If you want to succeed, you need people to remember and act on your ideas. For instance, if you are a leader, you want people to catch your vision. If you are a speaker, you want your audience to internalize your speech. If you are a writer, you want your readers to resonate with your writing.
Unfortunately, attention is a scarce resource. There are so many things competing for your audience’s attention. So, to be successful, there’s no choice but to make your ideas stand out.
The book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath aims to solve that problem. In the authors’ own words:
We wanted to take apart sticky ideas – both natural and created – and figure out what made them stick.
As a person who is dealing with communicating ideas (through this blog, for instance), this book is interesting for me. Let’s see what it has to offer.
Inside Made to Stick
The book consists of eight parts: introduction, chapter 1 to 6, and epilogue. The six chapters deal with the six principles of creating sticky ideas: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and Stories (the acronym is SUCCESs).
Introduction: What Sticks
First, of course, we need to define what is meant with “stick”. In this book, “stick” means “your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact – they change your audience’s opinions or behavior”.
The premise of the book is that we can learn to create sticky ideas. The premise is inspired by the result of a research in 1999 that tried to classify hundreds of ads. Based on the research, 89 percent of the award-winning ads could be classified into six basic categories while only 2 percent of the less successful ads can be classified. The lesson is clear though surprising: Highly creative ads are more predictable than uncreative ones.
Chapter 1: Simple
The first principle to make sticky idea is to be simple. “Simple” means finding the core of the idea. It requires forced prioritization in which we should weed out ideas that are important but aren’t the most important. In addition, the main idea should also be compact. The less the amount of information in it, the stickier it will be. Great examples here are proverbs. Proverbs are both core and compact, and that’s why they have such lasting impact.
Chapter 2: Unexpected
This chapter focuses on two questions: How do I get people’s attention? And, How do I keep it? The answer to the first question is surprise because surprise gets our attention. The answer to the second question is interest because interest keeps our attention.
To create surprise, your idea should be unexpected. It should break a pattern in your audience’s guessing machines. Be sure, however, that the pattern you target relates to your core message. Otherwise the surprise won’t help you get your message across.
To create interest, you should ask your audience to follow a journey which ending is unpredictable. This is continuous unexpectedness. Make them curious by opening gaps in their knowledge which they need to close.
Chapter 3: Concrete
Abstraction makes it harder to understand an idea and to remember it. Concreteness helps us avoid these problems. How do we say that something is concrete? We say that something is concrete when we can examine it with our senses. For instance, a V8 engine is concrete while “high-performance” is abstract. Sticky ideas are full of concrete words and images.
Chapter 4: Credible
Your audience must believe in your ideas if you want the ideas to be sticky. That’s why credibility is important. There are two ways to achieve credibility:
- External credibility
An authority (an expert) or an anti-authority (someone who has first-hand experience) supports the idea.
- Internal credibility
The idea has convincing details, accessible statistics, or testable credentials.
Chapter 5: Emotional
While believing in your idea is good, it’s not enough to get people to act. They should also care about your idea. For that, your ideas should have emotional value. There are three ways to create emotional value:
- Use the power of association
Form an association between something they don’t yet care about and something they do care about.
- Appeal to self-interest
Appeal to things that matter to them. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is helpful here to help you identify what matter to them.
- Appeal to identity
Understand how people make decisions based on their identity and make your idea appeal to it.
Chapter 6: Stories
Stories are useful to get people to act. The power of stories is twofold: it provides simulation (which tells people how to act) and inspiration (which gives people energy to act).
Research shows that when we listen to a story, we don’t just visualize it; we simulate it. That’s why story is powerful to give people a sense of how to act.
The good news is you don’t have to invent stories to have powerful stories to tell. You can just spot stories that suit your core message.
Epilogue: What Sticks
Spotting sticky ideas is just as effective as creating them. In fact, a good spotter will always trump a great creator because the world has more sticky ideas than what one person could ever produce.
For an idea to be sticky, first of all it should be simple. After that, it should make the audience:
- Pay attention (by making the idea unexpected)
- Understand and remember it (by making the idea concrete)
- Agree / believe (by making the idea credible)
- Care (by making the idea emotional)
- Be able to act on it (by making a story)
Made to Stick is a powerful book for those who need to communicate their ideas. As someone who often tries to get my ideas across, I really find the principles in the book useful. Of course, applying the principles takes practice and diligence, but this is the best book I know so far on making winning ideas.