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Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die Hardcover – January 2, 2007
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Starred Review. Unabashedly inspired by Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling The Tipping Point, the brothers Heath-Chip a professor at Stanford's business school, Dan a teacher and textbook publisher-offer an entertaining, practical guide to effective communication. Drawing extensively on psychosocial studies on memory, emotion and motivation, their study is couched in terms of "stickiness"-that is, the art of making ideas unforgettable. They start by relating the gruesome urban legend about a man who succumbs to a barroom flirtation only to wake up in a tub of ice, victim of an organ-harvesting ring. What makes such stories memorable and ensures their spread around the globe? The authors credit six key principles: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories. (The initial letters spell out "success"-well, almost.) They illustrate these principles with a host of stories, some familiar (Kennedy's stirring call to "land a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth" within a decade) and others very funny (Nora Ephron's anecdote of how her high school journalism teacher used a simple, embarrassing trick to teach her how not to "bury the lead"). Throughout the book, sidebars show how bland messages can be made intriguing. Fun to read and solidly researched, this book deserves a wide readership. (Jan. 16)
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“Sticky” ideas are understandable, memorable, and effective in changing thought or behavior. The six underlying SUCCESs principles for making things “stick” are:
• Simplicity – Simple=core+compact. Find and share your core idea; make it simple and profound. “It’s the economy, stupid” (Clinton campaign, 1992) is a great example. The inverted pyramid approach which is used in journalism is a good tool to get your headline.
• Unexpectedness - We need to violate people’s expectations to get them to pay attention. Break existing patterns to get people’s attention. Southwest flight attendants use humor (there are two doors on either side if you need to jump!) to hold attention when giving the pre-flight safety announcement. Humans adapt incredibly quickly to patterns. Consistent sensory stimulation makes us tune out.
• Concreteness – You must help people understand and remember. Don’t use abstractions. Make your core idea concrete. Use common knowledge to make your idea stick. Our greatest villain is the Curse of Knowledge or when we assume everyone knows what we know or shares our unique perspective. We have to see it from the “others” point of view. We forget what other people do not know and slip into “abstractspeak.” Boeing’s criteria for a new plane was not “the best passenger plane in the world” but one that can seat 131 passengers and land on Runway 2-22 at LaGuardia. No ambiguity here.
• Credibility – Help people believe by making sure your idea carries its own credentials. Pass the “Sinatra Test.” Examples offered include “Where’s the Beef?” and Reagan’s “Are you better off today?” Both were credible and resonated as they were based on common shared knowledge.
• Emotional– Make people care by using the power of association, appealing to self-interest, or identity. “People donate to Rokia more than a wide swath of Africa”; “Honoring the Game” versus the use of the word ‘sportsmanship’; “I’m in charge of morale” as stated by a US military cook in Iraq. We must make people feel something to get them to care. We are wired to feel things, not abstractions.
• Stories – Stories get people to act on our ideas. Stories act as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively. Stories are told and retold because they contain wisdom. The Healths provide what they view are the three basic story plots – the Challenge Plot, The Connection Plot, and the Creativity Plot. Stories can almost single-handedly defeat “The Curse of Knowledge.” I have been involved in a ministry for people in career-transition for over fifteen years. We consistently advise those in-transitions to create stories to highlight their skills and experience when interviewing. It is well understood that interviewers will mostly remember your comportment and more importantly, your stories.
A chapter is devoted to each principle with the authors providing context for clarity and understanding, examples, and tools to guide the development of a “sticky” idea.
The Curse of Knowledge is what escapes most when trying to pitch an idea. It is the natural psychological tendency that consistently gets in the way of our ability to successfully create “sticky ideas” using these principles. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know. This knowledge has “cursed” us and makes it difficult to share our knowledge with others. It is because we cannot readily re-create our listeners state of mind. When a CEO discusses “unlocking shareholder value,” there is a tune playing in his head that the employees can’t hear. On the other hand, President John F. Kennedy knew that opaque, abstract missions don’t captivate and inspire people so he concretely challenged the country with “landing on the moon by the end of the decade.”
Throughout the book, the authors present “Idea Clinics” which illustrate how an idea can be made stickier. Example: ”Do smokers really need to understand the workings of the lungs in order to appreciate the dangers of smoking?”
The book itself is “sticky’ filled with stories of normal people facing normal problems who did an amazing thing simply by applying these principles, even if they were not aware that they were doing this. They distinguish themselves by crafting ideas that made a difference.
Do your ideas gain traction and “Stick” or are they cast aside for less important ideas? “Made to Stick” was written for you.
Essentially, sticky ideas are never a matter of happenstance, but all share six common traits. With a keen understanding of all six traits, you will be able to produce stickier ideas and subsequently revitalize the way you express yourself and transform those whom you lead with positive results.
Made to Stick empowers anyone with the right insights and the right message to make any idea “stick.”
The book proceeds linearly through the sticky blueprint: the acronym S.U.C.C.E.S. Hence, in order to make an idea sticky it has to be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and tell a story. The peculiars of each trait are explored in comprehensive detail within each chapter. Generally speaking even though this book is 250+ pages, it is a very quick read.
Made to Stick is one of three books written on transformative change by the Heath brothers. The other two books are Switch: How to change things when change is hard and Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work. There are many areas of cross-over between the three selections, and I have derived the most value from each book after considering it in context of all three. Hence, Made to Stick helps you to start your journey with a bold idea that anyone can latch onto. Switch reveals how to materialize that idea into tough environments. Finally, Decisive equips you with the tools to navigate fuzzy terrain in the midst of your path to something revolutionary.
That's a highly unlikely story, but might make for a great presentation for a new restaurant, commercial, or advertising campaign. In fact, if you read this review, the only thing that might stick is the image of some roasting piece of meat. You might even smell the fat cooking and sizzling over the flames... and so, ideas, especially those which we can visualize, stick.
Of course, this is just one element presented in the book, and a far better job is done explaining exactly why ideas stick (and others don't). But is this book for you?
In short yes, it's good for everyone. However, I'd say three key groups of people can get the greatest benefit from this book: writers, marketers, and teachers.
I've left leaders [business mainly - though any kind really] out of this because I think anyone that subscribes to the simple paradigms established in this book put the three categories above before leadership, or at the very least, know they are essential for good leadership.
Ultimately, Made to Stick is a book about communication. More specifically, a book about communicating ideas, and doing so effectively. While by most accounts it comes across as common sense (all easily followed principals do), there is still loads of advice presented with practical application.
Of course, most people will pick this up in likely expectation of changing their organization, or finally being heard. The examples in the book lend themselves to this quite well. However, the reality is often, even with the most noble of intentions, one person won't affect change, even with ideas that stick.
As the book puts it, the curse of knowledge, or really the curse of knowledge past (my take on the book's established villain).
So what is one to do? I say start in places where you do have influence, or as least some semblance of that. The ideas are quite practical within our homes, small groups, and even friendships. That is, those areas where we have [some] current, control over our message.
If you are so blessed to have this in your current place of work (the three groups mentioned previously are most apt to implement the philosophies in my opinion), I think you will find quick wins that will seed, later, much grander victories.