HeaMade 07-06-56

Made to Stick:

Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die


Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Random House, 2007, 291 pp., ISBN 978-1-4000-6428-1



Why do some ideas hang in your memory like burrs stick to your clothes while others are immediately forgotten?  And how can we improve the chances of our ideas catching on?  Brothers Chip and Dan provide fascinating success stories that illustrate practical ways to make memorable ideas.  Chip is a professor of organizational behavior and Dan is a consultant and founder of Thinkwell, an innovative new-media textbook company.  This is a complementary book to The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.



Some false stories circulate forever.  Are they naturally more interesting?  Or is it possible to make true and worthwhile ideas spread like these false ones?  (5) 


Research showed that a regular size bag of movie popcorn had 37 grams of saturated fat.  So who cares?  But Art Silverman came up with an advertisement showing a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings.  Then the announcement followed.  One bag or movie popcorn had more saturated fat than all of that!  The shock made an impact.  (6-7)


The point of this book is to help you to communicate your ideas so that they are "understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact--they change your audience's opinions or behavior." (8)  These ideas may be the next strategic direction for your corporation or persuading donors and volunteers to participate in your non-profit cause. (9)


The oldest class of naturally sticky ideas is the proverb, an enduring nugget of wisdom. (12) 


Six Principles for stickiness:

1. Simplicity.  "To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion.  We must relentlessly prioritize.  Saying something short is not the mission--sound bites are not the ideal.  Proverbs are the ideal.  We must create ideas that are both simple and profound." (16)


2.  Unexpectedness.  "We need to violate people's expectations.  We need to be counterintuitive."  "We can use surprise--an emotion whose function is to increase alertness and cause focus--to grab people's attention."  "For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity." (116)


3.  Concreteness.  "We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information."  "In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language: 'A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.'" (17)


4.  Credibility.  "Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials.  We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves…."  Ronald Reagan asked, "Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago." (17)


5.  Emotions.  "How do we get people to care about our ideas?  We make them feel something."  "We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.  Sometimes the hard part is finding the right emotion to harness."  (17-18)


6.  Stories.  "How do we get people to act on our ideas?  We tell stories."  "Hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively." (18)


The Curse of Knowledge.  Once we know something it is difficult to communicate that something clearly, simply, and powerfully to someone who doesn't know it because we can't re-create our listeners' state of mind.  We tend to be abstract and abstract doesn't inspire.  (20)


Talking about shareholder value communicates to company leaders but perhaps not to the employees.  On the other hand, John Kennedy's call to 'put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade' was a powerful idea that inspired a whole nation to a new level of scientific achievement. (21)


Chapter 1.  Simple

"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." (27)  " 'Finding the core' means stripping an idea down to its most critical essence." (28)


Two steps:

1.  Find the core

2.  Communicate the core using the checklist in this book. (28)


At Southwest Airlines the core is "THE low-fare airline." (30)


"'Burying the lead' occurs when the journalist lets the most important element of the story slip too far down in the story structure.  The process of writing a lead--and avoiding the temptation to bury it--is a helpful metaphor for the process of find the core." (32)


The lead of Clinton's campaign was "It's the economy, stupid." (34)


"Simple = Core + Compact" (45)


"Proverbs are simple yet profound."  A proverb is a short sentence drawn from long experience.  "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."  "The proverb is short and simple, yet it packs a big nugget of wisdom that is useful in many situations." (47)


"Great simple ideas have an elegance and a utility that make them function a lot like proverbs." (48) 


"People are tempted to tell you everything, with perfect accuracy, right up front, when they should be giving you just enough info to be useful, then a little more, then a little more." (57)


Avoid the Curse of Knowledge by using analogies.  "Skin damage is like aging." (57)  "Substitute something easy to think about for something difficult." (61)


Chapter 2. Unexpected: How to get people's attention and how to keep it.

