Made to Stick

Made to stick.JPGI wish I were a better story teller–I tend to get lost in the details.  I get my points across just fine, but without a conscious outline the main ideas become blurred and less memorable.  However, when I think about the raconteurs I’ve met over the years, they do a whole lot more than avoid sharing minutia.  They slip in the right details, yet keep it simple.  The core message is crystal clear, and there is often an element of surprise that vivifies the ending, making the key points easy to recall.  Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath codifies the art of transferring ideas.  The Heath brothers do a brilliant job simplifying the essentials on how to make ideas stick.

What’s the Big Idea?!

Despite the hokiness acronyms inevitably carry, they work.  To help the reader remember the tools to the art of idea stickiness, the authors use the acronym SUCCESs as the backbone of their book:


Don’t worry, they recognize the cheesiness–they don’t take themselves too seriously.

There are a few takeaways I really enjoyed, starting with this video:

Unexpected?  “The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern” (64).  Had this commercial come out and said, “Safety is important.  Statistics show that people are X% more likely to survive a car crash if they are buckled in and . . .” it would stick about as well as teflon.

Anything out of the ordinary immediately enslaves our attention.  It’s a survival mechanism that alerts us to danger, though, the effect extends to jokes, stories, and facts.  Jokes that are the most memorable and funny are the ones whose punchlines are unexpected.  I still remember a story an acquaintance told almost a decade ago because it ended with him accidentally cramming a fist-full of hay into a wild horse’s nostril.

At the same time, the unexpected event has to tie in to the purpose of your idea.  I guarantee that if you paused with a blank face for 30 seconds in the middle of a speech and then yelled, “Burrito!” before continuing that you would be remembered. . . but you would be remembered as the burrito guy.


“For people to take action, they have to care” (168).

If you have a credible idea that you explain rationally, you’ll like get people to believe, but believing isn’t enough.  To get others to care, the idea needs to be tied into their relevant domain.  The WIIFY concept get’s at the heart of it:

What’s in it for you?

This sounds like a pessimistic view of humanity, but the point isn’t to simply placate the selfish desires of others.  Providing someone with a service opportunity like being a mentor answers the WIIFY question because the mentorship would allow him or her to help others reach their potential. Often, the most motivating ideas appeal to nobler needs.

When people subconsciously “decide” to care, the underlying question can also be “What does someone like me do?”  We group ourselves into different categories based on political and religious affiliation, ethnicity, gender, class and character traits.  If I view myself as a risk-taker, and an idea  is presented to me as being beneficial because it is a surefire, cautious approach, I am less likely to take action on that idea.  There’s nothing in it for me because it doesn’t mesh with the characteristics I value or how I see myself.

Ultimately, you can be a polished speaker or writer, have all of your facts lined up, and still have your message fall flat.  While “voice” can be a very important element in how people perceive your ideas, it doesn’t always bridge the gap to action.  The guidelines in Made to Stick focus on how the message itself needs to be packaged so people believe, care, AND act.


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