Chip & Dan Heath — Made to Stick Book Review
Today, I’m reviewing the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. Based on 10 years of study, Chip & Dan Heath answer the question: “Why do some ideas succeed while others die”? How to make your own ideas stick?
Great ideas don’t always succeed.
In fact, many of them go unnoticed and are never heard of again. While other ideas that aren’t as great spread like wildfire. Why do the latter spread so quickly? And why are they so hard to stop?
Sticky ideas are easily understood and remembered. And they’re able to affect people’s opinions and behavior.
Authors Chip and Dan Heath offer an evidence-led deep-dive into the murky middle section of Malcolm Gladwell’s hit on how hits happen — The Tipping Point — the Stickiness Factor.
Made to stick distills years of communication science into an easy-to-remember mnemonic and blueprint for creating sticky ideas.
This is a factThe authors highlight that their principles are not a mathematical formula which will guarantee your ideas will stick, but they are proven methods that will increase the likelihood.
Your ideas need to be sticky and popular. Let’s find out how to make them stick!
This book is one of those classic pop psychology books. Chip and Dan Heath are the best marketing professors around, and they’ve translated their academic research into something fun to read. In this book review, we’ll briefly outline the 6 principles to identifying and creating sticky ideas, and explain how to put it together to drive successful marketing strategies.
Make It Simple
In journalism, the lead of a story is its first sentence. And it should contain its most essential elements. When writing your idea, you shouldn’t get lost in the details, you should prioritize your lead.
The goal is to strip an idea to its core without turning it into a silly sound bite.
This is a factThe hard part isn’t weeding out unimportant aspects, but it is in pruning the important, but not truly essential aspects — i.e., distilling to the most important idea at the core. Find the core: Determine the single most important thing, being careful not to bury the lead.
Commander’s Intent is a plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every Army order, specifying the plan’s goal, the desired end-state of an operation.
The CI never specifies so much detail that it risks being rendered obsolete by unpredictable events; it aligns the behavior of soldiers at all levels without requiring play-by-play instructions from their leaders. For example, Southwest Airlines is guided by Herb Kelleher’s CI — to be the THE low-fare airline.
Psychologically sticky ideas are simple and short. They should be stripped to one statement so profound that the individual can spend their life learning to follow it.
This is a factThey are often distillations of complex, multifaceted ideas or concepts into a single core idea that is easy to get and that can be embodied in a compact plain-English phrase or sentence.
Another way to do this is to tap into the memory of the idea’s recipients by embedding schemas.
In pitching a Hollywood movie a producer would describe it in terms of other hits: E.g., Speed will be Die-Hard on a bus, or Alien will be Jaws on a spaceship. Another way to describe this is as a generative analogy; that is, a metaphor that generates new ideas.
📚 Additional reading
It’s tempting to explain an idea thoroughly, but that is counterproductive. To strip an idea down to its core, you must first know what to exclude.
Catch Their Attention
Psychologically sticky ideas are surprising and interesting; they grab our attention by defying our expectations, and keep our attention by teasing our curiosity.
The brain likes to save energy by running on autopilot whenever possible. When people see something familiar, they subconsciously ignore it.
This is a factWhen something unexpected happens, the brain is forced to wake up and pay attention. But surprise is not about randomness but about creating a ‘huh?’ moment and then an ‘a ha!’ moment. So look for knowledge gaps in people’s minds, and appeal to curiosity in a surprising way.
Surprise jolts us to attention.
Surprise is triggered when our schemas fail, and it prepares us to understand why the failure occurred. When our guessing machines fail, surprise grabs our attention so that we can repair them for the future.
To make your idea sticky, you need to avoid being common sense. To make it unexpected, you need to find what are the unexpected consequences of your core message.
Nordstrom is a store known for outstanding customer service, even at the expense of efficiency. Showing people that there’s something important they don’t know yet, and giving them a way to find out is a very powerful way to make your ideas stick, and it’s called a curiosity gap.
A key is to always use a mystery story — even in science.
