When I read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, I quickly became a convert. I learned to watch for, and value, stickiness. But it was harder to understand how to make my nonprofit client’s ideas and messages stick.
Now, brothers Chip and Dan Heath, fill in the blanks with their just-released guide, Made to Stick. For the Heath’s, stickiness is all about “ensuring your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact — they change your audience’s opinions or behavior“.
Dan—a consultant at Duke—and his brother Chip—a professor at Stanford Business School— found that messages of all kinds—from the infamous “organ theft ring” hoax and a coach’s lessons on sportsmanship to a product vision statement from Sony—draw their power from the same six principles of stickiness:
- Simple — Hone in on the essence of your subject, stripping out the extra. Think core and compact, like a proverb.
- Unexpected — Break a pattern or routine to get attention. Use unexpected stories, language, channels. Highlight a gap in knowledge. Create mystery with a teaser.
- Concrete — Abstraction is hard to digest, and to retain. Explain your idea or message in concrete terms to help people understand (with less room for interpretation) and remember.
- Credible — Help audiences believe. Cite authorities, details and statistics.
- Emotional — Make people care. Appeal to self-interest. Introduce audiences to others they can relate to, link your messages to what they already care about and their aspirations. The Times Neediest Cases Fund excels here, crafting compelling profiles supported by photos to generate a great deal of empathy, interest and donations among Times readers. I’ve been reading those profiles since I was a kid, and giving every year.
- Story(telling) — A story brings ideas to life, placing them in a lifelike framework we can relate to, and remember. The Neediest Cases Fund excels at telling powerful stories. Stories are frequently unexpected, concrete, emotional and credible. The best ones are simple enough to be remembered and re-told.
But beware the Curse of Knowledge. The Brothers Heath explain that our knowledge is often a barrier to clear messages, because we can’t imagine (and sometimes don’t try) the perspective of someone who doesn’t know it. The more we know about a subject, the less we’re able to shape it into a message that will stick, but the Heaths offer strategies for defeating the Curse of Knowledge and other
roadblocks to sticky success.
Made to Stick is the rare business book that’s well-written and absolutely entertaining. And Chip and Dan walk the walk, building their book on a foundation of compelling anecdotes and stories. Made to Stick is a must read for anyone striving to craft messages that are memorable and lasting.
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