Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath

by Chip and Dan Heath                                                     

This book is now over 2 years old but it is still well worth reading because it gives you some great ideas on how to make your ideas stick in other people’s minds and a simple framework to remember them by.

That framework is:

  • Simplicity – Strip your idea down to its essential core.
  • Unexpectedness – Provide surprise to engage people
  • Concreteness – Anchor the message in concrete examples or grounded metaphors.
  • Credibility – This does not have to be numbers or multiple research references. For example in the 1980 presidential debate Ronald Reagan instead of quoting numbers said: "Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago". That was credible because it went straight to what people "knew" from the day to day experience.
  • Emotions – We need to tap into how people feel. That is not always clear. For example persuading teenager not to smoke may not work by showing them the consequences, because it is too far removed from their experience, but couch the message in a way that shows they are being duped and manipulated, and it could stimulate their anger and rebellious side.
  • Stories – People naturally communicate by and remember stories.

Which all adds up to SUCCESs which even the authors say is a little corny but it does stick in your mind.

The book goes through these principles one by one with great examples and handy tips. The two that stood out for me are:

  • Simplicity is really hard and it involves stripping away until what is left is the core. For someone who has been taught to deal in facts, evidence and numbers this can be really difficult. In the end it is about design and elegance.
  • The Curse of Knowledge. When trying to communicate an idea we are cursed by the fact we know and understand the idea which makes it difficult for us to envisage telling it to people who do not. As an example the authors use the a study that looked at people tapping out a song on a hard surface and others who had to listen to the tapping and try to guess the song (p19). This is hard to do and only 3 songs out of 120 were guessed correctly. However before the guessing occurred the tappers were asked to predict how many would be guessed correctly and they predicted 50%. It urns out the tappers could "hear" the song in their heads and could not come to terms with the fact that the listeners could not. This is a great message to remember when trying to communicate a message.

I would strongly recommend people read this book if they are in the business of communicating ideas, giving presentations or conference speeches, or simply want to lead people better.