Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Authors: Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Reviewer: Sharon Ribas, MBA
Brothers Chip and Dan Heath credit Malcolm Gladwell's "Tipping Point" as the inspiration for their book. Gladwell discussed the stickiness factor of a successful message or product. That idea stuck and resulted in the authors delving deeper into why some ideas succeed and others fail.
They developed the acronym SUCCESs to represent a list of criteria that make ideas "stick." Ideas that succeed are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and conveyed in stories. They dedicate a chapter to each concept and they include in each a clinic, or small exercise to help cement the concepts.
The authors begin by introducing the puzzle of why urban legends and rumors can grab and sustain our attention and belief when solid ideas and facts simply whiz by our brains unnoticed. Sensational lies, they state, are sticky by nature. Throughout the book, the authors offer a rich palette of examples, research, and studies that demonstrate how to capture and hold an audience's attention by effective messaging.
The authors pick apart several well-known urban legends using their acronym tool to give readers a quick overview of stickiness factors that keep these legends alive. Then they dissect the real account of Jared Fogle and his famous Subway diet weight loss, which contains all the elements of SUCCESs and which will be addressed later in this review.
Chapter one describes the concept of simple. Simplicity makes ideas stick because it pares complexity down to a core idea stated up front. By nature, simplicity excludes, prioritizes, is compact and is relevant. The authors entertainingly expand on each of these concepts. Proverbs are simple, they point out. They are easy to remember, profound, and embody core ideas. The authors provide instructive examples that include memorable mottos from Southwest Airlines, Clinton's 1992 campaign, a wildly popular small town newspaper, and Palm Pilot.
Simplicity launches successfully into complexity only when through memory triggers, which the authors call schemas. Schemas are known in Hollywood as "high-concept pitches" that convey complex ideas simply. Teachers routinely use schemas. They take something known and connect it to something unknown to enhance learning.
Returning to proverbs, the phrase "bird in hand" is so meaningful that those three words alone trigger in our memories a core idea of valuing something we have over something we don't have. It is a concept that has stuck with humankind over many cultures and centuries.
Unexpectedness uses surprise to get our attention. Because it is counterintuitive and pulls us up short, it opens the door to interest and curiosity. If we can create a curiosity gap and hold people's attention long enough to fill it, we've helped make our idea sticky.
In chapter two, the authors elaborate on the process of finding an idea's core message to communicate, uncover what is counterintuitive about it, relate the message in a way that keeps the audience engaged and guessing, and then end with a powerful punch.
One of several examples used addresses Nordstrom's legendary customer service. Nordstrom's gift wraps items their customers have purchased...yes, that's customer service, and nothing is memorable about that so far. But when we learn Nordstrom's wraps items their customers purchased from Macy's...it gets our attention because now the message is pushed beyond common sense. That sticks.
This chapter further delves into the attractions of mysteries, the curiosity and knowledge gaps, and the importance of sequencing, all of which help readers understand the power of capitalizing on the unexpected to communicate memorably.
Concreteness give clarity to an idea because our brains rely on images to remember abstract concepts. Recall the "bird in hand" proverb. Clarity ensures that everyone gets the same message. This is where the "curse of knowledge" can ambush us. When we are intimately familiar with an idea or concept, we forget we had to first learn it. We had to walk before we could run. Communicating at the point where our audience is, rather than where we are, is key to making an idea stick. Bring the abstract down to the concrete. Asking "why" to at least three levels helps do that.
Sticky ideas are credible. Claims are substantiated by either formal or informal sources of validity. The surgeon general can relate convincing statistics against smoking, but the cancer patient who testifies to the evils of smoking can be the more convincing of the two.
Credibility is valuable, but in order for people act on ideas they must care. Emotion creates caring and caring begets action. Creating self-interest and an awareness of the benefits of an ideas is essential. One of several diverse examples provided is the idea of charitable giving. Non-profits have learned that people are more likely to donate to a children's charity when they believe their money is going to help a specific child, not a fund to help needy children in general. Other examples cited include the highly effective anti-littering program in Texas, the Phillip Morris anti-smoking campaign, and the man in charge of the Army mess hall in Iraq.
The power of stories includes each of the concepts described by the authors. Making a presentation, listing the facts, or citing statistics sets up a scenario for evaluation and argument, but stories engage and inspire us to action. To be effective in making an idea stick, stories must be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, and touch our emotions.
This is where Subway enters as a fitting culmination to all the authors have been trying to get across. Jared weighed over 400 pounds. He decided to eat two Subway low fat sandwiches a day, get in some exercise as the weight dropped off, and he was eventually able to run a marathon. But the real story is how Jared's achievements led to a phenomenally successful advertising campaign for Subway. The authors detail this in chapter six by relating how Subway's success, which the company nearly missed capitalizing on, met each of the criteria that transform a message into something memorable.
Generating ideas, the authors state, can be easier than making them stick. This book offers diverse, entertaining, and helpful insights on how to make that happen.
- Hardcover: 291 pages
- Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (January 2, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1400064287
- ISBN-13: 978-1400064281
About Chip and Dan Heath
Chip Heath is a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, teaching courses on business strategy and organizations. Dan Heath is a Senior Fellow at Duke University's CASE center, which supports social entrepreneurs. The two brothers have co-authored three books.
Their first book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, was a New York Times and Business Week bestseller, and was an Amazon Top 10 Business Book for 2007 for both editors and readers. Their second book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, debuted at #1 on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists. Amazon.com's editors named Switch one of the Best Nonfiction Books of the Year, and it spent 47 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. Both books have been translated into 28 languages including Thai, Arabic, and Lithuanian. Their newest book, Decisive: How to Make Better Decisions in Life and Work, was published in March 2013.
Prior to joining Stanford, Chip taught at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. He received his BS in Industrial Engineering from Texas A&M University and his PhD in Psychology from Stanford. Chip has consulted with clients ranging from Google and Gap to The Nature Conservancy and the American Heart Association.
Dan has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from the Plan II Honors Program from the University of Texas at Austin. Dan worked as a researcher and case writer for Harvard Business School. In 1997, Dan co-founded an innovative publishing company called Thinkwell, which continues to produce a radically reinvented line of college textbooks. Two proud (sort of) moments for Dan are his stint driving a promotional car called the "Brainmobile" across the country and his victory in the 2005 New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest, beating out 13,000 other entrants. He lives in Raleigh, NC.
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