Made to Stick

I enjoyed Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The subtitle, Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, explains much of its appeal. If you want to get across a message that people will understand, remember, and act on, this is your book.

A lot of the Heath brother's advice is common sense but there are surprises. In an annual experiment Chip does at Stanford, he gives his students a set of crime statistics and asks them to make a one-minute persuasive speech. The speeches are then rated by the class.

The speeches are always excellent and the smoothest, best talkers are preferred by their peers, but are the best speakers the best communicators? Ten minutes after the speeches are given, the content of even the best statistic-heavy speech is forgotten. Regardless of speaking ability, the one student in ten who decides to tell a story, passes on information which is remembered.

Here are some Velcro clad tips to make your ideas (or your teaching) stick.

SUCCESs is the Heath brother's acronym for Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Emotional, Stories. They promise that if you use these principles, your ideas will be understood and remembered, just like perennial urban legends. First, simplify the idea to first principles, then use unexpected images or situations to make the idea memorable. Next, stimulate an emotional response in the receiver and don't forget to use stories, because stories, told even tolerably well, are more memorable than other forms of information.

They cite the 'Kidney Heist,' an urban legend where, after a drink with a woman in a bar, a traveller wakes up naked, packed in ice in his hotel bathtub. He has a fresh surgical incision. Just within reach is a phone and instructions to stay still and call 911 for help because his kidney has been removed. Does this story sound familiar? We remember stories like these because they are simple, shocking, emotional and full of concrete details like ice and incisions.

Now to get my French students to remember their possessive pronouns as easily as they remember all those 'Alligator in the Sewer' legends...

Made to Stick is an amusing book full of anecdotes and mnemonics so that the take away message really does go with you. I recommend it if you want to write better or teach better. Their methods also show how a democratic-minded leader can sidestep the buzzwords and create an inspirational mission statement employees can really use to make day-to-day decisions.

Happy reading.

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