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Keep it simple, they say. They are Chip and Dan Heath--the brothers and co-authors of our new book club selection, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. And by stick these boys know what they are talking about:

By “stick” we mean that your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact—they change your audience’s opinions and behavior.

What writer or speaker doesn’t want to be understood? What photographer or artist wouldn’t want their work remembered? What business or spiritual leader wouldn’t want to change behavior? Who in the world doesn’t want their ideas to stick? This is a book for everyone. You might say the Heath boys are experts on understanding sticky ideas. They’ve been studying the things for over ten years. Along the way, they’ve identified six common traits of sticky ideas. We’ll be discussing each one as we go through the chapters of Made to Stick over the next six weeks. Keep it simple, they say. That’s the first principle of a sticky idea: Simplicity. That’s just common sense, right? I mean, no one is going to remember a bunch of gobbledygook. Trouble is…keeping it simple is, well, not that simple.

Finding the Core

The first step in making an idea stick is to find the core of the idea, say the brothers Heath.

“Finding the core” means stripping an idea down to its most critical essence. To get to the core, we’ve got to weed out superfluous and tangential elements. But that’s the easy part. The hard part is weeding out ideas that may be really important but just aren’t the most important idea.

It’s all about prioritization, the authors say. What if I have three good ideas to communicate? What’s wrong with simply laying them down in a list, point by point? No one will remember them, that’s what. Too many points and you run the risk of burying the lead, the authors say.

Burying the Lead

A good news reporter recognizes the importance of finding the core idea of a story. News seekers don’t want to have to search a sea of words to find what’s happening in their world.

…if finding a good lead makes everything else easy, why would a journalist ever fail to come up with one? A common mistake reporters make is that they get so steeped in the details that they fail to see the message’s core—what readers will find important or interesting...“Burying the lead” occurs when the journalist lets the most important element of the story slip too far down in the story structure.

That is what will happen to our message, the authors say, unless we prioritize. If we have too many competing ideas, none of what we say will stick. But how do we communicate complexities and prioritize our core idea? By maximizing the meaning of our message concisely.

A Bird in the Hand

One way to get our message across succinctly is to capitalize on the existing memory terrain of our audience. Heath and Heath say two effective ways of doing this are to use proverbs and generative metaphors.

Generative metaphors and proverbs both derive their power from a clever substitution: They substitute something easy to think about for something difficult. The proverb “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush” gives us a tangible, easily processed statement that we can use for guidance in complex, emotionally fraught situations…Proverbs are the Holy Grail of simplicity. Coming up with a short, compact phrase is easy…On the other hand, coming up with a profound compact phrase is incredibly difficult.

Stick It to ‘Em

The brothers Heath say that finding the core idea is step one of two in making an idea stick. Step two is sharing the core. That’s what the rest of the book is about. So now I know that if I want my message to be sticky, I must keep it simple. Keeping it simple means more than keeping it short. I have to pack a lot of meaning into a little bit of messaging. As writer, this means finding the core of my idea and staying focused on that one message. It means using metaphors and proverbs that are meaningful to drive that point home. What does keeping it simple it mean to you in your particular role? Join us next week as we discuss chapter two of Made to Stick: Unexpected.

Related posts: Sandra's The Seeds Hide in the Core Glynn's The One Time Something I did Went Viral L.L.'s Six Steps to Going Viral

Photo by nancy, used with permission. Post by Laura Boggess.