Made to Stick

Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
A great read for anyone who wants to become a more persuasive communicator.
Chip Heath, Dan Heath

Summary & Notes

This book in three sentences
  1. The stickiest ideas are simple and unexpected.
  2. Use curiosity gaps to increase engagement.
  3. People use stories to simulate ideas and try them on for size.
A few key ideas

The velcro theory of memory, the curse of knowledge, curiosity gaps, the human scale principle.

Six Principles of Sticky Ideas

Use the SUCCESs framework to help make ideas sticky:

  • Simple – find the core of any idea or thoughts
  • Unexpected – grab people's attention by surprising them
  • Concrete – make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later
  • Credible – give an idea believability and credibility
  • Emotional – help people see the importance of an idea
  • Stories – empower people to use an idea through narrative
1: Simplicity

Simple is not about dumbing something down – it's about finding the core essence of the idea.

In the military, Commander’s Intent (CI) is a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every order, specifying the plan’s goal, the desired end-state of an operation. Plans may change, but everyone is responsible for executing the intent. Finding the core of your message is like crafting the commander's intent.

A successful defense lawyer says, “If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room they won’t remember any.”

Proverbs are the ideal. Create ideas that are both simple and profound.

Southwest CEO: "We are THE low-fare airline. Once you understand that fact, you can make any decision about this company’s future as well as I can."

The process of writing a lead—and avoiding the temptation to bury it—is a helpful metaphor for the process of finding the core. Finding the core and writing the lead both involve forced prioritization.

In Hollywood, people use core ideas called “high-concept pitches.” Speed was “Die Hard on a bus.” 13 Going on 30 was “Big for girls.” Alien was “Jaws on a spaceship.”

2: Unexpectedness

We need to be counterintuitive. A bag of popcorn is as unhealthy as a whole day’s worth of fatty foods!

The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern.

Surprise gets our attention. Interest keeps our attention.

Common sense is the enemy of sticky messages. When messages sound like common sense, they float gently in one ear and out the other.

Curiosity happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge. That gaps cause pain. To take away the pain, we need to fill the knowledge gap.

3: Concreteness

In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language: “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.”

Language is often abstract, but life is not abstract. Abstraction makes it harder to understand an idea and to remember it.

Your brain is like Velcro – it hosts a truly staggering number of loops. The more hooks an idea has, the better it will cling to memory.

It’s easy to lose awareness that we’re talking like an expert. We start to suffer from the Curse of Knowledge, like the tappers in the “tappers and listeners” game.

4: Credibility

We trust authority figures, but we don’t always have an external authority who can vouch for our message; most of the time our messages have to vouch for themselves. They must have “internal credibility.”

Asking customers to test a claim for them-selves—is a “testable credential.” Testable credentials can provide an enormous credibility boost, since they essentially allow your audience members to “try before they buy.”

By making a claim tangible and concrete, details make it seem more real, more believable.

5: Emotions

We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.

Mother Teresa once said, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

Researchers theorize that thinking about statistics shifts people into a more analytical frame of mind. When people think analytically, they’re less likely to think emotionally.

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.

The WIIFY—“what’s in it for you,”—should be a central aspect of every speech.

6: Stories

Stories provide both simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act).

Simulating past events is much more helpful than simulating future outcomes.

Types of stories:

  • Challenge plot: Overcoming challenges, e.g. David vs. Goliath.
  • Connection plot: About our relationships with other people.
  • Creativity plot: E.g. Apple falling on Newton's head.
© 2023 Mike Fiorillo
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