Notable passages from
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Random House, New York, 2007
As we pored over hundreds of sticky ideas, we saw, over and over, the same six principles at work.
- PRINCIPLE 1: SIMPLICITY
How do we find the essential core of our ideas?… To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize. Saying something short is not the mission—sound bites are not the ideal. Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and short.
- PRINCIPLE 2: UNEXPECTEDNESS
How do we get our audience to pay attention to our ideas, and how do we maintain their interest when we need time to get the idea across? We need to violate people's expectations. We need to be counterintuitive.… 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 ideas to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity.… We can engage people's curiosity over a long period of time by systematically "opening gaps" in their knowledge—and then filling those gaps.
- PRINCIPLE 3: CONCRETENESS
How do we make our ideas clear? We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. 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 … because our brains are wired to remember concrete data.… Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience.
- PRINCIPLE 4: CREDIBILITY
How do we make people believe our ideas?… Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials. We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves—a "try before you buy" philosophy for the world of ideas. When we're trying to build a case for something, most of us instinctively grasp for hard numbers. But in many cases this is exactly the wrong approach. In the sole U.S. presidential debate in 1980 between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, Reagan could have cited innumerable statistics demonstrating the sluggishness of the economy. Instead, he asked a simple question that allowed voters to test for themselves: "Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago."
- PRINCIPLE 5: EMOTIONS
How do we get people to care about our ideas? We make them feel something.… We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.
- PRINCIPLE 6: STORIES
How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories.… Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter the situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.
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Contrast the "maximize shareholder value" idea with John F. Kennedy's famous 1961 call to "put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade." Simple? Yes. Unexpected? Yes. Concrete? Amazingly so. Credible? The goal seemed like science fictional, but the source was credible. Emotional? Yes. Story? In miniature.
Had John F.Kennedy been a CEO, he would have said, "Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives." Fortunately, JFK was more intuitive than a modern-day CEO; he knew that opaque, abstract missions don't captivate and inspire people. The moon mission was a classic case of the communicator's dodging the Curse of Knowledge. It was a brilliant and beautiful idea—a single idea that motivated the actions of millions of people for a decade.
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Simple = Core + Compact
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Here is the bottom line for our everyday purposes: If you want your ideas to be stickier, you've got to break someone's guessing machine and then fix it. But in surprising people, in breaking their guessing machines, how do we avoid gimmicky surprise …? The easiest way to avoid gimmicky surprise and ensure that your unexpected ideas produce insight is to make sure you target an aspect of your audience's guessing machines that relates to your core message.
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Statistics are a good source of internal credibility when they are used to illustrate relationships.
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