This is a factAs scriptwriters have learned curiosity is the intellectual need to answer questions and close patterns. Story plays to this universal desire by doing the opposite, posing questions and opening situations. So, they key is to open gaps first in presenting your ideas, then work to close them; the tendency is to give facts first.
Facts Don't Lie
The difference between an expert and a novice is the ability to think abstractly. When you become an expert in chess, you’ll more likely to talk about chess strategies rather than the act of moving bishops diagonally.
When communicating, it’s important to fight your curse of knowledge by being concrete.
One thing that made Sony successful is the pocketable radio idea. It was simple, unexpected (at the time, radios was like furniture), and concrete. It gave Sony engineers a clear and ambitious goal to achieve.
Something becomes concrete when it can be described or detected by the human senses. A V-8 engine is concrete; high-performance is abstract.
This is a factConcrete ideas are easy to remember. Experiments have shown that people remember concrete over abstract nouns: “bicycle” over “justice” or “personality.” So don’t sell the soft hands, sell the hand cream.
Don’t sell with statistics, sell with examples.
For example, people give prefer to give donations to real people, not abstract causes. So make it real, and avoid abstractions, metaphor, numbers and jargon like the plague. Use the senses and sensory language to paint a vivid mental picture.
The easier we can relate to something, the more we understand it and remember it. Concrete is something the senses can capture and something that we have already experienced.
This is a factThe authors compare the ineffectiveness of complicated CEO’s parlance such as “maximize shareholder values”. Too often missions statements sound like meaningless hot air nobody cares about. Compare it instead to what fueled US’ efforts for a decade, when JFK made the government’s mission to land a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. That’s concrete and clear.
📚 Additional reading
I Want to Believe
One way to gain credibility is by using experts, who can back up your ideas. An example of this was the anti-smoking campaign that used a woman in her late twenties who had smoked since she was 10 years old. She looked frail because she had just received a second lung transplant due to smoking related illness.
Ideas spread through credibility. People are more likely to believe a story if it’s told by someone they trust.
This is a factAlso, statistics can help add credibility to the story. However, people need concrete facts and figures that illustrate the point of your story in order for the statistics to be effective.
We can tap on the credibility of anti-authorities. Telling stories using real people can be a compelling way.
A citizen of the modern world, constantly inundated with messages, learns to develop skepticism about the sources of those messages. Who’s behind these messages? Should I trust them? What do they have to gain if I believe them? The takeaway is that it can be the honesty and trustworthiness of our sources, not their status, that allows them to act as authorities.
Adding particular details to a story can make it more credible.
This is a factResearchers have found that irrelevant details in a story can convince jury members in a trial. In a test, the story that contained “using a Star Wars toothbrush that looks like Darth Vader” was more believable.
An idea passes the Sinatra Test when one example alone is enough to establish credibility in a given domain.
In Frank Sinatra’s classic, “New York, New York”, he sings about thinking a new life in New York City, and the chorus declares, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”. Extraordinary power is created when this test is passed because the stickiness comes from its concreteness rather than from numbers or authority
Emotion Beats Logic
Drop in the bucket effect: someone who hears about an African child is more likely to donate than someone who hears statistics on hunger in Africa. The latter knows that they’re unlikely to make a difference.
To make people care about ideas we get them to take off their Analytical Hats.
This is a factWe create empathy for specific individuals; or we show how our ideas are associated with things that people already care about, or we appeal to their self-interest, although 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.
Psychologically sticky ideas move us, they evoke emotions, make us feel something — and in doing so they make us care.
So focus either on what people already really care about — usually themselves (self-interest) — or create an association between your idea and something they care about. It’s not so much about selling the benefit, but about laddering up the emotional ladder to higher-order self interest by appealing not just to what they want, but who they want to be (someone more attractive).
When it comes to presenting ideas, there are two approaches.
The first is an analytical approach that appeals to the brain; this method uses statistics and facts. The second is a more emotional approach that appeals directly to the audience’s feelings by showing pictures of people who have been hurt in some way. This type of appeal has a stronger effect on the audience than using only numbers and facts does.
Sportsmanship was a powerful idea in sports, but it started to be viewed as consolation prizes for losers who just don’t do bad things.
