This was one of my first book reviews for NFocus several years ago. Since then, the competition for attention is even greater. In world where everyone seems to have something to say and a vehicle for expressing it, making your ideas stand out is imperative.
Why do urban legends such as the Kidney Heist tale and booby- trapped Halloween candy persist despite the overwhelming evidence of their falsehood? Why can I remember and repeat a story I read in the check out line, but can’t begin to share the contents of a memo on interest rate fluctuations? In short, why do some ideas “stick” and others come unglued immediately?
This is the question brothers Chip and Dan Heath address in their book, Made to Stick. Whether you are raising kids or selling a product, this unpretentious book offers practical advice for communicating your ideas more effectively.
Malcolm Gladwell first introduced the concept of stickiness in his fascinating book The Tipping Point. Mr. Gladwell explains that innovations are more likely to “tip” (make the leap from small groups to big groups) when they are sticky. What Mr. Galdwell didn’t address in his book is what characterizes a sticky idea.
The Heaths suggest that sticky ideas share six features. A sticky idea is stripped down to its essential essence (simple). A sticky idea captures people’s attention by surprising them and breaking established patterns (unexpected). A sticky idea uses (concrete) images and often references a trusted source (credible). A sticky idea appeals to things that people care about, including themselves (emotional). Finally, a special story can be the basis of a sticky idea (stories). [Yes, the six principles do create the acronym SUCCESs, which even the authors admit is a bit corny.]
The book is entertaining and persuasive largely due to the dozens of vivid examples, which show sticky principles in action. For example, the NBA uses an ingenious demonstration to make the AIDS threat real to their rookies. An elementary school teacher in Iowa creates an exercise to illustrate discrimination. The experience is so powerful that twenty years later her students were noticeably less prejudiced than their peers. A medical researcher is forced to adopt a very unusual strategy to convince the medical community of his controversial findings.
My favorite story is the tale of Jared. Jared is the young man from Bloomington, Indiana, who lost over a hundred pounds on a diet of his own invention, which he called the “Subway diet.” The diet consisted of a foot-long veggie Subway sandwich for lunch and a six-inch turkey Subway sandwich for dinner. This story contains all the features of an unforgettable idea, but the executives at Subway almost missed it. If it wasn’t for the dogged persistence of a Subway franchise owner, Subway’s most popular and enduring advertising campaign might never have happened.
You may be thinking that you don’t have the time or creativity to make your fund-raising pitch stickier or to enliven your standard PowerPoint presentation.
To challenge these perceptions, “Idea Clinics” are included in every chapter. Here you can test your understanding of the sticky process. I know this sounds like homework, but actually the Idea Clinics are thought provoking rather than onerous. And they convincingly show that improving a message’s stickiness factor doesn’t take that much time, nor do you have to be a creative genius.
Go forth and be memorable!
(The Heath brothers’ new book is Switch, How to Change Things When Change is Hard. )