Made to Stick
Why you should read this book
Why do myths stick to people’s minds rather than the facts? As a professional, how do you make your ideas create an impact? In this book, you will learn about interesting stories that will open your eyes and make your ideas stickier than ever. If you’re a teacher, a writer, a businessman, or a politician, this is the book for you.
Who should read this
employees; teachers; campaign managers; journalists; politicians; bloggers
About the author
Chip Heath and Dan Heath are brothers and co-authors of 3 best-selling books. Chip is a professor at Stanford Business School while Dan is a research fellow at Duke University. They have sold over 3 million copies worldwide. Their books have been translated to over 30 languages.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Let’s say I have a friend called Dave. Dave was on a business trip to New York, and he had some time to kill before his flight. He went to a bar and ordered a drink. An attractive woman came and asked if she could offer him a drink. He was surely flattered, and he accepted her offer. She bought two drinks: one for herself and the other for him, and that’s the last thing he remembers. He, then, found himself lying in a bathtub surrounded by ice, and he found a note beside him that said “DON’T MOVE, CALL 911”. He reached for a phone that was placed beside him and called 911. It turns out that his kidney was harvested.
Now let’s say you read something in the news that said: “In the broadest sense, monetary advancement may be seen as ‘any development in genuine salary per capita from whatever source’”. Bach has portrayed it as “development in the aggregate yield of products and enterprises in the economy”.
You finish reading both stories. Then, you call a friend to tell him about what you read. Which story are you most likely to remember? Definitely, the first one, because it’s more interesting; it’s made to stick!
The 6 principles to make a story stick are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional & Story; the first letters of each of the previous words make up the word SUCCESS.
Why should you even read this Summary?
After finishing this Summary, the following questions will have been answered:
1) How can you make your customers remember your message or the product that you sell?
2) How can you make your customers act on your message?
3) How can you make your customers pay attention to whatever you have to say?
Chapter 1: Simple
An army can have an awesome plan for the war; yet, they might be defeated. Why is that? It’s because these plans simply do not work. Planning is important to give a feeling for the soldiers that something was planned; but, it won’t make them win the war. The reason behind this is that they might have the perfect plan. However, when they’re on the actual battlefield, sometimes, something happens that can disrupt the plan, like a key asset being destroyed or a surprise move made by the enemy. The soldiers then will ignore the plan and act on their instinct. It’s hard to make a plan to survive in a noisy, unpredictable environment. The thing is: you have to keep it simple, in other words, find the core of the idea.
To get to the core of the idea, you have to remove the unnecessary ideas. So far, that’s easy. The hard part would be: having to remove important ideas that are just not the most important ones. You have to be careful not to remove the most important idea, i.e. the core.
The two steps to reach the core are:
Step one: Find the core.
Step two: Translate the core using the SUCCESs checklist.
Southwest Airlines is a successful company. How did they achieve success? They reached the core of their idea, which is “THE low-fare airline”. In 1996, they received 124,000 applications for 5,444 openings only. The question here is: Why would anyone want to work for a company whose main idea is to reduce costs? The answer is that: while their main idea is to reduce the costs, their secondary idea is to make employees have fun at work. Employees are allowed to act on their instinct; for instance, is it okay to make fun of a flight attendant about her birthday over the P.A.? Sure, because it doesn’t affect the company’s status about being THE low-fare airline. Is it okay to throw some confetti over her? No, because that means extra working hours for cleaning employees; thus, higher fares. And that’s how, my friend, southwest reached their core idea.
Too much complexity can make people choose unimportant things and put them as a priority over critical issues.
An economist named Savage illustrated an idea that he called the “Sure-thing principle”. He gave an example about someone who wanted to buy a property; but then, remembered that there are elections coming soon. So, he considered both scenarios and how they would affect the property attractiveness: if group A wins, he’s going to buy the house, and if group B wins, he’s going to do the same thing. Thus, he decided to go ahead and buy the house anyway, regardless of the outcome. It’s as simple as that! However, two psychologists published a paper claiming that the “Sure-thing principle” was not always accurate. They said that the mere idea of the existence of uncertainty could alter people’s choices.
For instance, a college student had a final exam. The exam results would appear in two days. After finishing his exam, he went home and found an offer of a vacation. He had three choices: book the vacation, pay 5$ fees to lock its price for two days so that he would know his results before paying for the vacation, and the third option was not to pay for it.
