Author: Chip & Dan Heath
Publisher: Random House
Year Published: 2007
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In a world of infinite choices, how do you communicate your ideas in a way that people will understand and remember what you tell them? How do you make your ideas as sticky as those urban legends about kidney heists and razor blades in Halloween candy or pseudo-facts like you only use 10% of your brain or that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from space? Or all those conspiracy theories and tales of celebrity shenanigans that spread like wildfire, regardless of if they have a grain of truth to them? That’s the key issue that brothers Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick.
The Heaths wrote Made to Stick as a companion book to Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. In that book, Gladwell addressed the concept of “The Stickiness Factor” and observed that innovations are more likely to reach the tipping point when they’re sticky. Inspired, the Heaths took that “stickiness” concept and set out to find what exactly makes some ideas stick while others disappear.
Made to Stick documents their findings – that while there is no “formula” for a sticky idea, sticky ideas come from a common set of six traits: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories. The cutesy acronym they came up with for this was a Simple Unexpected Concrete Credentialed Emotional Story or SUCCESs.
Sounds easy, right? So why aren’t all ideas sticky? The problem (or villain in this tale) is the Curse of Knowledge. In other words, those telling the story assume details that the Average Joe just doesn’t know. To elaborate, the Heaths cite a study of “tappers” and “listeners” done at Stanford.
In the experiment, researcher Elizabeth Newton assigned two groups of people a role – that of a tapper or that of a listener. The tappers than had to tap out the rhythm of a well known song like Happy Birthday or The Star Spangled Banner. The listeners then had to figure out which song was being tapped. Tappers were asked ahead of time to predict the odds that listeners would guess correctly. They predicted 50%. In actuality, tappers only guessed right 2.5% – quite a discrepancy!
As tappers tapped the song, they, of course, had the song playing in their head. It was obvious to them what they were tapping to. You can’t tap Happy Birthday without hearing the melody. But listeners didn’t have that bit of knowledge, so what they hear is a bunch of disconnected taps that sound like Morse Code. Tappers were astounded by how listeners seemed to struggle when, to them, the melody was completely obvious.
And that’s the problem we all face when trying to make an idea stick. We already know why it should be sticky and find it extremely difficult to remember what life was like when we didn’t know it. But the people we’re communicating these ideas to live in that world. They can listen as much as they’d like – or we’d like them to – but they don’t hear the melody that’s playing in our heads as we tap out our ideas to them. And that’s where these six traits come into play.
The book is laid out in six chapters each focusing on one of the six traits. Each chapter contains lots of great examples and “Idea Clinics” which are practical, real-life exercises that walk you through the process of making an idea stickier. These Clinics are separate from the text so that those who want to skip them can easily do so. I found them extremely helpful, so I’d advise against skipping them.
Made to Stick is a must read for advertisers and communicators who want to create a message that spreads. It’s an entertaining, well researched read that will leave you with ideas you can put into practice immediately.