I take notes so you don’t have to.
From time to time, I’ll read a book that revolutionizes the way I approach life or business. When I find one, I share what I learned.
This time around, I help you connect with your audience and make your ideas more memorable by sharing my notes on Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.
[FTC Disclaimer: If you buy a book by clicking on one of the links in this page, I get a little bit of a kickback. Buy one book, I can get myself a pack of gum. Buy two, I might be able to get a beer, but only PBR draft at a cheap dive bar. If you really want to help a brother out, buy 1,000 copies of one of the books on this page so I can swing rent for the month.]
What do John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and kidney thieves have in common?
The answer is simple: they knew how to create messages that last.
In order to figure out where that last one fits in, you’ll have to pick up the Heath brothers’ book (available here). In the meantime, I’ll share a few things that I’ve learned from reading Made to Stick.
After reading this review, you’ll walk away with a working model of how to make your messages more sticky, and I’ll share how I was able to make my own message more sticky using the Made to Stick formula.
If Stickiness was a superhero, Knowledge would be its archenemy.
Technical jargon. Context. Past experiences. Each of these can get in the way of effectively making your point.
Simply put, the more you know about a subject, the harder it is to communicate the idea. We forget what it was like to not know what we know. This is the Curse of Knowledge, and it wants to destroy your ideas at all costs.
The Curse of Knowledge, however, has a weakness.
It turns out that there’s a formulaic approach to defeating the Curse of Knowledge: SUCCES. As you might expect, it’s an acronym for something profound.
SUCCES stands for the six elements of a sticky idea:
Let’s examine each in more detail.
Simplicity helps free you from The Curse of Knowledge.
Make an idea simple. Strip the idea to its core–you’ll be backing this up with the rest of the SUCCES framework. Chip and Dan use the journalism metaphor of the lead as an exercise in simplicity. In journalism, the lead is the main summary of the article. If a reader reads the lead and nothing else, they would walk away with the information that the reporter needed to convey to get his message across.
Burying the lead, then, is beginning a story with unnecessary details, withholding the main point until a later point in the story. For an idea to be simple and effective, leave behind the ideas that are merely interesting and begin your story with the core idea.
Unexpectedness captures your audience’s attention.
“Self-entrepreneurship starts with being your own best customer.”
An unexpected or surprising question or statement grabs your audience’s attention. “Really?” they ask. Surprise makes us stop and think about the message, so if you want your audience to take notice, give them something to think about.
In order to keep them interested, though, it’s important to maintain their curiosity. You’ve probably all but forgotten the reference to kidney thieves from my lead, but by bringing them up once again–creating a gap in your knowledge that your brain wants badly to fill–you might find yourself obsessing over it until you have an opportunity to read the book. Gaps in our knowledge are uncomfortable, so mystery keeps us on the edges of our seats until we can solve it.
Challenge is equally provoking. Given an insurmountable task within a set of concrete constraints, we can focus on a problem until it’s finished. Tim Ferriss did it with The Four Hour Workweek. The title alone begged the question, “How can I survive by working just four hours a week?” It was unexpected–it posed a problem that most people deemed impossible–and it took the world by storm, reaching #1 on the New York Times best sellers list as readers worked to close the gaps in their knowledge.
My challenge to you with The Self Entrepreneur is to set your own insurmountable goal–and then find a way to conquer it.
Concreteness helps your audience understand–and remember.
Because we each have our own sets of knowledge and experiences, everyone approaches problems differently.
I was once trying to explain social media marketing strategies to a young member of a client’s team–specifically, using Facebook and Twitter to connect with their customers. The owners of the business, who had spent thirty years growing the business through shaking hands and building relationships, understood the value in having conversations with their customers online. After all, they had built the business the very same way. What they didn’t understand, however, was the technology, so they had asked their administrative assistant to handle their marketing efforts for them.
The young woman understood Facebook and Twitter perfectly. “You post useful information, and people read it,” she explained. “But what do we post?”
I couldn’t give her an answer. The dark cloud of the Curse of Knowledge had descended upon me and I couldn’t remember what it was like when I was learning to have conversations online.
I tried to explain the importance of networking and relationships, but it was as if I was speaking a different language. We couldn’t connect.
Concreteness could have solved the problem by putting the conversation in terms that we could both relate to. An appropriate response may have been, “Imagine that you meet a man at a networking event. He’s wearing a grey power suit, carrying a brief case, and he’s wearing a name badge that says, ‘Verizon.’ Your company has a product that Verizon could really benefit from, and you want the opportunity to pitch him on the product. How would you approach the man?”
“I’d introduce myself and ask them about his role in the company,” she may have said. “I’d learn more about him and, if the opportunity presented itself, I’d tell him about our product.”
