Now Read This: Creating Sticky Situations

All ideas are not created equal. Think of the millions—maybe billions—of thoughts, facts, theories, beliefs, values, objectives, and concepts you’ve attempted to communicate during your lifetime to family members, colleagues, friends, subordinates, bosses, and clients. How many were even remotely memorable? The answer: a precious few. Now think of those ideas that you can’t forget, those that will not die. The idea does not have to be a matter of life and death to become indelible in the minds of millions (e.g. Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” advertising punch line). It does not even have to be true (e.g. “Bill Gates will share his fortune with people who forward this e-mail message!” and similar urban legends). Why do these ideas seem impossible to stop? What makes them, well, stick?

In Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Random House; $24.95) authors Chip Heath, a professor of organizational behavior in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, and his brother Dan, a consultant and former Harvard Business School researcher, make a convincing case for their belief that sticky ideas don’t have to happen by chance; creating or spotting them is a skill that can be learned and mastered. For anyone, including educators, professional speakers, team leaders, managers, journalists, advertisers, and business owners, success hinges on the ability to get others to believe, care about, and act on their messages. Your ability to deliver ideas that produce a desired reaction from your audience can determine everything from whether you can get an investor to finance your business to your chance of convincing your child to abstain from experimenting with drugs.

How do you construct sticky ideas? The authors propose that all understandable, memorable and effective ideas are: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and are delivered in the form of stories (S.U.C.C.E.S.S.). The problem is that most of the ideas we deliver, especially in professional circles, are just the opposite: complicated, predictable, abstract, technical, and fraught with statistics, jargon, and facts. After all, which message is more memorable and easily understood by most people: “It is advisable to mitigate risk through diversification” or “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket?”

Knowing how to generate worth-their-weight-in-gold ideas can enrich, empower, and enable you to maximize your potential as an effective communicator.

Use these six principles to deliver messages that are impossible to ignore—or forget:

  1. Simple: Determine the core, single most important thing and then share it.
  2. Unexpected: Get attention with surprise and hold attention through interest.
  3. Concrete: Help people understand, coordinate, and remember. Provide a solid context.
  4. Credible: Help people agree and believe by readily offering statistics and/or testable credentials and convincing details.
  5. Emotional: Make people care through the power of association or appeal to their identity and self-interest.
  6. Stories: Get people to act by either telling them how to act (stimulation) or giving them the energy to act (inspiration).