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.

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill


If you had a net worth of $1,000,000,000 and lived to be 100, you would have made $19 for every minute that you had been alive.  Now, if you’re Bill Gates, who will be turning 60 this year, the $79.2 billion that he has amassed would give him a lifelong minutely wage of over $2,510 or  about $42 for every second of his life.

When you look at the 1,826 billionaires in the world today, their money has come from a variety of places: real estate, investments, medical devices, fashion, e-commerce, etc.  (My favorite listing on the Forbes list: Emmanuel Besnier–Source of Wealth: Cheese).  Maybe you really want to knock it out of the park like these wealthy wonders.  Perhaps being a multimillionaire could suit you just fine.  You might just want to create a good or service that enthralls you personally and captures the attention of many customers and the money comes as a symptom.  Regardless, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill is a classic must-read.

**Caveat: While the title is overt about the pursuit of wealth, there is so much more to this book, and the publisher’s preface beautifully captures a sidebar to his main theme of financial success:        

Riches cannot always be measured in money! . . . there are some who will feel that the greatest of all riches can be evaluated only in terms of lasting friendships, harmonious family relationships, sympathy and understanding between business associates, and introspective harmony which brings one peace of mind measurable only in spiritual values!

What’s the big idea?! / The Big Picture

Think and Grow Rich distills the strategies and mindsets of many of the wealthy from the 19th and early 20th centuries.  In aggregate, it serves as a unique paradigm that glorifies the power of the mind; if you think something long enough it will become action and, in turn, reality.

The Thirteen Steps Toward Riches

The main body of the book are steps toward riches.  Make no mistake…these are not “13 life hacks to get rich quick” or “how to save money in 13 easy ways”.  These are 13 steps that follow the law of the harvest–you reap what you sow.  There are countless actionable items that can educate and shape your worldview to better capture opportunities and enhance your character and drive (if you let it). Below are the 13 steps, but I’m only going to dive into 1 of them.

  1. Desire
  2. Faith
  3. Autosuggestion
  4. Specialized Knowledge
  5. Imagination
  6. Organized Planning
  7. Decision
  8. Persistence
  9. Power of the Master Mind
  10. The Mystery of Sex Transmutation
  11. The Subconscious Mind
  12. The Brain
  13. The Sixth Sense

Autosuggestion is a well-known technique that much has been written about, yet many I know fail to employ it to its fullest.  “Autosuggestion is a term which applies to all suggestions and all self-administered stimuli which reach one’s mind through the five senses” (42).  Examples include self-talk (I think I can, I think I can), and visualization–imagining yourself accomplishing something.  Pro athletes, executives, and most high-achievers utilize some form of autosuggestion.

Sound like a bunch of crap?  Are you finding yourself saying, “How is talking to myself going to do anything?”  It’s so much more than that and–like many worthwhile endeavors–you reap what you sow.  Pro-tip from Napoleon: “Unless you mix emotion, or feeling with your words.  If you repeat a million times the famous Emil Coué formula, ‘Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better,’ without mixing emotion and faith with your words, you will experience no desirable results.  Your subconscious mind recognizes and acts upon only thoughts which have been well-mixed with emotion or feeling.”

I was made a believer of autosuggestion when I was studying for the GMAT some time ago.  At least 2-3 times a day for 6 months leading up to the test I repeated my mantra: “I will not give up.  I will not give in.  I will get a 740 on the GMAT, and I will help all those who follow.”  Does it sound ridiculous? Perhaps, but this desire I had to dominate this test  was transformed from words to belief, from belief to obsession, and my fixation drove my actions until I surpassed my goal.

If you have a goal that seems elusive or extraordinary, you definitely aren’t going to get there on the back of skepticism and negativity.  You won’t make it much past the first sign of struggle if you let the shadow of pessimism creep in.  Autosuggestion creates consistency of effort and is vital on the days that feel like failure, leaving in its wake a renewed drive to achieve.

Last Words . . .

Of all the books I have read, this is the most marked up.  Napoleon’s personal style aside, there are many passages and sections that are worth marking and reading on some frquency.  Specifically, towards the end of the book are a list of questions that I read every month.  Among them are a several that are helping me change for the better:

  • Do you form your own opinions or permit yourself to be influenced by other people?
  • Can you name 3 of your most damaging weaknesses? What are you doing to correct them? 
  • Do you find fault with people at the slight provocation?

