Made to Stick by Chip & Dan Heath [Book Review]

This is a New York Time’s best-selling book written by two brothers, Dan and Chip Heath. In this book they answer a question that a lot of us think about: why do some ideas gain traction, while others that seem better get ignored and fall to the side?

Here’s what you need to make your ideas SUCCESful and sticky. Make your ideas:

  1. Simple,
  2. Unexpected,
  3. Concrete,
  4. Credible,
  5. Emotional,
  6. and tell a Story.

Use SUCCES as your acronym and guide, and your ideas will sticky.  That is, memorable and interesting. Understandable, and will have a long lasting impact, and even change your audience’s behaviour or opinion.

Let’s go through each principle in SUCCES one by one.

  1. Simple. To be simple is to strip an idea to its core. Make your core point interesting. Take a page from journalism: don’t bury the lead. Surface the most important and most interesting point of your story (this is what’s core) to the very beginning. Forget the oblique beginning.
  2. Unexpected. A basic way to get someone’s attention is to break a pattern. Violate their expectations. Unexpected ideas stick because they surprise us, and make us think. Identify what is counterintuitive in your core message, and communicate it. Communicate what’s uncommon sense, but common sense to you. An example is campaigns that use tactics like “This <name of fast food> has as many calories as one full day’s worth of food!” That’s unexpected, and that sticks.
  3. Concrete: Your core idea needs to be easy to remember. Make it concrete and easy to remember. Don’t dumb things down. Instead, find a universal language that everyone will understand. An example is a local newspaper that focusses on local first. What does that really mean? The editor tells his people he wants “names, names, names” above all else, even good stories. Now that makes sense. This is simple, unexpected, and concrete.
  4. Credible: People will believe your ideas if they carry credibility. You want your ideas to pass the “Sinatra Test.” Think of Sinatra’s song that goes “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…” it makes sense- if he can make it in New York, he can make it anywhere. A single example is enough to establish credibility of an idea in any domain. That’s the Sinatra Test.
  5. Emotional: Emotional responses cause people to act. Make them think about one person rather than a group. “Please donate to this child, Rokia, in Africa” will work better than “Please donate to starving children in Africa.” Don’t make them think. Make them take off their analytical hats, and make them feel. Avoid using statistics, because that causes people to think analytically, and less emotionally. Focus on WIIFY: What’s in it for you (the audience)?
  6. Stories: When we hear a story, we simulate it in our heads, and this is very powerful. Stories are memorable and contain wisdom. They’re effective teaching tools that should be leveraged. Turn your ideas into stories to make them stick.

The brothers reference many times what they call the Curse of Knowledge. This is the problem where it’s impossible to unknow what you know, making it difficult to understand your listener’s point of view. Following the SUCCES guidelines, the authors argue, will help you manage the Curse of Knowledge, and make your ideas stick.

Rating for Made to Stick: 3.5/5

It’s a good book with practical examples in every chapter. They certainly follow their own teachings very well. While reading it, I felt that the ideas really did stick in my mind, but the problem is that after a few days, while I remembered “SUCCES,” I couldn’t remember what the letters all stood for. That could be my problem, or it could be the book’s. How sticky will their idea be in my mind in a few years?  I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

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