Made to Stick

Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
ISBN: 1400064287

I read Made to Stick last month, then loaned out my copy before I wrote my review. (Not my brightest idea, but I was excited and couldn’t wait to share.) Since then, I’ve urged several other people to read the book — because I think it presents a compelling case for changing the way you present information. I also figured, procrastination aside, that waiting awhile might make for a better review, because I would be able to tell whether or not the Heath brothers’ ideas stuck.

For the most part, I think they do. That’s because they follow their own advice and throw in plenty of examples (the kidney theft urban legend, the story behind Subway’s Jared campaign) and give the reader the chance to test things out (by considering how to improve not-quite-right messages). They also came up with an acronym to make key points memorable:

Simple
Unexpected
Concrete
Credible
Emotional
Stories
s

There is no second S — things are just easier to remember as a word, in this case a word that just happens to be what you want. Clever, but not so clever that you want to smack the authors. Simple means knowing your core message, and knowing your core message is one thing, not four things with 3 subsections each. The unexpected part grabs people’s attention (and helps create a knowledge gap you can fill), the credible part helps the more logically-minded folk accept that what really gets them is emotional, and stories are the package we remember and retell.

All of which might make you wonder, if it is really so easy, why doesn’t everybody get it? Why aren’t all the presentations we listen to (or give) compelling? What is wrong with us? The Heath brothers have an answer for that, too: the curse of knowledge.

Put nicely, we are so freaking smart we get in our own way when we try and deliver a message to someone who isn’t as wrapped up in the subject at hand as we are. We assume too much, sometimes even that our listeners know why they should care about our message. We assume people “get” something just because we do, because we forget that we have some kind of special, or specialized knowledge. (To illustrate this, they told a story about an experiment where people were asked to tap out a famous song, and the other participants in the experiment tried to indentify it. Tappers kept hearing the actual song in their heads, which of course the listeners couldn’t. Most listeners couldn’t identify the song, and most tappers couldn’t understand why not because it was so obvious to them.)

Just go get the book already, and get people who need to know the difference between a data dump and teaching to read it. Get folks who think PowerPoint presentations are the end all be all to read it. Get people who have a message to deliver to read it. If you have even a glancing interest in business books, you probably need to read this. If you saw value in books like A Whole New Mind, The Tipping Point, The Wisdom of Crowds, or Freakonomics, this will probably be worth your time as well. Highly recommended.

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