Monday, September 14, 2009

Made to Stick

“A sticky idea is understood, it’s remembered, and it changes something.” This is the basic idea behind Made to a Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. JFK’s “man on the moon in this decade” was such an idea. It was short, succinct, visual, and memorable. The question that the book attempts to answer is, “How do you get people to understand, remember, and act on your ideas?”

According to the Heath brothers, sticky ideas have six traits in common. They term this the “SUCCESs model.” The components are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and stories.

Simple idea messages state the core of the message clearly. One example they provide is the message that “Southwest will be THE low-fare airline.” For a Southwest employee, ff something does not contribute to that end, it is off-message. They point out that proverbs are good examples of lasting ways to communicate simple and profound ideas.

Use the unexpected to grab hold attention. Surprise people but then hold them by generating interest and curiosity. You do this by citing violations of expected behavior and creating “curiosity gaps.”

Concrete idea messages use sensory language. They provide mental pictures and “hooks” that will hold people. After all, our minds are wired to remember concrete data.

Ideas can get credibility from outside (authorities and anti-authorities) or inside (using human scale statistics or vivid details). There must be an inherent credibility in the idea for it to “stick.“

Emotion plays an essential part in making an idea stick. People care about people, not numbers. They remember and act on what they feel. When I worked for a judicatory, we often said that contributors supported people not programs.

Stories carry wisdom. They drive action through simulation (what to do) and inspiration (the motivation to do it). The authors provide some good guidelines for spotting stories that will make ideas stick.

The brothers picked up the concept of “stickiness” from Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point. The middle section of that book was titled “The Stickiness Factor.” Their goal was to identify the traits that make ideas sticky.

Chip and Dan Heath are no threat to Malcolm Gladwell. Their model is helpful, and they provide good illustrations, but the book spends too much time developing the model. Go to and you can find the basic content of their communication model. I think they have identified something important, but they spent too much time interpreting it.

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