Why do some ideas stick, while others silently slip away into oblivion? Made to Stick authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath pored over hundreds of winning ideas and saw, “over and over,” these same six principles at work.
Find the essential core of your idea. Sound bites are not ideal, but proverbs are. Create ideas that are both simple and profound. According to the authors, the ‘golden rule’ is the ultimate model of simplicity: “A one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.”
How do you get your audience to pay attention to your ideas, and how do you maintain their interest when you need to get the idea across? Violate people’s expectations. Be counterintuitive. Made to Stick uses the example: “A bag of popcorn is as unhealthy as a whole day’s worth of fatty foods!” While surprise prompts alertness and focus, you must generate interest and curiosity for the idea to endure. This can be done by “opening gaps” in people’s knowledge, and then filling them.
To make your ideas clear, explain them in terms of human actions, or sensory information. To this point, please grab a razor-sharp blade and carve any mission statements out of your website. Aside from the executive team, no one cares. The Heath brothers state: “Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images — ice-filled bathtubs, apples with razors — because our brains are wired to remember concrete data.”
How do we make people believe our ideas? Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials, notes Made to Stick: “We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves — a ‘try before you buy’ philosophy for the world of ideas. For instance, during the sole 1980 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter, Ronald Regan asked a simple question that allowed voters to test for themselves: “Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago.”
How do we get people to care about our ideas? We need to make them feel something. In the case of the unhealthy movie popcorn, we make them feel disgusting. A static “37 grams of fat” doesn’t elicit any emotions. Research shows people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region. Made to Stick notes: “We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.”
Finally, how do you get people to act on ideas? Well, you tell stories. “Firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire, and by doing so they multiply their experience,” wrote the authors, suggesting this develops a more complete “mental catalogue” of critical situations they might confront during a fire, and the appropriate responses to those situations. Our copywriters agree; stories engage, they move people, and they’re memorable.
Apply these guidelines to overcome lifeless prose and help your ideas transform the way people think and act.