Other students were put under an experiment whereby they were told about their grades early so that the uncertainty option would be eliminated. The only options they had were: either to pay or not to pay for the vacation. The students who passed the exam chose to go on vacation to reward themselves, while the other students who failed their exam also, chose to go as a recuperation for their bad grades. Although the students from the first experiment, who had the choice of uncertainty, reacted very differently, they all chose to pay the 5$ to lock the price of the vacation until their results come back, and that’s why the “sure-thing principle” isn’t always a sure thing.
The second step would be to translate the core using the SUCCESs checklist. Check a paragraph that you’ve written, and make a checklist composed of the six principles we’ve talked about before. Check the principles that are present in the paragraph and see which principles were checked off. Evaluate the paragraph, and rewrite it if you found out that it does not check off most of the principles.
Chapter 2: Unexpected
“Daniel, Look at me!”, said the father to his kid. This is how parents ask for attention. Although attention can’t always be asked for, it is something precious that you can’t just ask for and wait for it to come to you. You have to work for it.
Attention-grabbing isn’t always the only thing you need to do. It has to do with fun too. What you do has to be entertaining & eye-catching. You can’t have one without the other. Let’s imagine you were trying to give a presentation in your class. You stand up, you do a backflip, and then you start your presentation. Sure, you’ve grabbed attention with what you did; but, how long is it going to last? If your presentation does not grab attention itself, if your presentation isn’t entertaining enough, people would just take out their phones and forget all about you.
Our brains are designed to notice change. When a marketing team wants to do something that requires attention, they have to change something.
Here, we’re going to focus on two simple questions: how to get people’s attention? And how to keep it up?
The two emotions here, surprise and interest, are the answer to these questions. Surprise is what gets your attention, while interest is what keeps it.
As an example for surprise, remember the buckle-up campaign? It was a campaign run by the US government that showed a family in a car, driving safely in the neighborhood, and then, suddenly, a truck comes out of nowhere and crashes them. The ad, then, ends with “Did you see it? You never do”. At first, it seemed like it was a car AD; however, the real purpose behind this campaign is to remind you to buckle up each time you get in a car. This ad has stuck in our minds till now because it had the elements of surprise and interest.
Surprise isn’t always good. If it doesn’t have a meaning, it’s worthless. Back in 2000, during the Super bowl Tournament, an aired ad showed the Super bowl team in a field making well-organized moves, and then, the camera zooms out to show a huge wolf pack coming out of nowhere and attacking the whole team, tearing them apart. It was surely surprising; but, it had no meaning. I still remember the ad till this day; yet, I don’t remember what the AD was all about. There was no core message within it.
George Loewenstein, a behavioral economist, stated that in order to make something interesting to someone, you simply have to make that person curious. And to make them curious, they have to feel like they have a knowledge gap; and this is what he called The Gap theory of curiosity.
The Gap theory of curiosity is what makes movies interesting because it makes people ask “What will happen?” It’s, also, what makes people love mystery novels because the novel raises the question of “Who did it?” It’s just like an itch that can’t stop your urge to scratch.
In summarizing a book for example, trying to feed-spoon your audience the facts that you’re trying to tell is normal; but, they won’t stick. To make them stick, you need to make the audience feel the “Gap” in their knowledge. They need to WANT to know.
Chapter 3: Concrete
Despising what you can’t get, how many of you are guilty of this? You like a girl, you try to ask her out; but, she refuses. So, you start despising her and pointing out her flaws, just because you can’t get her. There’s a famous story about a fox that was hungry, and saw a tree that was full of grapes. He jumped to catch one; but, he couldn’t. He kept trying and trying but in vain. So, he left and told himself that the grapes were probably sour anyway.
Why do Asian students outperform American students in almost everything? To answer this, we’re going to examine an experiment that was done on both American and Asian teachers. A technique that was used by both Asian and American students was making students memorize data. It’s surely important, and it’s certainly a standard procedure everywhere. However, what was different among the Asian teachers was that they used other techniques besides memorizing.
For instance, they told their students that they had 100 dollars, if they bought something for 30, how much would they have left? OR they would put 10 sticks on the table and take 4 out of them; and then, ask the students how many are left. Their answer would be 6. This technique builds up a concrete foundation for the students to develop their knowledge. They visualize, through it, what abstraction means. When American schools were examined for the same purpose, it turned out that there was only a very small percentage of American teachers who used these techniques, and that’s why Asian students excel in everything, especially mathematics.
