idea? Even if you were trying to be nice, your Negativity Bias would have kicked right in...
"Yes, but it sounds kind of boring."
"Yes, but the founding fathers will be played by Black and Hispanic actors? How does that work?"
"Yes, but it's a rap musical? What about people who don't even like rap? That won't work."
I'm sure the show encountered many "Yes, buts" throughout its development— but Mr. Miranda seems to have overcome them with a lot of "How to..." and "How might we..." thinking to create a masterpiece.
2. Status Quo Bias—When you compare Hamilton to almost any other musical you'll quickly see it's anything but the status quo. Lin-Manuel Miranda changed everything. As far as style, it's basically a rap opera, mostly sung-through with little dialogue. And it's impressive to pick out the variety of different music styles that are peppered through each number, especially as they flow together seamlessly during the show. (One of my very favorite moments is during "My Shot," when there's a dizzying mashup of songs that just builds the audience's excitement as it's happening. Did I mention I'm a fan?)
And as I mentioned earlier, the white characters are played by non-white actors. To quote Miranda, "Our cast looks like America looks now, and that's certainly intentional. It's a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door."
3. Curse of Knowledge—Speaking of having a multicultural cast, have you considered how difficult it is to take a figure whose image is as well-known as George Washington—and make the audience forget what they expect to see from a George Washington character? Christopher Jackson, who originated the role of President Washington on Broadway, immerses viewers in a very believable portrayal of our most famous founding father—as a black man.
It becomes even more note-worthy as the storyline touches on Washington’s role in perpetuating slavery. According to an interview with Jackson, “It’s something I spent a lot of time and a lot of angst trying to figure out how I reconcile being in this man’s skin. As a black man, I just couldn’t put it together.” But director Tommy Kail helped Jackson make a connection: “What if Washington’s great shame is something that he’s aware of and that’s unfinished business. He didn’t finish it. He allowed everybody to kick it down the road. It instantly felt like, for me as an actor that I was justified, I was able to draw a direct relation between Chris the actor and being George Washington.”
4. And just to turn my own cognitive biases upside-down, I have one more: I think Lin-Manuel Miranda inadvertently fed Conformity Bias. How? Because I’m sure there are plenty of people who may not love Hamilton as much as I do—but probably feel like they should because it’s the thing to do at the moment. But this Fangirl isn’t going to hold that against him.
Beth Storz is President and Innovation Process Consultant at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.
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Beth Storz is President and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go. She co-authored the book, "Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation™ Approach Drives Your Company Forward." Beth has been a guest on many innovation podcasts and her work has been featured in media outlets such as HuffPost and Fortune. Beth holds a BS in Business Management from Cornell University and a MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business, and has worked in brand management at some of the premier consumer packaged goods companies—including Unilever, Kraft and Nabisco. Since joining Ideas To Go, Beth has established herself as a leader in the Innovation landscape and designed and facilitated projects for hundreds of companies—from CPG to financial services to pharmaceuticals.