Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

In their excellent book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath and Dan Heath discuss the ways to make sure your ideas stick. An idea sticks when it is understood and remembered and has a lasting impact in changing your audience’s opinions or behaviors.


  • Simplicity
    • Find the Core
      • In a courtroom, if you argue ten points (even if each is a good point), when they get back to the jury room the jury won’t remember any.
      • Strip ideas to the core by relentlessly prioritizing (be a master of exclusion). Finding the core means stripping an idea down to its most critical essence.
        • “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not where there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery
      • Commander’s Intent (CI) in the Military
        • If we do nothing else during tomorrow’s mission, we must…
        • The single, most important thing that we must do tomorrow is…
    • Share and Manage to the Core
      • The core at Southwest Airlines – The low fare airline
    • Core messages help people avoid bad choices by reminding them of what is important
    • Top management can know what the priorities are but be completely ineffective in sharing and achieving these priorities
    • Simple = Core and compact
    • Proverbs are excellent core ideas
    • Use schema if you have to (a metaphor that is readily recognizable)
      • High concept pitches in Hollywood (Die Hard on a Bus = Speed)
      • Disney Cast Members (and all that implies)
  • Unexpectedness
    • Generate interest and curiosity
      • Southwest airplane announcements with humor
      • Break a pattern
    • Surprise gets our attention; interest keeps our attention
      • Surprise means that the event is not predictable, but is postdictable
    • Hold attention and interest
    • Open gaps in people’s knowledge and then fill them
      • Create a mystery
      • Remember as we know more we are more focused on what we do not know
      • So, try “Here’s what you know. Now here’s what you’re missing.”
      • Unexpected ideas open up a knowledge gap
    • Provide context or a backstory
    • Identify the core of the message; figure out what is counterintuitive about the message; communicate your message in a way that breaks your audience’s guessing machines
    • Common sense messages usually don’t stick
  • Concreteness
    • Being concrete helps people understand and remember
    • Being concrete is memorable
    • Explain your ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information
      • Something tangible
      • Something visible
    • Making ideas concrete forces them to be simpler
  • Credibility
    • Help people believe
    • External credibility
    • Internal credibility
    • Sticky ideas must carry their own credentials
    • The honesty and trustworthiness of sources, not their status, allows people to act as authorities
    • Power of details
    • Demonstrations, especially those that appeal to the senses
    • Put ideas into a human scale, every day context
    • Statistics are important
      • But present correctly; make them accessible
      • Beware of tinkering with statistics
    • Sinatra Test – If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
      • Use for well-known customers to give credibility
    • Testable credential
      • Ask customers to test a claim for themselves
      • Where’s the beef?
    • Availability Bias
      • Natural tendency that causes us, when estimating the probability of a particular event, to judge the event’s probability by its availability in our memory
      • We remember things better because they evoke more emotion not because they are more frequent
        • Shark attacks v. deer deaths
      • Use testable credential
        • Which animal do you think kills more people?
      • Ask rhetorical questions
  • Emotions
    • Make people feel something to get them to care about your ideas
    • Be specific and personal
      • “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” Mother Teresa
      • “One death is a tragedy. A million deaths are a statistic.” Josef Stalin
    • Thinking about statistics shifts people into a more analytical frame of mind. When people think analytically, they are less likely to think emotionally
    • Beware of words that have lost their emotional kick – unique
      • Not “good sport”, but “honoring the game”
    • Appeal to self-interest
      • “My husband laughed when I ordered our carpet through the mail. But when I saved 50%…”
      • “They laughed when you shared a story instead of a statistic. But when the idea stuck…”
      • Use “You”
    • Have people imagine using your product or service; this makes it more likely that they will buy
    • Maslow Hierarchy
      • Transcendence – help others realize their potential
      • Self-Actualization – realize our own potential, self-fulfillment, peak experiences
      • Aesthetic – symmetry, order, beauty, balance
      • Learning – know, understand, mentally connect
      • Esteem – achieve, be competent, gain approval, independence, status
      • Belonging – love, family, friends, affection
      • Security – protection, safety, stability
      • Physical – hunger, thirst, bodily comfort
    • People pursue all of these needs pretty much simultaneously
    • With Maslow, be careful not to appeal too low
      • While WII-FM (What’s In It For Me) is important, don’t focus just on self-interest – physical, security, and esteem (Maslow’s Basement)
      • Or add in only belonging
      • Use the others
    • Use associations
      • Show how our ideas are associated with things that people already care about
      • With emotional-laden words
    • Appeal to identity
      • Firemen who rejected the popcorn popper
      • Don’t mess with Texas
  • Stories
    • Tell stories to act on our ideas
    • A good story provides
      • Stimulation (knowledge about how to act)
      • Inspiration (motivation to act)
    • Thus, a good story is geared to generate action; the right stories make people act
    • Use mental stimulation which can provide two-thirds the value of actual physical practice
    • A story puts knowledge into a framework that is more lifelike, more true to our day-to-day existence. More like a flight simulator
      • Velcro theory of memory – the more hooks that we put into our ideas, the better they will stick
      • This is why Jared at Subway is so sticky
    • Go out and spot the stories and ideas
    • Types of stories
      • Aristotle – Simple and Complex Tragic, Simple and Complex Fortunate
      • The Heath Brothers
        • Challenge Plot (David v Goliath)
        • Connection Plot (Good Samaritan)
        • Creativity Plot (Someone being creative, innovative, doing something unique)
          • Shackleton the explorer assigned the whiners to sleep in his own tent
  • What Sticks
    • Use what sticks
    • The audience gets a vote and sometimes will change the story, the plot, the saying, etc.
    • In presentations, stories stick far more than anything else.
    • In fact, there is often little correlation between speaking talent and making ideas stick. Why?
      • People bury the lead
      • Too much information
    • More villains
      • Decision paralysis especially when there is excessive choice or ambiguous situations
        • Lawyers must stress one to two points in their closing arguments, not ten
        • Managers must share proverbs
      • When communicating, beware the Curse of Knowledge
        • Getting a message across has two stages
          • Answer stage – arrive at the idea
          • Telling others stage
    • Making an idea stick
      • For an idea to stick it must make the audience:
        • Pay attention – Unexpected
        • Understand and remember it – Concrete
        • Agree / Believe – Credible
        • Care – Emotional
        • Be able to act on it – Story
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About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Business Acumen, Sales and Marketing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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