Compiling Leadership

15 years of building, leading, and managing; failures and successes

23 Jan 2017

Made to Stick

An absolutely brilliant book detailing the six major qualities of a sticky idea: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emetional, Stories. The Heath brothers investigate each of these six qualities in detail, investigating good and bad examples and paring their findings with academic studies. Not quite as academic as Predictably Irrational but a lot of the same themes show up.


Chapter 1: Simple

  • Stick to the prime objective
  • Southwest airlines is THE low-fare airline
    • Answers questions all the way down the org chart
  • Burying the lead
    • News should start with most important info and then decrease in importance down the page
    • Burying the lead happens when most important points slip down the page
  • If you say 3 things, you don't say anything
    • Bill Clinton (1992) campaign must have one platform
    • “It's the economy, stupid!”
  • Decision paralysis
    • When given more important options, the vital one stands out
      • Note that this doesn't work out when all options are equivalent
    • Due to prioritization
  • Names, names, names
    • Local newspaper about names, even at financial expense
    • Share message so it can percolate through org chart
  • Simple = core + compact
    • Not sound bites, but proverbs
  • Curse of Knowledge
    • Difficult to imagine not knowing information you already know
  • Visual proverb was palm pilot – creator carried it around in his pocket and used it to help guide product decisions
  • Pomelo schema
    • Easier to remember “like a grapefruit” than “citrus based fruit with some properties”
  • Complexity from simplicity
    • Fine line between accuracy and simplicity
    • Think Bohr model of atom when talking to child – not accurate completely, but simple and easy to digest
  • Schemas in Hollywood => Speed is Die Hard on a bus
  • Generative analogies
    • Disneyland employs cast members instead of employees
    • Doesn't always work – think sandwich artists at Subway

Chapter 2: Unexpected

  • Surprise gets attention; interest keeps attention
    • avoid gimmickry (wolves attack marching band in a commercial; what were they advertising?)
  • Find core of idea: What's surprising?
    • People have inherent guessing machines. Try and break their guessing machines
  • Tire chains at Nordstrom's
    • Core: Great customer service
    • Surprise: Nordies (employees) will take back things they don't even sell!
  • Journalism
    • Find hidden sticky points within the facts
    • “The lead is there won't be school on Thursday!”
  • Keeping attention
    • Show people that they have gaps in their knowledge and then fill them
    • Show people enough information such that they have gaps – think NCAA football about schools we don't care about

Chapter 3: Concrete

  • Fox and sour grapes: concreteness of story keeps it stuck
    • Fables in general are very concrete
  • The Nature Conservancy tried to get donors using abstract donate to save important land
    • Hard for people to donate to arbitrary land
    • Once a name is attached to un-interesting land (think Silicon Valley watershed) such as The Mount Hamilton Wilderness, people want to support
  • Understanding subtraction
    • Schools in Asia generally outperform US
    • Likely because they use concrete terms such as people, things, etc (think # of apples in a subtraction problem) while in US we skew abstract
  • Concrete is memorable => Concrete accounting class led people to remember more than abstract
  • Velcro theory => more hooks, stronger grab
  • Brown eyes vs. Blue eyes to teach about discrimination
  • Blueprint vs. machine
    • Engineers make things continually more abstract while machine workers can't fully grok
    • Since both understand machine, should try to speak in same vernacular (machines)
    • Lowest common denominator language
  • Concrete goals lead to better coordination
    • Not “best in world”, but “X that can do Y, Z, A”
  • Go computers => concrete pitch to VCs that had others arguing instead of entrepreneur pitching.

Chapter 4: Credible

  • Ulcers are bacterial was a research conclusion that couldn't be sold
    • Researchers were from second tier university and had no credibility
    • In order to make people believe, had to ingest bacteria themselves
  • Antiauthorities
    • Often far more credible than authorities
    • Think smoker for an anti-smoking campaign
  • Power of details
    • Stories told with details are more believable
  • Relationships are better than numbers (BBs in a bucket for warheads)
    • People don't remember total numbers but they remember that the number was big
  • Human scale > non-human scale
    • It's difficult to imagine distance from sun to Earth, but from NY -> LA is at least visualizable.
  • Statistics are very credible, but often are forgotten
  • Shark attack vs. deers in the road
    • People afraid of sharks, but it turns out not many kill humans. More likely to die from hitting a deer in the road.
  • Sinatra test - “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere”
    • Are there versions of this to use for credibility?
    • Safexpress delivered Harry Potter book – passed Sinatra test to handle precious cargo
  • Internal Credibility - Details, Statistics, Sinatra Test
  • External Credibility - Authorities, antiauthorities
  • Audience Credibility - Try it yourself; Falsifiable claim
    • Testable credentials allows people to try out an idea for themselves
  • NBA orientation had HIV positive women pick up on NBA rookies
    • What's more likely to stick – telling them about someone getting fooled or getting fooled themselves?
  • Obvious forms of credibility (external validation and statistics) are not always the best
    • A few vivid details might be more persuasive than statistics
    • An antiauthority might work better than an authority
    • A single story that passes the Sinatra Test might overcome a mountain of skepticism.

