In our overstimulated and distracted society, great ideas and important messages often fail to gain traction, while bad ideas and falsehoods, such as urban legends, go viral and seem to stick around forever.
Made to Stick by brothers Chip and Dan Heath explores what makes some messages “stick” in the public’s consciousness while others go unheard or unremembered and explains how to create an idea that sticks. Based on a wide-ranging examination of psychology research, popular culture, and news headlines, they identify six criteria for shaping your message so it resonates.
You don’t have to be a great speaker to communicate your idea effectively—the authors show you what to do through numerous examples of messages that have succeeded and others that have bombed. Rather than sweating over an original presentation, you can follow their “stickiness” template or even emulate someone else’s idea that worked.
Ideas or messages that stick are those that are understandable, memorable, and have a lasting impact. An example of a story that succeeds on all three levels is the perennial Halloween candy tampering scare.
Poisoned candy rumors originated in the 1960s, followed later by stories about sick people putting sharp objects into apples at Halloween. Parents searched their kids’ candy, schools and fire departments offered “safe” Halloween events, and hospitals offered to X-ray kids’ treat bags. But it was largely false. The story was understandable and memorable, and it had a lasting impact: it changed people’s behavior, even to today.
With all of the ideas, especially false ones, competing for people’s attention, getting important messages across is daunting. We all have messages and ideas we need to deliver. For instance, teachers must explain mitosis or introduce algebra to students, and managers have to get employees to implement company initiatives. But any idea can be designed in a way that makes it memorable by following a simple formula—SUCCESs: Make it Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and make it a Story.
Making a message simple means distilling it to its central point or essence by cutting away nonessential information, like getting to the core of an apple. In addition to being simple, a distilled message must be meaningful. Proverbs are a good example of simple, profound messages, as is the Golden Rule.
A sticky message gets people’s attention by defying expectations. For example, an airline flight attendant got passengers’ attention with her flight safety lecture by turning it into a comedy routine: “As the song goes, there might be fifty ways to leave your lover, but there are only six ways to leave this aircraft.”
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In our overstimulated and distracted society, great ideas and important messages often fail to gain traction, while bad ideas and falsehoods such as urban legends go viral and seem to stick around forever.
Made to Stick by brothers Chip and Dan Heath explores what makes some messages “stick” in the public’s consciousness while others go unheard or unremembered and explains how to create an idea that sticks. Chip is a professor at Stanford and Dan is senior fellow at Duke University. Based on a wide-ranging examination of psychology research, popular culture, and news headlines, they identify six criteria for shaping your message so it resonates.
You don’t have to be a great speaker or be particularly creative to communicate effectively. Rather than sweating over an original presentation, you can follow the book’s “stickiness” template or even emulate someone else’s idea that worked.
Some ideas naturally grab you—they’re inherently interesting. Others don’t—they seem to be inherently boring. But in a version of the nature versus nurture argument, the authors contend that **most ideas and messages—even naturally less-than-thrilling ones –...
In the simplest terms, there are only two steps to making your message stick: 1) find the essence and 2) translate the essence into a compelling message using the SUCCESs template. This chapter explains the first step, while the rest of the book covers step 2.
The first sentence above is an example of what you need to do with your message. It distills the essence or core of this book to a single sentence, albeit not a scintillating one.
The “S” in the SUCCESs formula for creating “sticky” messages stands for “simple.” Making your message simple doesn’t mean dumbing it down or making it simplistic like a typical sound bite. Simplifying it just means determining the most important thing about it, the essence or core that holds it together like gravity.
It must focus on one thing, not multiple things. The challenging part is prioritizing your points and then eliminating all but one central point. A simple, well-designed idea effectively shapes and guides others’ behavior. The following are some examples of how core-focused messages are created and how they work.
Military operations require massive amounts of planning,...
For a message to “stick” with a listener it must be simple. The key to simplifying a message is determining the most important thing about it, the core that holds it together like gravity. It should also be compact, or succinct, and meaningful.
Think of a hobby, sport, or skill you’re expert in. If you were teaching it to someone, how would you encapsulate it in a simple sentence that would guide a newbie practicing your craft? Remember to avoid the “curse of knowledge”—think like a beginner rather than an expert.
The “U” in the SUCCESs formula for creating “sticky” messages stands for “unexpected.”
The first challenge of communication is getting people’s attention. Some people—for instance, parents or the president—get attention simply because they have authority. However, most people have to attract attention in some other way.
The best way to do it is to break a pattern: introduce the unexpected. Sameness makes people tune out. They become aware of things only when something changes—for instance, you snap to attention when your car or refrigerator starts making a strange noise. Your brain is engineered to be acutely aware of changes.
Here’s an example of how breaking a pattern got people’s attention. On every flight, flight attendants are required to give safety instructions, but they’ve become so routine that no one listens to them. However, one flight attendant got people’s attention by saying things they didn’t expect. For instance, during the seemingly obvious instructions for how to fasten and unfasten a seatbelt, she said: “For those who haven’t been in a car since 1965, the proper way to fasten a seatbelt is to slide the flat end into the buckle.” Regarding the exits, she...
