Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

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By Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Random House, 2007
304 pages

Take 15 seconds and write down on a piece of paper as many things that are white as you can think of. Now reset your timer, get another piece of paper, and list as many white things in your refrigerator as you can think of. It turns out that most people can think of as many white things in their refrigerator as they can think of white things found everywhere. This little test, which demonstrates the power of placing problems (and ideas) in concrete contexts, is one of several illustrations in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Written by Chip Heath, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Business School, and his brother, Dan Heath, a consultant at Duke Corporate Education, this is a well-structured, useful little book on what makes ideas memorable.

The authors contend that for an idea to stick, it first has to get the audience’s attention by being unexpected; for the audience to understand it, the idea must be made concrete; and for the audience to agree with or believe it, it must be credible. People will care about the idea if it is emotionally resonant, and they are more likely to act on it if it is presented in the form of a story — a mini-simulation of how the idea works.

This framework, prefaced by the injunction to make things simple, spells out what the authors call their SUCCESs checklist (simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, story), and it forms the chapter headings for the book. As one would hope from the book’s title, the authors’ framework and illustrations stick in the reader’s mind, and the SUCCESs “formula” is a helpful mnemonic for those considering the potential impact of any important message.

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