And one that just makes me laugh:

  • Would you call yourself a “spineless weakling” if you permitted others to do your thinking for you?

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen

how wil you measure-3311

When I was 5, I wanted to be a brain surgeon when I grew up.  Not an astronaut, race car driver, fire fighter, or any of the typical childhood answers.  That was that–a brain surgeon and I couldn’t be convinced otherwise.  That is, until I just KNEW I wanted to be a CEO when I was in 5th grade.  It was such a burning desire that I did my big yearlong project on what it is like to be a CEO, and I was even able to interview a local CEO.  Over the years, I have always planned out overly prescriptive courses for my life, and have had a sense of failure when way lead on to way, when detours had to be taken, and when priorities changed.

I met with Professor Christensen, and was able to ask him a few questions.  He is the most kind-hearted and authentic person I have ever met.  Wise, yet humble.
I met with Professor Christensen, and was able to ask him a few questions. He is the most kind-hearted and authentic person I have ever met. Wise, yet humble. (He’s also 6′ 8″).

Clayton Christensen had similar ideals for what his career would be, but other opportunities unfolded in such a way that he never became editor of the Wall Street Journal like he originally intended.  Reflecting on his transitions from consultant to entrepreneur to academic, he writes:

Now at age fifty-nine and after a twenty-year career in academia, I still wonder occasionally whether it is finally time to try to become editor of the Wall Street Journal.  Academia became my deliberate strategy . . . But I have not twisted shut the flow of emergent problems of opportunities.  Just as I never imagined thirty years ago I’d end up here, who knows what might be just around the corner? (p. 52)

The lesson is to remain open to unanticipated possibilities, and though having a well-thought out strategy is vital, remaining stalwart to an original plan can prove to be a hindrance to future unexpected success.

What’s the big idea?!

How Will You Measure Your Life? takes a rational approach to purposeful work and personal life utilizing business theory and applying it to individuals in their journey towards a rewarding and meaningful life.

The Three Sections

The organization of this book deals with happiness with careers, happiness with relationship, and staying out of jail . . . which I suppose has a bit to do with happiness.  In an effort to distill the message of each section, I’ll share the most representative quote along with some thoughts.

I. Finding Happiness In Your Career

If the decisions you make about where you invest your blood, sweat and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person. p. 75

How will you measure your life?  What and who do you want to be?  What’s going to get you there?  Is it jumping at the bait of the highest salary, best benefits or glamour appeal?  While it is beyond cliché to say money isn’t everything, it’s an adage for a reason, but it’s only half of the story .  You won’t hear any idealistic “follow your dreams” sentiments from me–I didn’t study Chemical Engineering because I continually dreamt of thermodynamics, the Schrödinger equation, and McCabe-Thiele diagrams.  Even so, the factors in life that lead to career satisfaction are simple and universal.

The “motivation factors” referred to in this book are (1) challenging work, (2) recognition, (3) responsibility, and (4) personal growth.  You may not have complete autonomy with the level of all of these at your current job, but as you drive your decisions with these four factors in mind, happiness–and typically money–will be sure to follow.

Seek out new opportunities, projects, and responsibilities.  Instead of thinking, “What do I have to do to get a promotion around here?!”, think “What are all the experiences and problems that I have to learn about and master so that what comes out at the other end is somebody who is ready and capable of becoming [Insert whatever you want to be here]?” (p. 149)

II. Finding Happiness in Your Relationships

We find ourselves forgetting to return e-mails and phone calls from our friends and our families; neglecting birthdays and other celebrations that used to be important to us . . . Given that sacrifice deepens our commitment, it’s important to ensure that what we sacrifice for is worthy of that commitment. (p. 91)

Are our family and closest friends not worthy of that commitment? Sometimes it is a sacrifice to make time to connect with friends, and it is easy to assume that family will be there for whenever you have time (in some elusive, improbable, future moment).  However, there are no quick gains to be had with happy relationships.  Often, it takes small investments with the long-term in mind. “This means . . . that the time when it is most important to invest in building strong families and close friendships is when it appears, at the surface, as if it’s not necessary.” (p. 84)

III. Staying Out of Jail

The marginal cost of doing something “just this once” always seems to be negligible, but the full cost will typically be much higher.  Yet unconsciously, we will naturally employ the marginal-cost doctrine in our personal lives. (p. 186)

Choose who you want to be.  Be consistent.  Have some integrity.  ‘Nuff said!