The first problem of communication is getting people's attention." "The most basic way to get someone's attention is this: Break a pattern." (64)  "Our brain is designed to be keenly aware of changes." (65)


"Surprise gets our attention."  "Interest keeps our attention." (65)


A television commercial for a new Enclave minivan describes the van's features as the children look out the window.  Suddenly, Wham! the van is clobbered by another vehicle.  The commercial is really designed to get you to "buckle up." 


"Surprise makes us pay attention and think.  That extra attention and thinking sears unexpected events into our memories." (68)


Gimmicks don't suffice.  "To be satisfying, surprise must be 'post-predictable.'  The twist makes sense after you think about it, but it's not something you would have seen coming." (71)


"Common sense is the enemy of sticky messages." (72) 


Keep people's attention with a mystery story.  Readers are drawn in as participants in solving the mystery.  (80)  "Mysteries exist wherever there are questions without obvious answers."  (82) 


"'Curiosity is the intellectual need to answer questions and close open patterns.  Story plays to this universal desire by doing the opposite, posing questions and opening situations.'" (83, According to Robert McKee, a screen writing guru)


Curiosity happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge, like an itch.  (84)  First open knowledge gaps, then close them.  Highlight a specific piece of knowledge they are missing, something someone else knows that they don't.  (85)  "A little bit of mystery goes a long way." (87)


"The way to get people to care is to provide context.  Roone Arledge, founder of ABC's Wide World of Sports, began giving background information about the city, the stadium, and the players, to generate interest in games outside the viewer's locale.  (92) 


"The idea is that to engage students in a new topic you should start by highlighting some things they already know."  "'Here's what you know.  Now here's what you're missing.'" (92-3) 


In 1953, Masaru Ibuka, lead technologist for Sony was unable to convince his company to invest in building a transistor radio that would be the most technologically advanced radio in the world until he sold them on the idea of a "pocketable radio" - a preposterous and surprising but "sticky" idea. (94) 


In May, 1961, the U.S. was clearly lagging being the Soviet Union in space.  That's when John F. Kennedy proposed his audacious idea: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth…."  "…it will not be one man going to the moon, it will be an entire nation.  For all of us must work to put him there." (96) 


Radios were big pieces of furniture, not items to put in your pocket.  The moon was something to wish upon, not walk upon.  These were audacious and provocative ideas.  (96) 


Chapter 3: Concrete

The fox who couldn't reach the grapes concluded they were probably sour.  "The concrete images evoked by the fable--the grapes, the fox, the dismissive comment about sour grapes--allowed its message to persist." (99)


"Language is often abstract, but life is not abstract." (99) "Abstraction makes it harder to understand an idea and remember it." (100)


The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has helped protect the environment by persuading individuals to buy a piece of land.  It produced results "you could walk around on." (100)  Conserving land is an abstraction, but the message of buying a particular piece of land is concrete. (104) 


"If you can examine something with your senses, it's concrete.  A V8 engine is concrete.  'Highway performance' is abstract.  Most of the time, concreteness boils down to specific people doing specific things."  "Concrete language helps people, especially novices, understand new concepts." (104)  "Naturally sticky ideas are stuffed full of concrete words and images…." (106)

"Memory…is not like a single filing cabinet.  It is more like Velcro."  "Your brain hosts a truly staggering number of loops.  The more hooks an idea has, the better it will cling to memory."  "Great teachers have a knack for multiplying the hooks in a particular idea." (110-11)


"It can feel unnatural to speak concretely about subject matter we've known intimately for years."  "But…our audience will understand what we're saying and remember it." (115) 


A universal language that everyone understands is concrete. (115)  "Concreteness creates a shared 'turf' on which people can collaborate." (122)


It isn't difficult to be concrete.  We simply forget we are being abstract and that others don't know what we know. (128)


Chapter 4. Credible

"If we're trying to persuade a skeptical audience to believe a new message, the reality is that we're fighting an uphill battle against a lifetime of personal learning and social relationships." (133)


We often impute credibility to authorities: experts and, strangely enough, celebrities.  "We trust the recommendations of people whom we want to be like."  (134) 


Telling stories using real people is the most compelling way to get people to believe something. (135)


