Recommended Read: Made to Stick

May 12, 2007 at 11:04 am 4 comments

You wake up in a bathtub in Las Vegas….it’s cold…you look down and see a note…it says, call the hospital, we’ve taken your kidney.

Ever heard this urban legend?  I bet you have. 

The question is why do ideas like this “stick” in our heads, but we can’t remember (or make others remember) the critical ideas we’re trying to communicate.

I would give an Oprah sized recommendation for Chip & Dan Heath’s book:  Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

Thanks to Lee at Commoncraft for the recommendation that I am happy to endorse as well. 

There is a lot to like about the book.  It’s a relatively straightforward read.  It is very instructional – meaning I can see how to implement – vs so many books that are purely conceptual.  The Authors introduce six Key qualities of an Idea that is “made to stick.”

  • Simplicity:  How do you strip down an idea to its core without turning it into a silly sound bite.
  • Unexpectedness:  How do you capture peoples attention…and hold it?
  • Concreteness:  How do you help people understand your idea and remember it much later?
  • Credibility:  How do you get people to believe your idea?
  • Emotional:  How do you get people to care about your idea?
  • Stories:  How do you get people to act on your idea? – I loved this – I see myself often as a story teller – it’s the core of Part 1 of convincing the unconverted.

A few things really stand out for me in this book.  One is the notion of “Commanders Intent” in relating to the principal of Simplicity.  Commanders Intent is a military planning concept that essentially assumes that most planning is flawed because at the moment the enemy engages, the plan no longer applies.  The idea of Commanders Intent is describing a clear and specific enough objective such that when the enemy does engage, those on the front lines are clear enough about the end goal that they know how to adjust.  In other words, what matters is the clarity of the desired outcome over a rigid process for how to achieve the outcome.  There’s a useful description of Building Commander’s Intent from  a military standpoint here.

I also really liked the exploration of the “curse of knowledge.”  This is particularly evident around online communities.  How often have you heard yourself say “man, they just don’t get it” when talking about the value or importance of community to others – especially those in your company who may have to fund the investment!  The truth may be that you are so close and intimate to the topic that you make it overly complex, provide too much information, not enough information or don’t map the benefits to the goals of the other party.  If you are selling an idea, and “they don’t get it” – who is underperforming – the listener or the communicator?  Hint:  It’s not the listener!

Lastly, the value of unexpectedness.  I loved this and thought it tied in very nicely.  I tried using this recently.  To set this up, I run a multi-million dollar organization focused explicitly on the value of communities.  In a planning meeting I was asked if we were in the “community” business?  The expected and easier answer, which would have made a great question totally forgettable, would have been “yes.”  The Sticky answer, was “No!  We are in the answers and feedback business!”  This simple, clear, concrete, unexpected answer provided great clarity (I think).  In one statement, we took something very nebulous and often confusing to people (community) and converted it to much clearer language that supports a commanders intent in ways that a “community” mission doesn’t.  Yes, everything we do is in communities, that doesn’t change, but clarity of purpose for what your doing there is amazingly liberating!



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Is your Baby Ugly? aka – convincing the unconverted on communities…part V "Popfly:" I love it when we have a sense of humor…

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Scott McArthur  |  May 25, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    I agree – great wee book. Really made me think a lot about how I develop materials and present to clients and potential clients. Great blog

  • 2. Sean O'Driscoll  |  May 27, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    yup…same for me, has already changed how I think about strategy formulation as well as managing org communications.

    thanks for dropping by my space.

  • 3. Suzanna  |  May 29, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    Just got this from the library and started listening… So funny they start with the kidney urban myth!

  • […] 10th, 2007 I last reviewed Made to Stick…still my #1 recommended read for the year…but I’m reading two other books now I […]


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