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Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die


Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

I would like to draw your attention to the book “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” which is receiving a lot of attention on the web. It seems that this book will be invaluable to anyone responsible for communicating ideas.

The book is written by brothers Chip and Dan Heath who say that they: “wrote this book to help you make your ideas stick.

By “stick,” we mean that your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact — they change your audience’s opinions or behavior.

At this point, it’s worth asking why you’d need to make your ideas stick. After all, the vast majority of our daily communication doesn’t require stickiness. “Pass the gravy” doesn’t have to be memorable.”

After reading ‘The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference‘ by Malcolm Gladwell two brothers Chip Heath (a Stanford Business school professor) and Dan Heath (a corporate education consultant at Duke) were inspired by Gladwell’s top selling book.

After extensive research they found that the ideas that ’stick’ all share the following six principles (with a chapter dedicated to each principle):

PRINCIPLE 1: SIMPLICITY – How do we find the essential core of our ideas?

– Find the core of your idea. This isn’t done by ‘dumbing it down’; this is done by finding what is essential to your message. Strip your idea down to the bare essential. A successful defense lawyer says,

“If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room they won’t remember any.” To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize.

It’s hard to make ideas stick in a noisy, unpredictable, chaotic environment. If we’re to succeed, the first step is this: Be simple. Not simple in terms of ‘dumbing down’ or ’sound bites.’ What we mean by ’simple’ is finding the core of the idea. ‘Finding the core’ means stripping an idea down to its most critical essence.” (pgs. 27, 28)

PRINCIPLE 2: UNEXPECTEDNESS – How do we get our audience to pay attention to our ideas, and how do we maintain their interest when we need time to get the ideas across?

– Get peoples attention. Attract it. Hold it. How? Through surprise. Break people’s ‘guessing machine’ and then repair it. How do we get our audience to pay attention to our ideas, and how do we maintain their interest when we need time to get the ideas across?

We need to violate people’s expectations. We need to be counterintuitive. A bag of popcorn is as unhealthy as a whole day’s worth of fatty foods!

We can use surprise — an emotion whose function is to increase alertness and cause focus — to grab people’s attention. But surprise doesn’t last. For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity.

The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern. Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns. Figure out what is counterintuitive about the message-i.e., What are the unexpected implications of your core message? Communicate your message in a way that breaks your audiences’ guessing machines.” (pgs. 64, 72)

PRINCIPLE 3: CONCRETENESS – How do we make our ideas clear?

– Concrete is memorable. Abstract is not. Make your idea like Velcro. Hook them through concreteness.

We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. This is where so much business communication goes awry. Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions — they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless.

Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images — ice-filled bathtubs, apples with razors — because our brains are wired to remember concrete data. In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language:

“A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience.

Abstraction makes it harder to understand an idea and to remember it. It also makes it harder to coordinate our activities with others, who may interpret the abstraction in very different ways. Concreteness helps us avoid these problems.” (pg. 100)

PRINCIPLE 4: CREDIBILITY – How do we make people believe our ideas?

– Help people believe. Honesty and trustworthiness should be glorified. Use authorities and anti-authorities. Vivid details boost credibility. If possible, use statistics that generate a human context.

How do we get people to believe our ideas? We’ve got to find a source of credibility to draw on. A person’s knowledge of details is often a good proxy for her expertise. Think of how a history buff can quickly establish her credibility by telling an interesting Civil War anecdote. But concrete details don’t just lend credibility to the authorities who provide them; they lend credibility to the idea itself.” (pgs. 138, 163)

PRINCIPLE 5: EMOTIONS – How do we get people to care about our ideas?

– We make them feel something. Make people care. Associate ideas with emotions that already exist in others.

Bridge the emotional gap between your idea (that they don’t care about – yet) with something they already are emotional or care about.

Place emphasis on benefits! Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region.

We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions. Sometimes the hard part is finding the right emotion to harness. For instance, it’s difficult to get teenagers to quit smoking by instilling in them a fear of the consequences, but it’s easier to get them to quit by tapping into their resentment of the duplicity of Big Tobacco.

How can we make people care about our ideas? We get them to take off their Analytical Hats. We create empathy for specific individuals. We show how our ideas are associated with things that people already care about. We appeal to their self-interest, but we also appeal to their identities-not only to the people they are right now but also to the people they would like to be.” (pg. 203)

PRINCIPLE 6: STORIES – How do we get people to act on our ideas?

– We tell stories. Firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire, and by doing so they multiply their experience; after years of hearing stories, they have a richer, more complete mental catalog of critical situations they might confront during a fire and the appropriate responses to those situations.

Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.

Get people to act. Use stories as stimulation (tell people how to act). Use stories as inspiration (give people energy to act).

A story is powerful because it provides the context missing from abstract prose. This is the role that stories play-putting knowledge into a framework that is more lifelike, more true to our day-to-day existence. Stories are almost always CONCRETE. Most of them have EMOTIONAL and UNEXPECTED elements. The hardest part of using stories effectively is make sure they’re SIMPLE-that they reflect your core message. It’s not enough to tell a great story; the story has to reflect your agenda.” (pgs. 214, 237)


The authors have started a blog to continue the discussion of the ideas from the book.

Getting ideas to stick is a key leadership practice and this book promises to provide a great addition to a leaders “toolbox”. The book reminds me of the book “The Leader’s Voice: How Communication Can Inspire Action and Get Results!” written by Boyd Clarke and Ron Crossland, which I reviewed here. This is definately a book that I will have on order to be read next month.


Technorati Tags: Leadership, Management, Business, Communication, Book,Strategy

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Tagged as: Book Reviews, Communication

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