Let’s examine the following two messages to check how concrete their ideas are.
1st message: Diarrhea kills millions of children every year. It’s one of the biggest causes of death in poor countries. The cause of their death is dehydration that results from having prolonged diarrhea. There is a special solution for this problem, which consists of electrolytes, minerals, and water, known as the Oral rehydration salts.
Analysis of the 1st message: You learned about the problem; but, do you think it gave you an applicable solution to solve it? The answer is No.
2nd message: Dave went to his meeting with the prime ministers of some developing countries. He had a packet of salt and 8 packets of sugar in his pocket. He picked them out of his pocket in the middle of the meeting, and told the prime ministers that this is the solution for diarrhea. These simple packets of salt and sugar could easily be dissolved in water, and would make the Oral rehydration salts’ solution, and can solve the problem. It costs less than a cup of tea, and can save millions of people.
Analysis of the 2nd message: How solvable was this message? It gave you the solution, and presented it to your table. It was simple yet concrete, and based on a concrete solution that’s easily applicable.
Out of the six traits of stickiness that we are discussing in this Summary, concreteness is the easiest to apply, and it might, also, be the most effective one.
Chapter 4: Credible
Duodenal ulcers are one of the most common types of ulcers. They are not fatal; but, they are extremely painful. When you … wait! Why are we talking about ulcers? Let me explain.
Not so long ago, people thought that ulcers were caused by an excess of acid in the stomach. They managed its symptoms by relieving pain; but, they couldn’t find a cure to it. After a few years, two researchers made a discovery: they said that ulcers were caused by a certain type of bacteria. This is great! It means that a simple antibiotic could cure ulcers, right? Well, no. The scientific community actually refused their research, and didn’t believe them. Why is that? The answer will be revealed in the following paragraph.
The first problem was that scientists knew that the stomach’s acid was strong enough to dissolve a meat steak; so, how can bacteria survive in it? The second problem was the source. At that time, those two researchers were not credible enough to make people believe them. Finally, the third one was their location: those two researchers were from Perth, Australia, and that was not considered –back then– as a credible location to discover such an important cure.
Scientists had a good reason not to believe those two researchers. The reason was that they based their discovery on the relation between the ulcer and people who had that bacteria. Almost everyone who had an ulcer had that bacteria in their body, but unfortunately, not everyone who had that bacteria also had an ulcer.
The two researchers almost gave up until, one day, one of them woke up and asked his scientists friends to join him in the lab. He chugged a bottle filled with that bacteria, and 3 days later, he suffered from the exact same symptoms of patients who had an ulcer. When his stomach was examined, it was found out that it’s now inflamed and red. After that, he simply treated himself with antibiotics, and he was cured!
A rumor was once spread that shipped bananas coming from a certain country were infected with bacteria that causes the “Flesh-eating disease”. It was first spread by email, and it had no credibility. So, to make it more credible, another sentence was added to it. Can you guess that sentence? Yes, you’re right; a credible source was added to the message.
They added the following sentence “Approved by the CDC”, there you go, a credible source that most people would believe instantly whatever is told by them, no matter how illogical it is.
The point here is to add credibility to the thing you want people to believe. How do you do that? There are a few simple points that can help you do it, which we’re going to discuss in the following paragraph.
Authority: The more authority you add to your story, the more likely it is going to be believed.
Details: People love hearing about details. The more details you add, the more credible your story becomes.
Statistics: The numbers in the statistics don’t really matter that much; the context behind them and the story behind them is what adds to their credibility.
Testable experience: Let people experience something that you want to sell before buying it. Their experience will give you more credibility if your product deserves it.
Chapter 5: Emotional
An experiment was once done on a group of people wherein they asked the people under experiment to do a survey for them in exchange for 5$ (the survey was irrelevant; it was just made to make sure everyone had enough money on hand). After finishing their surveys they were given 5$ each and an envelope that contained the following letter: “In Zambia, severe rainfalls have resulted in about 3 million Zambians facing hunger.”
They redid the experiment, but this time, they changed the content of the letter to: “By donating any amount of money to this seven-year-old girl named Jane, you help her in having a better life, with your support; we can make Jane’s life better.”
