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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.
The book is well structured according to the author's message template for making sticky messages. The SUCCES acronym is this template used throughout the rest of the book. The next six chapters contain one of the elements of the message template. After that is an epilogue which summaries the book and makes some closing remarks. The last part contains a small article which was added after the first release of Made to Stick.
The six chapters are for each of the elements of the SUCCES acronym: 1) Simple -- the point of the message needs to be simple and not buried deeply inside the message. 2) Unexpected -- When something unexpected happens in the message, a sudden change or so, then it will be easier to remember the message. 3) Concrete -- ideas ought to concrete with examples as most people are concrete thinkers and won't remember abstract ideas. 4) Credible -- the source of the idea and additional details can give an idea more credibility and making it easier to remember and accept. 5) Emotional -- trying to get an emotional reaction out of people based on a message makes it easier for people to remember. We want to be rational but we are emotional. 6) Stories -- Often good ideas and messages come in stories (with lots of concreteness and color). Formulating messages in stories will increase it's stickiness.
Each of the above chapters contains dozens of stories, examples of good and bad messages, and tips on how to improve them. Also each chapter contains a clinic in which they take a message and, using the theme of the chapter, they give two different variants of the same message and explain why one is better than the other.
All in all, I enjoyed reading Made to Stick. It was well written and I'll remember a lot of stories from the book as they were pretty... sticky. That said, while reading the book, there was no major Aha! moment, but instead if seemed to add words and concepts to things that I had already experienced. That also made it easy to accept what was written in Made to Stick. The book didn't dramatically change the way I create messages/ideas, but it did gave me a new thinking tool to use. I was going between 3 stars (does what it should do) and 4 stars (good and recommended). I decided to stick with 4 stars. Pretty good, especially for people who give training, are in marketing or in other ways need to make easy to remember -- sticky -- messages.
The Heath brothers are great writers and have written other books that are worth the read as well. Ideas can be powerful, as we've seen in elections, new products, and social issues. This book will help those ideas be shaped in a way that will stay with people.