Made to Stick – Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Here is a basic summary of a book that was very influential to me. It’s definitely a part in the gearbox. To avoid it, is nonsense. I would encourage everyone to read it, but here are my notes.

Introduction – What Sticks?

Six Principles of Sticky Ideas

  1. Simplicity (p. 16)
    • “To strip and idea to its core, we must be masters of exclusion… must relentlessly prioritize.”
    • “… sound bites are not the ideal.  Proverbs are the ideal.”
    • “Create ideas that are both simple and profound.”
    • Example:  The Golden Rule
  2. Unexpectedness (p. 16)
    • Not just surprise
    • “For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity.”
    • “We can engage people’s curiosity over a long period of time by systematically ‘opening gaps’ in their knowledge – and then filling in those gaps.”  – think of teachers
  3. Concreteness (p.17)
    • “We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information.”
    • “Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images… because our brains are wired to remember concrete data.  In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language: ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’.”
  4. Credibility (p. 17)
    • “Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials.”
    • “We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves – a ‘try before you buy’ philosophy…”
  5. Emotions (pp. 17-18)
    • “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.”
  6. Stories (p.18)
    • “Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation … Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.”

The Villain of creating sticky ideas is the “Curse of Knowledge”.  Basically, you can’t un-ring the bell.  “You can’t unlearn what you already know.” (p. 19).

Two ways to beat the curse:

  1. “Don’t learn anything.”
  2. “Take your ideas and transform them.”

Six Principles of Sticky Ideas – Explained

  1. Simple (pp. 25 – 62)
    • “… finding the core of the idea.”
    • “You can’t have five North Stars, you can’t have five most important goals…”
    • “It’s about elegance and prioritization, not dumbing down.”
    • “You prioritize goals that are ‘critical’ ahead of goals that are ‘beneficial’.”
    • Southwest’s core idea is “We are THE low-fare airline.”  Everything they do is in line with this concept.  Do they start serving light lunches?  NO, because it would interfere with their core.
    • “If you say three things, you don’t say anything.”  James Carville
    • Schema = prior knowledge – useful in analogies and making core ideas compact by using prior knowledge to make ideas understandable and sticky.
  2. Unexpected (pp. 63 – 97)
    • Must get people’s attention AND keep it long enough to deliver the message.
    • Unexpected ideas are more likely to stick because surprise makes us pay attention and think.”
    • Gap theory – gaps in knowledge cause curiosity – we want to know the answer (think pulling out your cell phone to look something up…)
    • “… we need to open gaps before we close them.”
    • EXAMPLE: teasers for news broadcasts
    • “To make our communications more effective, we need to shift our thinking from ‘What information do I need to convey?’ to ‘What questions do I want my audience to ask?’”
    • Sony making “pocketable  radios” (pp.93-94)
    • JFK saying we need to achieve “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” (pp. 94-96)
  3. Concrete (pp. 98 – 129)
    • Aesop’s fables (still repeated after 2500+ years) transform abstract ideas into concrete things, making them easier to understand and “stickier”.
    • You must visualize your customers and find out what works for them using concrete language.
  4. Credible (pp. 130 – 164)
    • We trust/believe experts, celebrities, and “anti-authorities,” who are people who share their own experiences to add credibility.
    • “Vivid details boost credibility.”
    • “…[We] need to identify details that are compelling…  details that symbolize and support our core idea.”
    • “Statistics aren’t inherently helpful; it’s the scale and context that make them so.”
  5. Emotional (pp. 165 – 203)
    • You have to make people care in order for them to act.
    • “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.”
    • “If I look at the mass, I will never act.  If I look at the one, I will.” – Mother Theresa
    • “How can we make people care about our ideas? …  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.”
  6. Stories (pp. 204 – 237)
    • “Stories are told and retold because they contain wisdom.”
    • Memorable stories provide “…simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act).”
    • If you deliver a message or idea as an argument, it will be argued.  If delivered as a story, it draws the listener in.

Epilogue – Sticky Advice (pp. 253 – 284)

The Communication Framework

“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

Sometimes, the audience may change, improve, or “cherry-pick” pieces of your message.  You must ask yourself if the new version is true to our core?

Being able to spot a great idea is more important than creating one because there will always be “… more great ideas than any single individual, even the most creative one.”

Sticky Advice (pp. 253 – 284)

Don’t ignore the value of communication INSIDE your organization.  Knowing your customer is important, but every employee must understand and believe in your company’s core ideas and values.  Everyone needs to know where the company is headed and how it’s going to get there.

“A strategy is, at its core, a guide to behavior.”

Barriers to talking strategy:

  1. Curse of  knowledge – once you know something, you can’t “unknow” it.
  2. Decision paralysis – too many (or unclear) options => inaction.
  3. Lack of common language – using complicated/technical language.

Talking strategy and making ideas stick:

  1. Be concrete – build on understood concepts
  2. Say something unexpected – get someone’s attention
  3. Tell stories – draw audience in and make them care

See for more ideas, examples, and information.

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