Archive for February, 2007

Book Review: Made to Stick

Auto Date Sunday, February 18th, 2007

Made to Stick CoverI just finished Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It didn’t take long to read, but like some important small books (e.g. The Elements of Style) it is all the more valuable for its simplicity.

Made to Stick is an answer to the question “Why are some ideas sticky while others slide in to, and then out of, our minds as if they were made of Teflon?” The authors point out what it is about persistent urban legends such as the story of the poisoned Halloween candy, or the story of the kidney stealing gangs (both false) that keeps them going. They also provide a collection of successful case stories of the development of true and useful sticky ideas.

This isn’t just an academic study. It’s a how-to guide to crafting your own message so it will be stickier. They identify six key attributes of sticky ideas using the acronym SUCCES. Yes, it’s corny, but now I have no trouble saying “Sticky ideas are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and provide a Story.”

Each of six chapters explains the idea, illustrates it with examples and counter examples and warns of pitfalls in implementing it. The examples are interesting and inspiring in their own right. The story of how Dan Syrek crafted a wildly successful anti-littering message which targeted young, pickup driving, sports loving Texas males is amazing. (A 72% drop in visible litter and an 81% drop in the number of cans along the road.) The authors have a deep understanding of the concepts they are explaining. For example, they don’t just tell us that stories are important, but why they work. (They actually allow us to simulate the message in our brains which reinforces the ideas, builds skills and helps make places for the idea to stick.)

Halfway through the book I stopped, realizing that I wanted to have a summary of the best illustrations for each of the six chapters, and went back to take more systematic notes. I needn’t have bothered because the authors have included a five page easy reference guide to jog your memory.

That guide is now on six index cards stuck over my desk when I write.

If any part of your life involves communicating ideas to others, you really need to spend an afternoon or two reading this book. The techniques are simple and useful and the case studies provide excellent benchmarks to judge your own writing against.