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The best way to get people’s attention is to break a pattern or introduce the unexpected. Sameness makes people tune out. After getting their attention you have to hold it by generating curiosity.
Can you think of a time when you were surprised by a speaker or message—for instance, at a class lecture, Sunday sermon, or a company meeting? What caught your attention and why?
The “C” in the SUCCESs formula for creating “sticky” messages stands for “concrete.” Many ideas fail to resonate because they’re presented in abstract terms, language unconnected to a specific person, object, or situation. Abstraction makes ideas harder to grasp and remember; abstract instructions are harder to implement because they can be interpreted in different ways. The curse of knowledge comes into play when experts forget what being a novice was like and instead speak in abstractions.
The opposite of abstract is concrete, the third essential characteristic of a sticky message.
Fables are one of the best examples of concreteness. Consider Aesop’s fable of the fox and the grapes: A fox came upon some grapes high on a vine, but after jumping at them repeatedly, he couldn’t get them. So he walked away muttering that they were probably sour anyway. An abstract admonition to be graceful in defeat wouldn’t have had the impact or longevity of the fable, which concretely demonstrates what we still refer to as a “sour grapes” attitude.
What makes something concrete is specificity. The words “high performance” are abstract while “V-8 engine” is concrete. A company’s...
Concreteness helps people understand and remember a message. However, businesses and organizations often present their goals in abstract language. People don’t know what applying the goals looks like in practice.
Think of a company or organization you’re part of. What is its goal? Is it abstract or concrete?
The second “C” in the SUCCESs formula for creating “sticky” messages stands for “credible.” Besides being easy to grasp, your message has to be believable. People’s beliefs are shaped by social influences, such as family, friends, and faith, as well as personal experience. Countering people’s beliefs or getting them to believe a new message seems like a daunting task at first glance. Yet urban legends and false stories stick and spread easily.
The reason is that in addition to being easy to understand, they use authority to establish credibility. The simplest way to make your message credible is to be an authoritative source or to quote one. Well-known experts such as the Surgeon General (for health messages), Alan Greenspan (economics), or Bill Nye (science) lend weight to messages in those fields. Another type of authority is the celebrity who endorses products—celebrities have credibility with people who aspire to be like them.
Here are two messages with seemingly authoritative sources but different outcomes:
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Using an external authority to bolster your message is one way to make it believable or credible. Another way is to build internal credibility by using details, statistics, and compelling examples.
Think of an entertaining or surprising story you heard from a friend or coworker recently that you were skeptical of. What were the key points? Did you believe the story?
The “E” in the SUCCESs formula for creating “sticky” messages stands for “emotional.” If you want your audience to act on your message—for instance, to donate to a charitable cause or adopt healthier habits—you need to make them care.
The way to get people to care is to make them feel something. Some messages are designed to appeal to your emotions for cynical or self-serving reasons—for instance, a political ad might try to scare you into not voting for a certain candidate. But more typically, you might want people to care about your message in order to help solve a problem like child obesity or to accomplish a goal, such as building a more fuel-efficient car.
There are multiple ways to appeal to your listeners’ emotions. The simplest and most familiar way is to give your message a face. You might call it the Mother Teresa principle. Known for devoting her life to caring for the poor, she once said, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” She was motivated when she connected emotionally with an individual.
Thus, many charities inspire donations and volunteerism by showing the faces of those they serve, whether they’re hungry...
The “S” in the SUCCESs formula for creating “sticky” messages stands for “stories.” Using stories in your messages inspires action. Stories motivate people to act and they tell people how to act.
In the late 1990s, Subway introduced a line of seven healthier sandwiches, each with under 6 grams of fat. It touted them in an ad campaign with the message “7 under 6.” That wasn’t a very sticky message by the standards of this book, but it caught the attention of college student Jared Fogle, who, at 425 pounds, had developed disabling health and mobility problems. He resolved to lose weight and started by trying one of Subway’s low-fat subs. He liked it and developed a diet of a 12-inch veggie sub for lunch and a six-inch turkey sub for dinner.
Over three months, he lost nearly 100 pounds, so he continued. He also began walking. A former roommate was so impressed with Fogle’s transformation that he wrote an article for the college paper. A writer for a national health magazine saw the article and mentioned the Subway diet in an article on crazy diets.
The story took a circuitous route to national fame after that. A Subway franchise...
An inspirational story can help you get your message across. The key is spotting stories you can use. There are three common types: challenge stories, connection stories, and creativity stories.
Think of a story you read or heard recently that was inspiring and stuck in your mind. What made it inspiring? Was it a challenge, connection, or creativity story?
Following are some challenges and tips for putting the SUCCESs checklist into practice to make your ideas stick.
1) If the message works, leave it alone, even if it’s not exactly the message you intended. Once you’ve presented your idea, your audience owns it and may adapt it in ways you didn’t expect. They may change the meaning, compress it, or improve on it. For instance, Dodgers coach Leo Durocher is credited with the phrase, “Nice guys finish last,” but he actually said something longer and more complicated. For years, he denied the shortened version, but it stuck and he eventually gave up and used it as the title of his autobiography.
**2) To stay alert and able to spot useful ideas and...