Book Summary: Made to Stick

Book: Made to Stick

Author: Chip Heath, Dan Heath

As you can probably guess, this is a semi-self-help book that talks about ways and frameworks you can use to convey your ideas better so that the recipient remembers it (or, to put in a different way, the idea sticks). What is interesting about this book is that it doesn’t focus on presentation of the idea, but rather the stickiness of the idea. Quite often, well-crafted and smooth presentations go along with effective ideas, but these are not the prerequisites to make the idea stick. The book talks about those prerequisites.

On a slightly tangential note, I was surprised that I liked this book, mostly because I am skeptical of all self-help books in general. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, because it was recommended to all students by Steve Calk, Director of Career Management Center at the Johnson School.

Key takeaways:

  • The SUCCEs framework: The Heath brothers admit that this is a corny name for it. Here’s how the break it down- Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional story.
    • Simple: I don’t think that this is a good moniker. The word that they really wanted to convey is Core. The suggestion is that when you’re conveying an idea, think and think until you get to the core of the message, and then spend the rest of time figuring out a way to communicate this core message. Deciding on core of an idea often involves deciding what the idea is about and what it is NOT about. There are some good examples on how not to bury the lead of a story, and talk about the most concrete details first. (good examples in the book: The Palm Pilot wood block. THE low-fare airline.)
    • Unexpected: The idea here is that something surprising gets the audience to pay attention. This is obvious. In spite of this, many stories and ideas fail to capitalize on this. My thought here is that the key is to actively look for unexpected messages in an idea and highlight them. (good examples in the book: “No School on Thursday”, Deer kills more 60 times as many people than sharks.)
    • Concrete: Again, obvious but often forgotten. Generalities get lost. Concrete ideas stay with you. Plus, there are more ‘hooks’ in a concrete story, allowing the listener/reader to make an association and recall the idea easily after. (good examples in the book: Landscapes as eco-celebrities. Saddleback Sam.)
    • Credible: If they don’t trust you, cite someone they might know so that they would. But these help too–citing concrete details. Also, making testable claims, such as the Where’s the beef? campaign from Wendy’s.
    • Emotional: This is mostly a play on concrete, but with a eye on what the listener cares about. Also, appeal to the better part of the person targeted. (good examples in the book: Don’t Mess with Texas. Duo Piano Group)
  • Story formats: The book suggests that people are primed to hear three kinds of stories-
    • Challenge plot – David vs. Goliath
    • Creativity plot – Drag Test at Ingersoll-Rand
    • Connection plot – Good Samaritan story
  • Gap theory of curiosity: The book suggests that while telling a story, use the gap theory as much as possible without letting it get in the way of the story. The gap theory suggests that one should give a somewhat incomplete information to the listener, and add a key detail later to make for an ‘aha’ moment. Of course, this is exactly the opposite of  not burying the lead, and the inverse pyramid that the book talks about in the ‘Simple’ section, so the key is moderation. If done well, this makes the story almost interactive, as the the reader/listener starts guessing and continues until the ‘aha’ moment arrives.
  • Curse of Knowledge: Heath brothers talk about the problem of communicating something that you already know. What you know is so obvious that one can forget what needs to be communicated out. This thought should be running in the back at all times.

My closing thought: A good read, and can be very useful as long as one adapts the suggestion to the correct format (a personal pitch, a presentation, an ongoing communication).


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