PICHA BOOK CLUB: Made to Stick – Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Some stories stick with us forever. Long after we hear them, we could easily re-tell them. We are all familiar with the opposite experience—reading an article that we can’t remember five minutes after we have finished, or listening to a lecture that leaves our brain as quickly as it enters. They are the opposite of “sticky.”
Why do some ideas succeed while others fail? How do we nurture our ideas so they’ll succeed in the world? Many of us struggle with how to communicate ideas effectively, how to get our ideas to make a difference. Made to Stick by book is about how to do just that.
In researching successful, “sticky” stories, six principles emerged. Sticky ideas shared certain traits that made them more likely to succeed. This doesn’t mean that there is a formula that guarantees success, but it does mean it is possible to greatly improve our odds.
Here is a summary of the six principles:
Principle 1: Simplicity
Don’t misunderstand this as being short in length; it means stripping an idea down to its core. A successful defense lawyer says, “If you argue ten points, even if each is a good one, the jury won’t remember any.” It means to relentlessly prioritize, and create ideas that are both simple and profound.
When people have too many choices, they tend to get paralyzed and find it difficult to make decisions. It often isn’t clear what is best. Core messages help people make choices by reminding them of what’s important, and enabling that to guide their decisions.
Besides being core, simple messages also need to be compact. That probably seems obvious: we know that sentences are better than paragraphs, easy words are better than hard words, etc. It’s a bandwidth issue. We can learn and remember only so much information at once. The challenge is how to be core and compact in a way that is also memorable. One way is to use analogies. They connect with information people already have in their head, so they can be shorter and simpler.
Coming up with a profound compact phrase is actually incredibly difficult. However, it is well worth the effort. “Finding the Core” and expressing it in the form of a compact idea can make it stick enduringly.
Principle 2: Unexpectedness
The most basic way to get someone’s attention is to break a pattern. Humans adapt incredibly quickly to patterns. We often simply tune them out. Think of the hum of a fan, or traffic noise, or a familiar smell. We only become aware of them when something changes.
In trying to make an idea sticky, we need to ask two essential questions: How do I get people’s attention? And second, How do I keep it?
To understand the answers to these two questions, we have to understand two essential emotions: surprise and interest. Surprise gets our attention (You use only 10% of your brain), and interest keeps it (gossip and conspiracy theories keep us coming back for more).
How do we get our audience to pay attention to our ideas, and stay interested? Surprise always grabs people’s attention, so use it as a means to open the way. Surprise, however, doesn’t last; it is not enough. For our ideas to endure they must, first, generate interest and curiosity to open gaps in people’s knowledge; then, we fill those gaps.
This makes people stick to the story to see the ending, and if they remember anything, they will remember the surprise!
Principle 3: Concreteness
You must have heard the story of the fox. One day, Mr. Fox was strolling through an orchard. He saw a bunch of fruits on a tree. “Just the thing to quench my thirst,” he said. Backing up a few paces, he took a run and jumped at the fruits, missing them. Turning around again, he ran faster and jumped again. Still a miss. Again and again he jumped, until he gave up out of exhaustion. Walking away with his nose in the air, he said: “I am sure they are sour.”
In the same way, it is easy to despise what you can’t get. Including understanding stories and ideas.
Language is often abstract, but life isn’t abstract. Abstraction makes it harder to understand and remember an idea. It also makes coordinating our activities with others more difficult, since they may interpret the abstraction differently than we do. Concreteness helps us avoid these problems.
How do we make our ideas clear? We have to avoid ambiguity and abstractions, and explain ideas in terms of human actions and vivid images. How? We might find it easier if we think about the needs of specific people: our readers, our students, our customers.
Principle 4: Credibility
What makes people believe our ideas? There are a lot of obvious answers: because our parents or friends believe; we’ve had experiences that led us to believe; because of our religious faith; because we trust authorities. Given this, how do we persuade a skeptical audience to believe a new idea?
Authorities can give credibility to our ideas. Authorities come in two kinds: experts, whose walls are covered with framed credentials, and celebrities. But we don’t always have access to these sources of external authority.
Since we don’t always have an external authority to vouch for our message, our messages need to vouch for themselves. They need to have “internal credibility.” Sticky ideas have to carry there own credentials, and draw people into testing them.
People will stick to your sentiments if they believe them.
Principle 5: Emotions
How do we get people to care about our ideas? We make them feel something. Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an impoverished nation. We are wired to feel things for people, not abstractions.
Belief counts for a lot, but belief isn’t enough. For people to take action, they have to care. When we talk about the emotional aspect of stickiness, we aren’t talking about manipulation but inspiration. Feelings inspire people to act.
And what matters to people? People matter to themselves. It will come as no surprise that one reliable way of making people care is by invoking self-interest.
How do we make people care about our ideas? We get them to take off their analytical hats and empathize with specific individuals. We show how our ideas are connected with things that people already care about. We appeal to their self- interest, but we also appeal to their identities: not only to the people they are right now, but also to the people they would like to be. And if we appeal to their interests, our ideas stick.
Principle 6: Stories
How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories. Hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively. It’s well-known that a good story is very sticky. The power of a good story is that it provides inspiration. It moves people to take action.
Creativity is sticky. If you are a business, you want images and videos that will appeal to your customers, right? And if you are a content creator, you need to learn how to make your visual content stick. Picha images provides businesses amazing content, and photographers, a community and an opportunity to grow a portfolio.
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