Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Made to Stick

by Chip and Dan Heath

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

Anyone who reads this book will never look at communication the same again. Sure, most of what it has to say isn’t some mysterious, scientific formula, that’s what makes it so brilliant, this is stuff that you didn't realize you already knew. It's intuitive and obvious, I'd just never thought of it before. I love books that do that—and I don't even read non-fiction (not if I can help it!)

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Why Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath takes one principle from Malcolm Gladwell’s national best-seller The Tipping Point (which I finished earlier this year and reviewed in an earlier post) and runs with it, examining it in microscopic detail—or at least 304 pages.

Only problem is, the pressure to write a review of a how-to book on communication is tremendous. Will I make it exciting enough? Will it be memorable? Will it be something that will stick with them after they click out of this page? Well I figured I’m going to attempt a review or die trying and here it goes:

Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point examines how ideas spread from person to person until they reach a critical mass of epidemic proportions. Gladwell identifies one of the factors in the spread of ideas as “stickiness” or the ability of an idea to be memorable in an enduring way. The Heath brothers take stickiness and go deeper, digging into what makes some ideas memorable and others as transient as yesterday’s ball scores. Bad analogy. I’m still remembering the poor Rockies last week. How about as transient as last week’s breakfast? That works, I’m hungry right now anyway.

So as I was saying, according to the Brothers Heath there are six characteristics of sticky ideas, they are: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and Storied (catch the misspelled “Succes” acronym?) and they delve into each area with multiple illustrations in a gloriously readable, conversational way.

I’ll give you an example from the opening page. It starts by describing how a friend of a friend had been on a business trip to Atlantic City. After work he’d stopped by a bar and had been offered a drink by a beautiful woman which he accepted. The next thing he knew he was waking up in a bathtub filled with ice water, a note and a cell phone by his head. The note said, “Don’t panic, call 911.” He immediately did so (calling 911 that is, not the panicking part) and the composed dispatcher said, “Sir, I want you to reach behind you and feel at your back. Is there a plastic tube there?” The man felt his back and yes, there was a tube coming out of his back. The operator continued, “Please don’t panic but you’ve been the victim of organ harvesters. They’ve taken your kidney. Paramedics are on their way.”

This urban legend is one of the stickiest forms of communication. It’s Simple—no facts, streams of numbers or names are involved. It’s Unexpected—who would have thought accepting a drink would lead to losing a kidney? It’s Concrete—you may not remember the details of the business trip being in Atlantic City but you won’t forget the plastic tube, the bathtub filled with ice water or the cell phone by his head. It’s Emotional—what’s more emotional than having your organs ripped out for no reason? And it’s Storied—from its crazy beginning to its over-the-top middle to its ridiculous end.

The book is full of such terrific anecdotes that will stop you in your tracks and make you say, "Aha!" However, as much as I am applauding I have two small negative comments. First, the title. For a book about how to make your communication memorable the title is ironically forgettable. It's not simple, nor is it unexpected or concrete. No emotion, no stories. I found myself discussing the book with Andrew and having the darnedest time remembering the title. The Sticking Point? Making it Stick? Stick It? Stick with Me? Sticking it? Whatever. You see I listened to the book on my ipod and never got the benefit of the visual cover so that title was hard to remember. Luckily Andrew knew what I meant. Just calling it Stick or Sticking would have at least been unexpected and might have stayed with me better.

Second, they mention Aesop and hold him up as the master of these principles, the longevity and ubiquitousness of his fables as proof and while this is true I was surprised that in 300 pages only once was a New Testament parable mentioned. Yes, everyone in cultures around the world uses the phrase "sour grapes" but is the Golden Rule, the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep or the Prodigal Son any less resonant in western culture? And though both Aesop's fables and Jesus' parables meet all six criteria of stickiness, Aesop lacks the multi-layered genius of the parables. The tortoise and the hare is a first-rate allegory but the parable of the Good Samaritan goes beyond brilliant in its levels of meaning and metaphor. It's about the politics of ancient Israel, it's about being kind, it's also about the fall of man, it's about redemption. Evidently Chip and Dan Heath missed that which I thought diminished their work overall and their personal credibility.

But regardless of these minor flaws, you must read this. Everyone communicates: mothers talking to their children, teachers teaching their students, businessmen writing a memo, pastors giving sermons to their parishioners, advertisers trying to convince consumers, politicians reaching out to voters. How many times a week do you try to get someone to pay attention, to remember what you’re trying to say? Hear this book’s message and it will change the way you think and then the way you communicate.


Congratulations to Joseph in Lowell, Massachusetts (you'd think after all those years of college I'd be able to spell that state without relying on spell check! Geesh!) for winning this week's Saturday Giveaway. He'll be enjoying his Sarah Jane Studios print. Thanks to all who visited and entered.

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Mary Alice said...

Humm this idea of a stickable stories and the problems they create put puts me in mind of another book, much touted years back by Oprah, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. This book was based on ancient Toltecian wisdom and one of those agreements that always stuck with me was Be Impeccable in Your Word. Meaning that all words have tremendous power and each one plants a seed within another. We must be impeccable with our words, mindful, as each one has an effect on another person.

Susan said...

I was fascinated by The Tipping Point, and now my interest is piqued in this book.

Julie Pippert said...

That sounds very interesting! Thanks for the review.

Using My Words

Babystepper said...

Sounds like a great book, but first I need to think of an idea or something worth communicating.

Mrs Mecomber said...

You are correct about the New Testament!

If it's any comfort, I believe publishing company editors make the final decision on a book's title.

Valerie said...

Awesome! I don't think I will ever be able to forget the misspelled SUCCESS acronym!
But I didn't even finish reading your post. How's that for failure? I'll be back later to read the rest, don't cry.

Dave & Lisa said...

My mother-in-law found your blog and passed it to me, and I'm excited to find another Alaskan blogger! :-)

wishy the writer said...

Great review. Thanks.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

Hmmm, will it give me any ideas on how to tall to my children? I'd love to be able to make my words stick so I only have to say things once and not 20 times.

Daisy said...

An oldie but goodie: "How to talk so children will listen, how to listen so children will talk". I think I still have a copy in my bookshelves somewhere. It's a classic.

Anonymous said...

This book sounds interesting. I like the acronym. I could apply it to the book I'm writing (of course, some leeway might be needed on the "credible" part, but that's another story...)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. I'll give this one a try. They missed on the title even further. They are missing the hyphens...It should read Made-to-Stick.