Made To Stick By Dan Heath & Chip Heath – Book Review


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Best for: 

Made To Stick is best for those who want to learn about what makes ideas stand out and stay around. Also for those who have ideas they want to spread or want to improve at getting ideas across.

Difficulty to digest:

Made To Stick is very conversational with a huge number of examples. Most of the book is told through stories, with the occasional stat or study to highlight a particular point. Everyone should be able to pick up a few concepts after a single read. 

Key Insights:

Sticky Principles

At the most basic level, Made to Stick is a book about how to craft and present ideas people can actually remember. Chip and Dan Heath focus primarily on how ideas are presented in terms of idea structure, as opposed to actual delivery such as verbal or written. Instead, the book focuses on high-level principles around the acronym S-U-C-C-E-S. The review will focus on the same concepts.

Simple

As you might imagine, simplicity is key to a memorable message. Learning a huge body of information takes time, effort, and energy. By lowering this acquisition cost, others can digest the message and remember it more easily. There are a number of ways to do this, but the primary tool is abstraction. Move to a higher level and encapsulate more information where possible. Metaphors, analogies, imagery, and comparisons can all help.

Where available utilize associations that are already made. For example ‘red banana’ is more memorable than ‘long, sweet oblong fruit with a peel’ because more information is known. We already have ideas of a similar object and can extract many similar traits. 

Wherever possible, stick to one main intention or most important key goal. In addition, Made to Stick argues not to bury the lead. This means getting the most important information up front, not withholding it as a special surprise or reward. If you want people to remember something, make it clear and simple.

Unfortunately, this can be difficult for experts because they have ‘the curse of knowledge’. This is a tendency to talk using expert terminology which can be hard to follow and even harder to remember. We must be mindful of what other people know and craft our message accordingly to avoid this concern.

Unexpected

Another way to make memories stick better is attaching them to something unexpected. This is mainly a tactic for getting attention in a sea of noise. This can be done by breaking expected patterns and doing something different than others in the same space. While ideas should be clear up front, a bit of mystery and unanswered details can be added to further draw in attention. This means getting the main message out up front, but then adding some small tastes of other interesting information. Here’s an example with a clear idea, but leaving some mystery to detail. “Virus sweeps the country, 5 ways to stay safe.”

Concrete

Made To Stick also mentions concreteness as a way to make messages more memorable. Completely abstract ideas are hard to recall. One example used is the myth of trick-or-treaters getting razor blades in their candy. This is more sticky than saying ‘malicious individuals putting dangerous objects in bags’. The razor  idea is sticky because it’s very easy to visualize both the item and the potential consequences. These clear, concrete images stand out.  The more visceral, sensory data used in descriptions the more likely the idea is to stick. Wherever possible, use examples with intimate details. 

Concreteness also makes it easier to communicate intent across a wide range of individuals. The book includes examples like how disney calls its employees ‘cast members’, which is a phrase that includes quite a few concrete ideas. Another example is ‘landing a man on the moon’, which has very clear imagery. This clear intent allows individuals dedicated to a mission to make decisions by what the book refers to as Commander’s Intent. Knowing this intent and having it be concrete helps resolve ambiguous situations. 

Credible

The third attribute Made to Stick discusses is building credibility. This can be done by adding details, statistics, illustrating similar examples, and providing immediately testable credentials, to name a few. Chip and Dan Heath mention the Sinatra test, which says if you can make it New York you can make it anywhere,  several times. Essentially, this means proving credibility by showing you’ve done well in a particular, hard case. 

The book covers several interesting examples, such as a doctor drinking bacteria to prove they cause ulcers and that he could cure them. Another example is comparing how deer are more likely to kill you than sharks. Providing credibility in this more tangible way makes it easy for people to understand and remember the ideas. 

Emotional

Increasing emotional resonance also makes messages more likely to stick. As emotionality increases, messages seem more important and become easier to recall. A few methods are introducing self-interest, using examples of individuals instead of abstract groups, and appealing to identity. 

A generic example of this process is selling. Salespeople are taught to emphasize benefits over features because it’s more appealing. It’s not about selling a house, it’s about selling comfort. When we talk in terms of needs being filled instead of details, others can see and visualize the impact. In the same vein, we can make our message appeal to the type of person or group an individual wants to belong to. The house isn’t big, it’s a symbol of prestige. 

Stories

The last major section in Made to Stick covers stories as a method for increasing stickiness. The book shares several stories to illustrate the point. For example, a nurse who goes against other medical professionals to make the correct diagnosis during urgent infant care. Jared (from Subway) and his weight loss transformation is another example.

Stories are all about relationships and growth not numbers or details. The tend to fall in three categories; connection (bridging a gap), challenge (overcoming something), and creativity (a mental breakthrough). Stories based on each of these topics tend to be stickier than most because they resonate easily. Using these types of stories tend to also inspire action.

Conclusion

Made to Stick has a huge number of examples and even a few clinics with full breakdowns. These make understanding the concepts especially easy, showing multiple angles. The nuance and exploration of each topic provides enough context to take away the main point while also gaining a broader understanding.

In all, the book shows how we can shape ideas to be slightly more sticky. Through the process, we also gain a better understanding of why ideas stick in general and how they can evolve and change. For example “Elementary my dear Watson” is sticky, but Made to Stick mentions it was never actually in a Sherlock Holmes novel. What’s sticky matters, so guiding the process in our favor makes a big difference.

Final Opinion:

Made to Stick is an entertaining, clear, and useful book. It’s an easy read, so if you have any interest in ideas or how to make them stickier, this is a worthwhile read. While sharing ideas has some general application, it may not be a perfect fit for everyone. Best for those who have a strong interest in marketing or sharing ideas broadly. 

Other considerations:

Made to Stick is fairly straightforward. Perhaps the only additional consideration is that some of the concepts are relatively simple and individuals may find there’s too many examples. While many of the stories are very engaging, it can feel a bit slow at times as the work to drive the point home. That being said, it’s easy to skip ahead if you feel the urge.

Applicable Content:

  1. What ideas do you want to be stickier in the world?
  2. How well do you communicate each of the following in your ideas?
    1. Simple
    2. Unexpected
    3. Concrete
    4. Credible
    5. Emotional
    6. Stories
  3. Which attribute comes to you most naturally? Which needs the most work?

 

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