Putting the conversation in terms we could both understand would have helped me communicate my message, and the concrete details in the story (the grey power suit, the name badge) would have helped her visualize and remember. When communicating your message, be sure to speak about them in terms that place the idea in the real world. Concrete, tangible ideas are more effective than the abstract.
Credibility lets your audience believe and agree with you.
In order for your message to stick, your audience must agree with you.
Credibility will help them do just that. I won’t spend a lot of time on this section–you’ll have to pick up the book–but I can share some sources of credibility that you can use to make your idea more sticky.
First is the anti-authority. In the section above, I positioned myself as an anti-authority on concreteness. I shared my mistakes and how they could have been improved.
Chip and Dan use a more powerful example in their book. They tell the story of a 30-something woman speaking out against smoking. What made her the anti-authority on tobacco? She was a lifelong smoker and she was dying of lung cancer. Her story was irrefutable. She smoked, she suffered, and she was all the proof anyone would ever need.
Stories also help your audience believe your idea. If they can visualize the story and the story is believable, they’ll be able to imagine themselves in the character’s shoes and test out the idea for themselves. The authors describe a shipping company that was vying for a major contract–shipping the new Harry Potter book to bookstores around the world. It was a huge project–the books had to arrive on time and the delivery company had to have strict security to prevent the book from getting into the hands of the public early.
The company could have told the book publishers about the wonderful track record, citing delivery statistics and such. Instead, they told a story of a similar situation. The publishing executive’s son had recently taken an important exam–and the shipping company had been in charge of delivering the exam booklets. Instantly, the exec found himself on common ground with the shipping company, and the deal was made.
Appealing to emotions makes your audience care.
Emotional appeals and rational arguments cannot take place at the same time. Therefore, appealing to your audience’s emotions will prevent them from analyzing your argument on a rational level and begin looking at the message based on how it makes them feel.
The quickest way to appeal to your audience’s emotions is to appeal to their self-interest. For example, if I were to offer you a product–the Made to Stick book, say–and tell you about its benefits, you’d process the data rationally. If you were to imagine yourself enjoying the benefits of reading this book–the confidence you’ll feel by crafting more persuasive messages, the ability to move closer to reaching your full potential–you assess the product on an emotional level.
The authors address Maslow’s hierarchy of needs regularly throughout the book. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a psychology theory of motivation, moving from the most basic human needs (physiological needs) to higher-level, emotional needs. The top of the pyramid is self-actualization, or living up to one’s full potential.
The authors say that to effectively appeal to your audience’s emotions, you need to “stay out of Maslow’s basement,” referring to lower-level physiological needs, and focus on appealing to the reader’s need for self-actualization.
Further, you can appeal to an individual’s identity. People who use Apple computers identify with other Mac users–it becomes part of who they are. If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to pick a fight with a Mac owner about his “inferior” laptop.
Similarly, motorcyclists identify with one another. There’s a similarity, a rapport between members of a tribe who share a common identity.
Stories help your audience take action.
We’ve talked about how concreteness and mystery can make an idea more sticky. Stories serve as a sort of simulation for the behavior that we want our ideas to inspire–your listener can mentally test out how they would test out a situation if you describe the problem in a story. If your audience can imagine doing the desired action, they’re more likely to remember your message. Think Aesop. His fables are sticky ideas that have been around for 2,500 years. His most sticky ideas created knowledge gaps for the listener, put him or her in the protagonist’s shoes, and allowed them to solve the problem for themselves.
Virtually every story that serves as a mental simulation shares one of three plotlines:
Challenge: stories (like David and Goliath) that talk about overcoming daunting obstacles lets the audience imagine how they would approach the problem, giving them an action to take.
Connection: connection plots focus on solving problems by building relationships. They inspire us to take action in social ways.
Creativity: creativity plots start with innovation–tackling a problem in a creative or novel way.
If you hit your listeners right between the eyes with an argument, they respond by fighting back. It’s like you’re saying, “I’m challenging you to evaluate this message.” Stories, though, make your ideas more sticky by engaging your audience. Stories get the audience working with you, no against you, in order to solve a problem.
Summary: Make your ideas sticky and you can change the world.
The biggest takeaway that I get from Made to Stick was the authors’ uses of concrete examples. They told stories of real people who achieved amazing things by making their ideas sticky. Man landed on the moon because the challenge was put in concrete terms that every member of the team could understand. A nurse saved a baby’s life because of her experience–and the story she could tell to get her audience to understand.
These stories alone are worth the time it takes you to read the book. When you’re done reading, you will have the confidence it takes to reach your goals by designing your ideas to be more persuasive and more memorable.