Why is change hard?
Have you ever tried to break a habit, only to have it creep back in 3 months later? I have. I’m going through that with running right now.
I go through three month cycles with running. First I’m up on it, then I’m down. I’m hitting the trails three times per week, then a dry spell. Apparently, I haven’t been sticky enough with myself.
Made To Stick‘s subtitle sums things up tidily: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. The book was a great read and, whether you’re trying to get new products, ideas, approaches, strategies, or methods to stick, it’s going to be a HUGE help. Read it, practice it, stick it.
Now, how do I apply it to the conversations in my head…?
Hm. Enough diversion. Here’s the review.
Enter Made To Stick
The Book in 3 Sentences or Less
There aren’t many ideas that are inherently sticky. We struggle to make our ideas stick, with party tricks like spreadsheets, Power Points, and somersaults. Even the most polished speakers in the world can’t make ideas stick. We remember their polish, but how much of their content will we remember, let alone have acted upon 7 days later? And yet communicating ideas in a way that sticks is imperative if your work includes anything that has a pulse. So what’s the secret?
When Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point introduced them to the concept of “stickiness” – the property that makes some ideas stick and others die out, a lightbulb went on for the Heath brothers: they were working on the same project. Dan, as co-founder of the start-up educational publishing company Thinkwell, had been creating practical ways to make ideas stick, and Chip, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford, had been researching and teaching what makes ideas stick.
Made To Stick had stuck.
Number One Takeaway: SUCCESs
Making ideas stick is not expensive, it doesn’t require technology, charisma, or polish. Every sticky idea follows a set of rules. And anyone who knows the rules (and knows how to apply them!) can make an idea stick.
Thankfully, in the true spirit of stickiness, Dan and Chip have boiled those rules down to a handy formula:
Here’s how it works. For an idea to be sticky it must check out against the following list:
- Simple – The message must pack a lot of meaning, and be compact
- Unexpected – The message gets attention, and keeps it, with pure uncommon sense and a healthy dose of surprise
- Concrete – The message provides a concrete hook that inspires abstraction and creativity, but the message itself is not abstract
- Credible – The message is essentially believable and establishes authentic credibility
- Emotional – The message gets and emotional response. If a message elicits an analytical response, then skepticism is close behind.
- Story – A good story can also help someone find their place in your message, and inspire them to act
Key Leadership Lessons
In the world outside of the world behind your eyes, the amazing symphony of curiosity, exploration, insight, discovery, and knowledge is not evident. So we have to figure out ways to bring people into this world, beyond the Curse of Knowledge.
The Curse of Knowledge is the arch enemy of stickiness. As an expert, it’s easy to forget what it’s like not to know something. Of course people should care. Your knowledge and insights are vital. Problem is: they don’t. The real problem is: your knowledge isn’t enough to make them care. Either is your passion.
A message should be both accurate and accessible. That’s our challenge. Design your message so that it’s understandable, inspiring, and actionable from the perspective of your audience, not from your perspective. This requires you to understand your audience as well as you do your subject.
No one ever said leadership was a walk in the park. Thankfully, we have guides like Dan and Chip to help us navigate it.
Key Brand and Marketing Lessons
Whether we’re teachers, businesspeople, or parents – we’re all responsible for the stickiness of our ideas. We relegate the creation of stickiness to the world of marketing at our own hazard. No one else is going to do it for us.
Made To Stick helped me put my finger on something that I’ve been grappling with for a while. Every day, lifetimes (in some cases, generations) worth of insight and innovation are being lost because we’re all experts at doing what we do, but rarely experts at communicating what we do. As a result, products collect dust on the shelves of big box stores, once-great businesses flame out when the founder leaves, and students collect years of schooling but very little education.
Key Strategic Lessons
“Strategy is, at its core, a guide to behavior.” If this is true (and I believe it should be), then strategy that isn’t specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timely (SMART) in the moment for employees at all levels of the organization is wasted breath. No amount of PowerPoint presentations or strategic planning documents replaces the strategic imperative that gets employees to translate strategy into action on their own.
For instance, Nordstrom guides its strategy like this: make customers happy EVEN at the expense of efficiency. Employees make unexpected decisions like this:
- Ironing a shirt for customer who needed it for a meeting
- Cheerfully gift wrapping products that a customer bought at Macy’s
- Warming a customer’s car in winter while they finished shopping
A clear “strategic imperative”, gets remarkable results at the tactical level without the need for managerial intervention.
There are three major blocks to this level of strategic communication:
- The Curse of Knowledge (described above)
- Decision paralysis – When a strategy isn’t concrete enough, employees can become paralyzed by analysis, overwhelmed with possibilities, and paralyzed for action.
- Lack of a common language – Your strategy should be articulated in words that are commonly understood. High-level, abstract language makes improvisation scary and offering feedback uncertain.
Most Challenging and Disruptive Ideas
(The whole) truth is not always sticky – or helpful. Messages should be accurate and accessible, as I mentioned above. But it may be necessary to sacrifice completeness for usefulness. To a CEO, “maximizing shareholder value” may be a useful and sticky guide to behavior. To a technician, it’s not. In fact, it could be paralyzing. Southwest Airlines, the brothers Heath point out, has more robust goals than being “THE low-fare airline”, but it’s a strategic directive that is also a useful guide to behavior at the tactical level. And it works.
Stickiness is in your hands. The book doesn’t say it, but infers to a large degree that whether your ideas stick with your audience or not is up to you. That’s why we should always point the finger to ourselves when a communication falls through. Yes, communication is a two-way street – especially in the sense that, if your audience can see a role for themselves in your idea, then entropy will pull them into natural engagement with the idea.
Unique and Helpful Tools and Tactics
Print out the SUCCESs framework above, post it in a prominent area, and use it as a checklist for stickiness whenever you send out a memo, an email, or make a presentation in the next week.
Three story types to inspire people to take action. Next time you’re struggling to incite some excitement, motivation, and follow through, try a story. Chip and Dan were able to identify 3 basic types of stories that inspire people. They are:
The Challenge Plot
Basis: Protagonist overcomes formidable challenge and succeeds
Example: David and Goliath
Result: Make us want to work harder, take on new challenges, and overcome obstacles
The Connection Plot
Basis: A story about people who develop a relationship that bridges a gap – racial, class, ethnic, religious, demographic, etc. Example: The Good Samaritan, Romeo and Juliet
Result: Make us want to help others, be more tolerant of others, work with others, love others
The Creativity Plot
Basis: A story about someone making a mental breakthrough, solving a long-standing puzzle, or attacking a problem in an innovative way
Example: The story of the apple that fell on Newton’s head, inspiring the theory of gravity
Result: Make us want to do something different, be creative, to experiment with new approaches
The Three Whys – The Three Whys is a simple way to remind ourselves of the core values, core principles, that underlie our ideas. This is the meat that people outside our silo, or area of expertise, are most likely to connect with. Just write your idea down, and ask “Why is this important?” three times. Write down your response all three times. By the time you get to the third, your idea may be meaningfully represented enough to stick. If not, feel free to ask “why?” again.
Made To Stick is full of great applications. I tried to choose the three most core ideas to share here. Pick up the book for more approaches to learning and applying stickiness.
Closing Thoughts and Next Steps
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these book reviews from my “business design series”. Here are the links to a few more:
- Business Design Series Book Review #1: Disciplined Dreaming by Josh Linkner
- Business Design Series Book Review #2: Change by Design by Tim Brown
- Business Design Series Book Review #3: Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder
Gotta run. Talk more soon
Have a great week.
***Can’t get enough of Made to Stick? Watch this video…***