Book Review: Made to Stick

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, is the best book I haven’t read.

It would be the best book on communication I have read; if I had read it. I listened to the Audible audiobook version instead.

From the urban legends about the business traveler being drugged and one of his kidneys harvested and razor blades in Halloween apples, to JFK’s moon mission challenge, to successful campaigns against teen smoking, movie theater popcorn and Texas litterbugs, Made to Stick is rich with examples that illustrate, as their subtitle say, “why some ideas survive and others die.”

The author brothers identify the main problem people have in communication as “The Curse of Knowledge.” Typically when we are making a presentation, for example, we are speaking about something we have studied extensively and consequently know well. The Curse of Knowledge is that we can’t remember what it was like to not understand. We forget the listener or reader.

Made to Stick: The Essence of SUCCESS

The antidote to The Curse of Knowledge involves shaping your ideas and your presentation of them according to a checklist that (almost) spells SUCCESS. Sticky ideas, the Heaths say, tend to have many of these traits:

Simplicity – Be relentless in boiling down to the core of the idea. As the authors quote a defense lawyer, “If you make 10 points in your closing arguments, the jury won’t remember any of them.” Make one main point. Extra material isn’t just superfluous; it’s harmful. Maybe Conrad Black’s legal team should have taken this advice.

Unexpectedness – Surprises, like Jared Fogle losing more than 200 pounds by eating at Subway, or one serving of theater popcorn having more saturated fats than a full day of unhealthy diet, get attention and get people talking.
Concreteness – don’t use vague phrases like “maximizing shareholder value” because these aren’t guides to action. The more concrete you are, the sure you can be everyone is understanding. And concrete details, especially in storytelling, contribute to credibility.

Credibility – sometimes this comes from authority, and sometimes from anti-authority, like a lifelong smoker telling her story of getting emphysema in her 20s. Some of the most powerful credibility comes from the audience, as they experience and interact with the idea.

Emotion – Involving people at an emotional rather than an intellectual or rational level increases memorability. That’s why international relief charities ask you to adopt a particular child instead of giving to a big pool.

Storytelling – Instead of reams of statistics, boil the essence of the idea into a story. Or better yet, be on the lookout for a story that makes the point. That’s what happened when a Subway manager noticed Jared’s weight loss.
I hope this review encourages you to check out Made to Stick for yourself. As the authors’ web site says:

Made to Stick is a book that will transform the way you communicate ideas. It’s a fast-paced tour of idea success stories (and failures)—the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of the Mother Teresa Effect; the elementary-school teacher’s simulation that actually prevented prejudice . Provocative, eye-opening, and funny, Made to Stick shows us the principles of successful ideas at work—and how we can apply these rules to making our own messages “stick.”

Check out the Made to Stick blog, too. It has an interesting post relating to medical school teaching that demonstrates how presentations can be tailored to be more sticky.

Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 15. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. Emeritus staff of Mayo Clinic. Founder of HELPcare and Administrator for HELPcare Clinic.

0 thoughts on “Book Review: Made to Stick”

  1. Thanks, Dan. I’m trying to put your good work into practice in mine. I did go get a hard copy of the book, too, and will be sharing with members of my team at work. In medical/science research it’s really easy to over-complicate and bury the lead. Hopefully we’ll be more SUCCESsful.

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