What Sticks?

Blog / Produced by The High Calling

What sticks? We’ve been through the six characteristics of a message that sticks. In the epilogue of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip and Dan Heath look at some more particulars to a sticky message.

The Audience Gets a Vote

Sometimes a message sticks that differs from the intended message. Did you know that Sherlock Holmes never said, Elementary, my dear Watson? And the term nice guys finish last evolved from something very different that Leo Durocher, coach of the Dodgers in 1946, said after defeating the New York Giants that year? And during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, James Carville wanted to get so much more information across than it’s the economy, stupid?

Sometimes, say the Heath brothers, the audience decides what sticks and what doesn’t.

…in making ideas stick, the audience gets a vote. The audience may change the meaning of your idea, as happened with Durocher. The audience may actually improve your idea, as was the case with Sherlock Holmes. Or the audience may retain some of your ideas and jettison others, as with Carville.

The authors say that if what the audience chooses to stick still communicates our core message, then we should not get too bent out of shape about it.

…Ultimately, the test of our success as idea creators isn’t whether people mimic our exact words, it’s whether we achieve our goals.

More on Story

Chip and Dan Heath really hammer home the power of story in making a message stick in this chapter.

The authors describe an exercise that Chip does with his students at Stanford. The students are asked to give a one minute persuasive speech on a particular topic. Afterwards, the students rate each other on the effectiveness of the presentation. They think the activity is done once the ratings are given to each student. Chip even shows a Monty Python clip to distract them.

After ten minutes has elapsed, Chip asks the students to write down every idea they remember for each speaker heard.

In the average one-minute speech, the typical student uses 2.5 statistics. Only one student in ten tells a story…When students are asked to recall the speeches, 63 percent remember the stories. Only 5 percent remember any individual statistic.

The exercise also shows no correlation between speaking talent and sticking an idea.

…The people who were captivating speakers typically do no better than others in making their ideas stick…The stars of stickiness are the students who made their case by telling stories, or by tapping into emotion, or by stressing a single point rather than ten…

What makes it so hard for these talented speakers to make their ideas stick?

The Villains

The Heath brothers identify a few of the barriers these bright students ran into when communicating their messages. These villains should sound familiar by now.

Burying the lead—The tendency to get lost in a sea of information. When we have loads of information or know a lot about our subject, we feel compelled to share it all. This buries our core message and thus makes it less memorable.

Focusing on the presentation rather than the message—The Heath brothers aptly say, all the charisma in the world won’t save a dense, unfocused speech. Well said, guys.

Decision paralysis—This refers to the anxiety people feel when the situation is so ambiguous it makes choosing difficult.

The curse of knowledge—When we know too much about a subject, we tend to assume our audience does too. This results in jargon, overly technical speak that loses the audience quickly.

What Sticks?

Soo… if we stay faithful to the core, use stories, and fight the evil villains, our messages will have much greater chances of survival. Next week we will discuss the final section of the book: Sticky Advice. Hope you’ll join us!

Previous Made to Stick posts:

Stories: They Take You There



Concrete: You Can Walk Around On It

Unexpected Journey


Photo by michele cat , used with permission. Post by Laura Boggess.

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