The founder of Positive Coaching Alliance rebranded it to Honoring the game. People care about the game, so it made it feel more patriotic. It implies that you owe your game some respect. The result was a dramatic reduction in basketball fouls!
📚 Additional reading
The authors debunked the Maslow hierarchy saying people pursue all the benefits simultaneously and not one after the other. Emotional is actually about getting out Maslow’s basement. Appealing to pure self interest with only money bonus will crowd out higher engagement as people feel “bought out” and ultimately less motivated.
Creating good slogans and advertisements for your idea is important, but even if you’re a billion dollar business like Subway, being able to share a story of a guy who lost 200 pounds eating only your food is priceless.
A key to making an idea sticky is to tell it as a story. Stories encourage a kind of mental simulation or reenactment on the part of the listener that burns the idea into the mind.
For example, a flight simulator is much more effective than flash cards in training a pilot. The hard part about using a story is creating it. The best way to use a story is to always be on the look out for them. Most good stories are collected and discovered, rather than produced de novo.
Stories also help lower the audience’s guard. While pitching them your idea often get people to look for cracks in the idea, a story will get them engaged and think for themselves.
This is a factThe best thing you can do to get more people on board with your ideas is to just practice telling stories — every day. No matter whether you do it in writing, speaking, video, or whatever other format you can think of. The point is to just start.
A story with details is more interesting than an arc without one.
It has built-in drama that lets listeners play along and mentally test how they would’ve handled the situation. They are part entertainment and part instruction. When children say “tell me a story”, they’re begging for entertainment, not instruction.
Springboard stories are stories that change how people see an existing problem. They tell people about possibilities.
This is a factThey combat skepticism and create buy-in. They involve people with the idea and invite participation as opposed to arguments which invite judgment, debate, and criticism. The way you deliver a message is a cue to how people should react.
Make It Stick
Strategy is vital to any organization, yet more strategies are vague, academic and fail to drive action. In the book, the Heath brothers explain how to make strategy stick; in particular, they explain three key barriers to be overcome.
Instead of presenting strategy in abstract terms, use vivid, concrete stories to bring the company’s competitive advantage to life.
The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.
When there’s too much ambiguity or too many options, people get stuck with decision paralysis.
Find the core and translate that into priorities for day-to-day decisions. Analysis paralysis is the state of over-analyzing a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. A decision can be treated as over-complicated, with too many detailed options, so that a choice is never made, rather than try something and change if a major problem arises.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
This is a factTo help everyone to understand the strategy clearly and in the same way, build it into the way your organization talks, so it can help to guide behavior. If you want to create a real connection between your brand and your audience, you need to carefully listen, speak to them in a language they understand and embrace their culture.
📚 Additional reading
In fact, stories usually automatically meet other criteria for making ideas sticky: They are almost always concrete, they are often emotional and have unexpected elements. The real difficult is to be sure they are simple enough.
Made to stick is a great read that’s full of great advice for innovators and communicators more interested in practice than theory. It explores the exciting science behind ideas, and how some of them survive while some fade into obscurity.
Made to stick was very refreshing. Simple, to the point, and didn’t feel like it was fluffed up.
This is a factTheir model describes six traits of sticky ideas and how you can position yours accordingly, that’s it. No matter whether you have a business or not, today, we’re all selling something.
The advertising model has been predicated on the adage, ‘Repetition, repetition repetition’.
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Simply leverage the principles to help you start creating ideas that are fundamentally structured to stick semi-permanently into the hearts and minds of your audience. Inspire your audience to action and reach the core of your market.
If you want to get your message across, appeal to a person’s emotions and use anecdotal stories that everyone can relate to.
The authors also stress the importance of simplifying messages by focusing on core issues and conveying those issues clearly. This will help individuals understand your message immediately, which is important for success.
Made to stick an easy book to read and does cover some interesting ground — and uses a simple mnemonic to make their own ideas stick!
Sometimes finding great ideas is just a matter of spotting! Chances are, by reading Made to stick, you can learn a lot about how you can do better work. Give it a go! Share your sticky ideas in the comment section below!