Chapter 5: Emotional

  • Mother Theresa: When it comes to our hearts, one individual trumps the masses.
    • When people provided with both 1 person and the masses, they skew toward response for the masses
    • When primed to think analytically, they skew toward masses. When primed to think emotionally, skew toward the one. Similar to Social vs. Market Norms in Predictably Irrational.
  • People tend to overuse any idea or concept that delivers an emotional kick.
    • Labeled as “Semantic Stretch”
  • The most basic way to make people care is to form an association between something they don't yet care about and something they do care about.
  • When everybody taps into the same thing, an arms race emerges
  • One reliable way of making people care is by invoking self-interest
  • “People don't buy quarter inch drill bits, they buy quarter-inch holes so they can hang their children's pictures.”
  • WIIFY (What's in it for you) should be a central aspect of every speech.
  • Imagining things happen make our brains react as though things really happened.
  • Maslow
    • When people talk about self-interest, they typically invoke the Physical, Security, and Esteem layers.
    • People invoke Maslow's basement because we believe everyone else is living there while we're in a penthouse.
    • We believe we are motivated by self-esteem, but others are motivated by down payments.
    • Job vs. Mission
  • Two ways to reason through value
    • Basic economic value - self interest. Weigh cost and benefits
    • Second is group interest. Instead of “What's in it for me” it is “What's in it for my group.”
    • “Always structuring our ideas around self-interest is like always painting with one color. It's stifling for us and uninspiring for others.”
  • Using higher levels of Maslow's hierarchy tends to inspire people more.
  • Don't mess with Texas
    • Used an identity appeal which worked far better than self-interest appeal.
  • Three strategies for making people care
    • Using associations (or avoiding them)
    • Appealing to self-interest
    • Appealing to adentity
  • Curse of Knowledge can be worked through by continually asking why (Toyota asks 5 Whys)
  • How do we get people to care?
    • We get them to take off Analytical Hats
    • We create empathy for specific individuals
    • We show how our ideas are associated with things that people already care about
    • We appeal to their self-interest, but we also appeal to their identities; Not only to the people they are right now but also to the people they would like to be
    • Stay clear of Maslow's Basement

Chapter 6: Stories

  • A credible idea makes people believe. An emotional idea makes people care. The right stories make people act
    • Nurse in NICU with stethoscope
  • With stories, give people enough information so they could see what they would do
    • Copy machine technicians
  • The line between a story's audience and a story's protagonist is a bit blurry.
    • When listening to a story, we believe ourselves to be in the story.
  • Simulating past events is much more helpful than simulating future outcomes
    • People who focused on how they got into bad situations fare better than people who focus on how they'll get out of them.
    • The more that training simulates the actions we must take in the world, the more effective it will be. (Flight simulators, etc)
  • Jared @ Subway
    • This story is not sumuch a flight simulator as a pep talk
    • Inspiration drives action, as does simulation
    • Jared far more sticky than “7 Under 6”, although both are going after same idea at its core
  • Spotting ideas as powerful (sometimes moreso) than creating
  • Three basic story plots:
    • Challenge plot inspires us by appealing to our perserverance and courage. Make us want to work harder, take on new challenges, overcome obstacles. Inspire us to act
      • Underdog story; rags-to-riches; triumph of willpower over adversity
      • Star Wars; Jared; American Revolution
    • Connection Plot is a story about people who develop a relationship that bridges a gap. They inspire us in social ways. They make us want to help others, be more tolerant of othrers, work with others, love others.
      • Chicken Soup series
      • If telling story at company party, go with connection plot, kicking off a project more of a challenge plot
    • Creativity Plot Involves someone making a mental breakthrough, solving a long-standing puzzle or attacking a problem in an innovative way. They make us want to do something different, to be creative, to experiment with new approaches.
      • Apple on Newton's head; McGyver
  • “How wonderful, they've stolen my idea. It's become their idea!”
  • Springboard stories
    • If you hit listeners between the eyes with the point directly, they respond by fighting back.
    • Work in harmony with people acting adversarily
  • Conference storybook
    • Researcher distilled all stories told at a conference into a book. Presenters were unhappy
    • Curse of Knowledge - they wanted to conclusions to be written down, but forget that listeners don't have their knowledge.
    • They remember the experiences that taught them those lessons.
  • Hardest part of using stories effectively is making sure that they're Simple.

Chapter 7: What Sticks

  • “Is the audience's version of my message still core?”
    • Messages can change (think “Elementary, my dear Watson” was never spoken by Sherlock)
    • Ultimately the test of our success as idea creators isn't whether people parrot our words but whether we achieve our goals.
  • If you can spot a great story you'll always trump a great creator
  • Villains to speaking & sticking
    • Burying the lead - people like statistics so that can bury the lead
    • Focus on presentation instead of message - Trying to be charismatic and focus on diction can misconstrue the point
    • Decision paralysis - Must find the core, but there may be too many things to focus on
    • Curse of Knowledge - archvillain.
  • Getting a message across has two stages
    • Answer - Coming up with the correct answer
    • Telling others - Harest part because work done in getting to the answer phase will backfire when Telling Others
      • Often we tend to communicate to audience as if they were us
  • Communication Framework: Make the audience
      1. Pay Attention (Unexpected)
      1. Understand and Remember it (Concrete)
      1. Agree / Believe (Credible)
      1. Care (Emotional)
      1. Be able to act on it (Story)
    • SO: Rather than guess about whether people will understand our ideas, we should ask “Is it concrete?” Rather than speculate about whether peple will care, we should ask, “Is it emotional?” Does it get out of Maslow's basement? Does it force people to put on an Analytical Hat or feel empathy?
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