Every week, London Strategy Unit's Matt Boffey reads one of the most influential books from the world of innovation, marketing or creativity so you don't have to. This week's page-turner is Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck by Chip and Dan Heath 2008.
Why have we chosen this book?
Because being right isn’t as powerful as being remembered. Made to Stick analyses why we remember bogus stories and myths like “we only use 10 per cent of our brain capacity” yet struggle to recall important messages and facts. Finding a way to make your ideas stick - perhaps by dropping stats in favour of stories, or opting for simplicity over breadth - is the key to giving your messages a fighting chance in a world saturated with communication.
What’s the original thought or argument?
That sticky ideas have at least one of six traits: simplicity, unexpectedness, credibility, concreteness, emotion, or storytelling. The enemy of sticky is “The Curse of Knowledge” - the difficulty of imagining what exactly your listeners knows about what you have to say. Sticky ideas work around the Curse of Knowledge, the authors argue, by creating then filling a knowledge gap in the listener’s mind.
If you want to look smart, just read
Chapter One, which is about the first of the six traits: simplicity. Simplicity works through ‘generative metaphor’ - a simple statement that yields a whole raft of guiding principles. By referring to their theme park employees as ‘cast members’, Disney implies a vast set of staff behaviours and values without ever having to explicitly outline them.
You might want to skip
The epilogue, which elaborates on the anecdotal evidence in the rest of the book. Although the authors’ final advice - ‘fight sticky with sticky’ - is worth noting. McDonald’s CEO Ray Kroc halted over a decade of rumours about earthworm-filled beef patties with a press release stating: “We can’t afford to grind worms into meat. Worms cost six dollars a pound versus beef at one dollar fifty!” Kroc’s counter argument (using two sticky qualities - unexpectedness and credibility) makes a powerful point: it’s better to fight sticky on its own terms rather than with rationality.
Why trust these authors?
Both Heath brothers have impressive academic credentials in the field of stickiness. Chip is Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Stanford while Dan spent ten years researching entrepreneurship for Harvard Business School. Together, they’ve written three bestselling business books: Switch, Made to Stick and Decisive.
Once you’ve read this you don’t need to read
Any of Stephen Denning’s many books on organisational communication. What makes Made to Stick so memorable is that it offers heaps of soundbites and stories and avoids the dry ‘leadership-manual’ style that Denning employs.
Why should this stay on your bookshelf?
Because, as the net amount of communication increases and attentions spans shrink, the need to drill ideas home in a memorable way is greater than ever.
What’s the one thing you should do differently after reading this book?
Get people on board with your idea by making it tangible - something that can’t come from hard statistics alone. The Nature Conservancy in California struggled for decades to raise funds to protect an area of ecologically vital savannah east of Silicon Valley. It only when they gave the area a name - “The Mount Hamilton Wilderness” - that companies clamoured to support an area that suddenly was lifted out of abstraction into being a tangible and important landscape.
Best quote in the whole book?
“JFK was more intuitive than a modern-day CEO - he knew that opaque, abstract missions don’t captivate and inspire people. The moon mission was a classic case of dodging the Curse of Knowledge - it was brilliant and beautiful, a single idea that motivated the actions of millions of people for a decade.”
Matt Boffey is the founder of London Strategy Unit, which you can follow on Twitter @LSUsocial