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Book Review: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

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The premise of Made to Stick:
Some ideas are inherently interesting, others are not, but are they born interesting or made interesting? Are they nurtured until they work?

Six principles of sticky ideas:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotions
  6. Stories

The drama comes in when authors, brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath, introduce the Curse of Knowledge, loosely defined: "Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has 'cursed' us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others because we can't readily re-create our listeners' state of mind."

Their hilarious example is having a person tap out the tune to a song. While doing so, the tapper finds it impossible to avoid hearing the tune in his head. But the listener just hears knuckles on the table, and gets no sense of what the tapper can so clearly hear. The tapper's knowledge of the song title makes it impossible for him to imagine what its like to lack that knowledge.

At Stanford, Chip Heath teaches a "Making Ideas Stick" class, where he consistently finds the more polished and talented speakers are generally not the most likely to get their ideas across. Greater impact comes from less-trained speakers who make their point by telling stories or focusing on a single point rather than ten. Think Obama.

The greatest value in Made to Stick comes from learning how to get and keep people's attention. The book offers plenty of examples from advertising to teaching, illustrating effective ways to communicate ideas.

While the text is highly entertaining, the core provides an understanding and dissection of ideas that don't stick, due to the Curse of Knowledge villain they attribute to:

  1. Getting lost in a sea of information – what journalists call burying the lead
  2. Focusing on the presentation instead of the message
  3. Decision paralysis, often the result of too many choices or ambiguous situations
  4. The critical need to bridge the gap between knowing the answer and being able to tell others effectively.

Once your curiosity about the concept grows, the Heaths offer useful suggestions for conveying ideas more creatively, and therefore, making them more effective. With this knowledge, you can invent new ideas, not new rules.

Made to Stick
contains sound lessons for business and communication today. Reading it will force you to think about simplicity in what you ask for.

You'll polish your communication skills if you read Made to Stick twice: once for entertainment, and once again to focus on the core skill you'll develop in creating ideas that stick.

Review refers to Random House 2008 hardcover edition.

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About Helen Gallagher