You trust your friend more than you trust an actor on a commercial.  "The takeaway is that it can be the honesty and trustworthiness of our sources, not their status, that allows them to act as authorities." (137)


Messages must also have "internal credibility."  Concrete details often lend credibility to an idea.  "By making a claim tangible and concrete, details make it seem more real, more believable." (138)


"Statistics tend to be eye-glazing."  "Statistics are rarely meaningful in and of themselves.  Statistics will, and should, almost always be used to illustrate a relationship.  It's more important for people to remember the relationship than the number." (141,143)

Best Illustration:

"Stephen Covey, in his book The 8th Habit, describes a poll of 23,000 employees drawn from a number of companies and industries.  He reports the poll's findings:

- Only 37 percent said they have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why.

- Only one in five was enthusiastic about their team's and their organization's goals.

- Only one in five said they had a clear 'line of sight' between their tasks and their team's and organization's goals.

- Only 15 percent felt that their organization fully enables them to execute key goals.

- Only 20 percent fully trusted the organization they work for.  (144)


"Pretty sobering stuff.  It's also pretty abstract…..  Then Covey superimposes a very human metaphor over the statistics.  He says, 'If, say, a soccer team had these same scores, only 4 of the 11 players on the field would know which goal is theirs.  Only 2 of the 11 would care.  Only 2 of the 11 would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do.  And all but 2 players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponent." (145)


"The soccer analogy generates a human context for the statistics.  It creates a sense of drama and a sense of movement.  We can't help but imagine the actions of the two players trying to score a goal, being opposed at every stage by the rest of their team."  "It's more vivid to think of a lack of cooperation on a soccer team--where teamwork is paramount--than in a corporation."  (145)



Chapter 5. Emotional

Seeing the masses paralyzes, but one face moves you.  (165)  People may feel paralyzed by the overwhelming scale of need.  Analytical thinking paralyzes.  But people are moved by the emotional appeal of one person's plight. (167) 


"For people to take action, they have to care."  "Donors' respond better to individuals than to abstract causes.  You don't give to 'African poverty,' you sponsor a specific child." (168)  "No one wants to donate to the General Administrative Fund of a charity."  "…it's hard to generate a lot of passion for office supplies." (168)


"The goal of making messages 'emotional' is to make people care.  Feelings inspire people to act." (169)


"The most basic way to make people care is to form an association between something they don't yet care about and something they do care about." (173)  "We make people care by appealing to the things that matter to them." (177)  This includes self interest or the benefit to them, (178-180) or their desire to accomplish something significant (186-188), or to their ideal identity, what appeals to "people like us" (190-199)


Chapter 6. Stories

"…stories are told and retold because they contain wisdom.  Stories are effective teaching tools."  "…the right stories make people act." (205-6)


Stories are like flight simulators for the brain."  "…the right kind of story is, effectively, a simulation."  "Mental simulation is not as good as actually doing something, but it's the next best thing."  (213)  "The more that training simulates the actions we must take in the world, the more effective it will be.  A story is powerful because it provides the context missing from abstract prose."  Stories put "knowledge into a framework that is more lifelike, more true to our day-to-day existence." (214)


Stories are also inspiring.  "Inspiration drives action, as does simulation."  The best Subway commercial was about Jared who actually lost 250 pounds on a Subway diet.  It was a great story: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and a story!  (222) 


We don't always have to create the sticky ideas.  They are all around us.  We have to train ourselves to spot them.  It isn't hard, but it isn't natural.  The Chicken Soup books are all about inspirational stories.  The authors spotted and collected them.  (114-25) 



Epilogue: What Sticks

People remember stories but immediately forget statistics.  (243)


"For an idea to stick, for it to be useful and lasting, it's got to make the audience:

1.  Pay attention.

2.  Understand and remember it

3.  Agree/Believe

4.  Care

5.  Be able to act on it


These translate into

1.  Unexpected

2.  Concrete

3.  Credible

4.  Emotional

5.  Story (246-47)


Easy Reference Guide.  p. 253 ff.




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