Made-to-Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

I usually don’t recommend a book this unconditionally, but what the hey: This may just be the most important book I’ve ever read – and I suspect – no matter how good you are – it will help you, too. Worst case; I think at least you’ll find yourself entertained…

The ONE thing: Why you need to read it

Here’s the thing; if there is ONE thing you need to think about in addition to what it is you’re actually doing for a living – THIS is it!

You need to make the thing you’re trying to give them “sticky” enough that it gets remembered and talked about. That’s the best (and maybe the only) way it’s going to get to the people who need it.Of course, it would be better, if all greatness would rise to the deserved or even necessary level of recognition – sadly, however – it is not so! Therefore, you need to find a way to present your message so it “STICKS” in the head of your audience, hence the title.

So, we agree it is a problem – The question still remaining is HOW do you make it sticky? This is what this book explains so well – and exactly WHY you should read it.

This book is well written, thoughtful, entertaining and engagingly exploring how this complicated process works. It contains a lot of useful how-to’s as well as nice “a-ha” moments constructed by reframing old concepts.Also, the Heath brothers know how to make the information accessible and relevant, without ever getting the feeling that they’ve dumbed it down or made it overly complex, a notion I get regularly from business books. I cannot remember the last time I read a book without having to mentally argue certain points with the authors — but in this case I either agreed with them completely or was wowed by their insights.

The BEST thing: It is all about application

But the best thing about Made to Stick is the way it gets the wheels in your head turning as you get all fired up – thinking about how you’re going to apply this stuff – to EVERYTHING. Then at some point you start filtering everything through the stickiness filter … and boy is it ever interesting. All the information you interact with on a regular basis? These concepts give you a different way to relate to the stuff you’re probably thinking about anyway.

Anyway, obviously if you have a business or a project or a venture you can take this stuff and apply it to pretty much every part of what you do … from crafting your message to finally rewriting your web copy to helping your clients/fans/whatever really get who you are and what you do.

And if you aren’t in the process of “selling” yourself, you can still make use of these concepts to increase your understaing of how to effectively frame information that you want people to remember. Conversely, you get better at noticing when and how others might be pulling your strings to influence you.

The authors have also started a blog to continue the discussion of the ideas from the book.

The SUMMARY thing (I still recommend you READ it yourself – if you’re a bit lazy like me – do the audio book version):


What? Find the CORE of your idea.

This isn’t done by ‘dumbing it down’; this is done by finding what is essential to your message. Strip your idea down to the bare essential. 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.”

How? Be a master of exclusion – remove all distractions – give context

We must relentlessly prioritize. “It’s hard to make ideas stick in a noisy, unpredictable, chaotic environment. If we’re to succeed, the first step is this: Be simple. Not simple in terms of ‘dumbing down’ or ’sound bites.’ What we mean by ’simple’ is finding the core of the idea. ‘Finding the core’ means stripping an idea down to its most critical essence.” (pgs. 27, 28)


What? Get the ATTENTION of your audience – and KEEP it.

How? Violate people’s expectations – be counterintuitive – surprise them – break their ‘guessing machine’ and then repair it.

A bag of popcorn is as unhealthy as a whole day’s worth of fatty foods! We can use surprise — an emotion whose function is to increase alertness and cause focus — to grab people’s attention. But surprise doesn’t last. For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity. “The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern. Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns. Figure out what is counterintuitive about the message-i.e., What are the unexpected implications of your core message? Communicate your message in a way that breaks your audiences’ guessing machines.” (pgs. 64, 72)


What? Concrete is memorable – abstract is not. Make your idea like Velcro. Hook them through concreteness.

How? We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information something to REALTE to. This is where so much business communication goes awry.

Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions — they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless. Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images — ice-filled bathtubs, apples with razors — because our brains are wired to remember concrete data. In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language: “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience. “Abstraction makes it harder to understand an idea and to remember it. It also makes it harder to coordinate our activities with others, who may interpret the abstraction in very different ways. Concreteness helps us avoid these problems.” (pg. 100)


What? Help people BELIEVE. Honesty and trustworthiness should be glorified.

How? Use authorities and anti-authorities. Vivid details boost credibility.

If possible, use statistics that generate a human context. “How do we get people to believe our ideas? We’ve got to find a source of credibility to draw on. A person’s knowledge of details is often a good proxy for her expertise. Think of how a history buff can quickly establish her credibility by telling an interesting Civil War anecdote. But concrete details don’t just lend credibility to the authorities who provide them; they lend credibility to the idea itself.” (pgs. 138, 163)


What? Make people care – feel something.

How? Associate ideas with emotions that already exist in others. Bridge the emotional gap between your idea (that they don’t care about – yet) with something they already are emotional or care about. Place emphasis on benefits!

Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region. We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions. Sometimes the hard part is finding the right emotion to harness. For instance, it’s difficult to get teenagers to quit smoking by instilling in them a fear of the consequences, but it’s easier to get them to quit by tapping into their resentment of the duplicity of Big Tobacco. “How can we make people care about our ideas? We get them to take off their Analytical Hats. We create empathy for specific individuals. We show how our ideas are associated with things that people already care about. We appeal to their self-interest, but we also appeal to their identities-not only to the people they are right now but also to the people they would like to be.” (pg. 203)


What? Create and tell your stories.

Firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire, and by doing so they multiply their experience; after years of hearing stories, they have a richer, more complete mental catalog of critical situations they might confront during a fire and the appropriate responses to those situations. Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively. Get people to act. Use stories as stimulation (tell people how to act). Use stories as inspiration (give people energy to act). “A story is powerful because it provides the context missing from abstract prose. This is the role that stories play-putting knowledge into a framework that is more lifelike, more true to our day-to-day existence. Stories are almost always CONCRETE. Most of them have EMOTIONAL and UNEXPECTED elements. The hardest part of using stories effectively is make sure they’re SIMPLE-that they reflect your core message. It’s not enough to tell a great story; the story has to reflect your agenda.” (pgs. 214, 237)

How? That’s a subject on its own…

By the way: Did you notice it spells – SUCCES(s)?

Coincience – I think not!



What I learned – Efficient messages – The Hamster Revolution

A few years ago, I came across an effective technique for writing effective messages. The rule which goes under the acronym the ABC-rule, is merely a small part of a book called the Hamster Revolution. Yet it is one of the most effective techniques I know – the rule is simple to apply and easy to remember, helping to remove clutter and provide clarity.

As we all experience on a daily basis, in a world of information overload we are surrounded by “wall of words” and weak subject lines that make little or no sense. Although we know our messages are not very effective, we sometimes don’t always know how to take action on it (have a look out for the “Knowing Doing Gap” and watch for a brief summary coming up on this blog). This little “trick” is something you can take action on starting today – and it starts with you:

The ABC method:

In its core, the ABC method splits the body of the message into three parts: Action, Background and Close (ABC)

A – Action summarizes your purpose – stating clearly what you want – avoid clutter
B – Background presents your key points – stating why you want it – a little context
C – Close clarifies the next steps – stating what happens next – you could say how or when you intend to follow it up

The book also makes a point of stating the essence of the message in the subject line. If you’re able – write an executive summary in the subject field. Examples of such subject headers are:

“Info – Sales figures Q4 2008”
“Action – Send your me your input for the strategy meeting by wednesday 3rd”

The moral of the story:
Clarity is obviously a blessing – especially for the recipient – he doesn’t have to ask or assume. I have also found that from my experience – as a “side-effect” from applying this rule – clarifying my e-mail messages have lead to clarifying my own thoughts – and more importantly intensions.



What I learned – The Go-Giver

In line with the story telling tradition of “The one minute manager”, “The Go-Giver” is an easy to read, heartwarming and inspiring tale that brings new relevance to the old proverb “give and you shall receive”. The Go-Giver tells the story of an ambitious young man named Joe who yearns for success. Joe is a true go-getter, though sometimes he feels as if the harder and faster he works, the further away his goals seem to be. And so, one day, desperate to land a key sale at the end of a bad quarter, he seeks advice from the enigmatic Pindar, a legendary consultant referred to by his many devotees simply as the Chairman.

Over the next week, Pindar introduces Joe to a series of “go-givers”: a restaurateur, a CEO, a financial adviser, a real-estate broker, and the “Connector”, who brought them all together. Pindar’s friends share with Joe the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success and teach him how to open himself up to the power of giving. Joe learns that changing his focus from getting to giving – putting others’ interests first and continually adding value to their lives – ultimately leads to unexpected returns.

During the 5 working days of the week, one new laws is revealed and presented:

  1. Law of value – Does it serve? It is stated that true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment. It is hard to argue otherwise.
  2. Law of compensation – How many people do you serve and how well do you serve them?
  3. Law of influence – How much do you place other people’s interest first?
  4. Law of authenticity – Is it true to who you are and what you are about? To sustain credibility you cannot mimic other people.
  5. Law of receptivity – In order to give, somebody has to receive. This means that you need to be willing and able to receive from others. Don’t take away other people’s

I believe the book ties well into what to me seems to be a wave of “purpose orientation”. In the global collapse of the economy, it seems we need to revive from the previous shallow monetary and social success.

The book does a good job of redefining success in a sense a little bit like Coveys “The 8th habit”.

Worth reading?
Yes, I think it is an inspiring anecdote and it doesn’t take long to read. If you’re anything like me, you buy the audio book at audible.


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