Book Review – Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Executive Summary: Read it! Don't think you can catch the vision by reading book reviews that list the 6 main concepts. If you do, you'll miss a lot.
I read several good books a few months ago, but haven't yet gotten around to sharing insights I got from them and writing reviews. I'll probably spend the new few days here doing that.
You've probably already heard of the first one I've decided to tackle. You may even have read reviews that list the main concepts that it covers. And when you did, you may have thought you had a pretty good idea of what you'd find in the book, and decided not to read it.
Big mistake. One that I made at first myself. Only after I'd read another book by the same authors and heard other people talk about things in this book that I didn't get from skimming the table of contents did I realize I wasn't getting the whole picture.
The book is Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip and Dan Heath. If you've got an idea (or a product, a cause, etc.) that you'd like people to remember, act on, and spread, this book teaches some powerful ways to improve the odds of that happening.
The 6 main concepts that I mentioned above are that sticky ideas are:
My first mistake before reading the book was to think that "simple" meant "dumbed down". If you read the list above and start dumbing down your message, thinking that'll make it stick, you're in for a surprise -- you'll just make your idea sound dumb. If you read the book, you'll understand that "simple" means that you strip away the fluff and get to the core of the idea -- the really important part -- and focus clearly on that. Big difference!
Likewise with "unexpected". It's one thing to do something unusual. It's another to understand how to use unexpectedness (is that a word?) effectively. If you're just going for shock value to wake people up, but not building a strong connection between the surprise and your message, you'll come across as gimmicky and annoying. If, on the other hand, you shake your audience out of their daily stupor (the book discusses several ways to do that) in a way that leads into your message, now you've given their awakened mind something to latch onto, and you have a chance to give them a new way of thinking.
Making your ideas concrete is often critical for overcoming what the authors refer to repeatedly as "the curse of knowledge" -- the difficulty, once you know something, of remembering what it was like not knowing it. Once you understand the idea, you tend to talk about it using abstractions that are just mumbo jumbo to people who don't understand the idea yet. By focusing on communicating concrete concepts instead of abstractions, you speak in language that people can understand.
It's easy enough to understand the importance of credibility. What you'll get from reading the book is strategies for developing and communicating credibility. For example, details enhance credibility, even details that are irrelevant to the point you're making.
If I had said that I finished reading Made to Stick on August 22 (which I did) rather than "about 2 months ago" (like I said above), that might actually enhance the credibility of this review. Does really it matter what day I read it? No. But giving that detail (as long as I don't bore you with too much irrelevant detail) somehow influences people to be more accepting of the message.
They also talk about how to make statistics and other details that usually put people to sleep more accessible and impactful.
If you can inspire favorable emotions in your audience, they'll be more likely to remember and respond to your message. That's obvious enough. Once again, what you'll get from the book is a much better idea of how to do that effectively.
A few examples:
- The "Mother Theresa principle": people are more likely to donate to charitable causes if the message is focused on individuals than populations. In other words, more people will donate to help Sasha, the girl who's starving and has no medicine, than will donate to help the X,000,000 children in Africa who are starving and have no medicine.
- Appeal to a person's self-interest, but don't focus on "Maslow's basement" (survival), but higher level needs like self-actualization.
- Appeal to a person's identity -- what is the situation, and what does a person like them do in such a situation. People will often act against their own individual self-interest in order to remain consistent with who they believe they are and want to be.
Stories are great tools for making ideas more concrete. They inspire. They teach people how to act. They illustrate the steps a person needs to take to reach a desired result.
What you'll get from the book are better explanations of those points, as well as strategies for finding the right kinds of stories to be effective (not every story is going to help).
One final point I got from the book is that good speaking skills aren't necessarily good "sticking skills". They noted a study done at Stanford where students gave short speeches. What they found was that the most memorable speeches weren't necessarily those given by the most articulate students. The most memorable stories were those that focused on a single, core message rather than trying to say it all -- even if the speaker was less articulate.
As I write this, I'm reminded of a time during college when I went back to my high school to judge a debate at a big meet.
Of the teams competing, one was much more polished, both in appearance and presentation. They clearly expected to win. And I'm pretty sure the other team expected to lose.
The other team wasn't dressed as well. They didn't make eye contact as well. They didn't exude confidence. They didn't speak as smoothly and articulately. It's been years, so I don't remember the details, but they probably fumbled over cards they were reading quotes from.
But in the end, their case was more convincing. The evidence they'd presented was more to the point and credible. I'm guessing they made their points more concretely rather than trying to show off their grasp of complex abstractions. And so they won.
You don't have to be articulate as long as you know the strategies that make an idea sticky. This book will help you with that.
For my first reading of Made to Stick, I checked it out from the library. But I'm definitely getting my own copy, because this is a book I'm going to want to read more than once. I highly recommend it.
Get it at Amazon.com
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die