The results were astonishing, an average of 1.14$ were donated by the people who read the first message, while the people who read the second one donated an average of 2.38$, more than twice the amount of money donated by the first group!
The thing is, acting on people’s emotions can be much stronger than making them analyze the problem and act on it analytically. When people read the first letter, they analyzed the situation and saw the problem as a huge one. They thought that the little donation that they can give wouldn’t affect the situation at all. However, when the girl Jane was used in the second letter, it appealed to their emotions. It didn’t make them think about the situation analytically. Emotions were stronger than logic.
What do people care about the most? Family? Friends? Nope, the answer is themselves. No matter how hard you try to hide it, it will always be apparent. People care about themselves more than anything else. Before TVs became something that every house has, an experiment was done whereby they tried to sell a group of people a TV by delivering the following message: “TVs help people plan their lives better when it’s used correctly. TVs can make people save more money and spend more time with their family and friends in front of it.”Another group was given another message that said the following: “TVs can help you plan your life better if you use them correctly. It can also make you save more money and spend more time with your family and your friends. TVs can also, help you plan your life better.”
Some people might say that they can’t see the difference between both messages. However, if you look at them attentively, you can see how many times the word “You” was used in the second message. It, actually, turned out that the group of people who were given the second message were more liable to buy the TV.
The trick here is making people think that this product is going to benefit them. You have to appeal to their selfish human side.
Chapter 6: Stories
In this chapter, we’re going to learn how stories can make people act. There is a famous story about a nurse who was given the responsibility of watching over babies in the newly born babies’ ICU. She was watching a particular baby when she realized that the baby’s color is changing to blue, a common sign for having trouble breathing. She immediately called the doctor, and the doctor started the standard procedures to treat the lungs. However, she remembered an exact situation when the same thing happened, but the baby had a problem with his heart and not his lungs. It was too late to save him because the doctors thought that the problem was with his lungs and not his heart.
She acted quickly, and asked the doctor to stop everything and start treating the heart instead. Even though the heart monitor showed a normal pulse, she insisted on it. So, they treated the heart, and she was right. The baby’s color returned to normal. After the baby was treated, they figured out that the heart monitor was not accurate.
Concerning people in the medical field, this story is important to them because it makes them aware that they should not always rely on machines. However, for common readers like you and me, this is not important; though, we find it inspiring. Why is that? It’s because that nurse showed an example of how someone can react in a difficult and stressful situation and hold onto their opinion in a group where everyone believes in the exact opposite opinion.
The importance of this story reveals itself as follows: the nurse heard about a situation that was exactly the same as this one, which happened two years ago. One of her friends, who, also works as a nurse, was talking about it. The story stuck in her mind, and she acted upon it after two whole years!
Another example is about two different approaches of two different universities of how to deal with students who are noisy in class.
The first university gave a set of rules to the teachers on how to deal with those students. They asked them to stay calm, not get defensive, and maybe to talk to those students after class to understand their emotions. While this is good, it’s not uncommon to sense; and if addressing that problem was common sense, then why doesn’t everybody do it?
Another teacher in the second university decided to arrange a meeting with a particular student who was noisy in class. She met him in her office, and asked him to say what he’s feeling, to which the student replied with arrogance and didn’t want to talk about it. So, she decided to take a different approach. She told him that everyone in the class asked her to deal with him because he was annoying them. He showed interest, and he started listening. After all, he thought that what he was doing was making people happier or enjoying the classes more. When he learned that his behavior was doing the opposite, he was ready to change it.
Which story are you more likely to act on? Obviously, the second one, even though they’re both almost the same. However, the second story was told in the form of a story, unlike the first one, which was told in bullet points without having a storyline, and that’s why stories make people act. They force you to imagine, to simulate, and to visualize the problem and its solution.
Stories help in lowering the audience’s standards to make them more accepting of your idea. Stories make people engage and act.
In conclusion, you’ve learned about the 6 principles of success in this Summary. The trick to make your message easy to absorb and be understood; you have to keep it SIMPLE. To make people pay attention to your message, you have to make it UNEXPECTED. To make people remember your message, you have to make it CONCRETE. To make people believe your message and consider it trustworthy, you have to make it CREDIBLE. To make people care about what you have to say, you have to make it EMOTIONAL. And finally, to make people act on your message, you have to tell a STORY.