Made To Stick
By Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Random House, 304 pages, $30
If John F. Kennedy had been a modern CEO, he might have announced his initiative to reach the moon with the opaque, abstract terms that lace most major corporate announcements.
We might have heard deadening words like these: "Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centred innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives."
Fortunately, authors Chip and Dan Heath note, the U.S. president knew how to communicate with evocative words that inspired and stayed with people. He called for America to commit "itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."
Same concept, and equally lofty, but words that were crisp and clear -- and made to stick.
The Heath brothers are an unusual pair and have produced an unusually good book. Chip Heath is a professor of organizational behaviour at Stanford University, with a fascination in urban legends, enjoying compiling them and figuring out what makes them so compelling. Dan Heath is a consultant and founder of an innovative new media company, trying to figure out how to get people to assimilate new concepts. They realized their interests were actually similar: Why some ideas survive and other die.
In Made To Stick, they offer six principles for getting your message to stick, whether it's communicating with staff or devising a marketing campaign.
Simplicity: You must drill down to the core of your idea, aiming for the same simple but profound message of proverbs. The Golden Rule is an example: a one-sentence message that is memorable, yet you could spend a lifetime learning to put into practice.
Unexpectedness: You need to be counterintuitive, violating people's expectations as Art Silverman, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, did when he called a press conference to announce that a medium-sized "butter" popcorn at a typical movie theatre contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings -- combined. But beyond surprising them with your message, which might lead to only a momentary alertness to your idea, you must generate interest and curiosity. One pathway is to make people aware of gaps in their knowledge, which can lead to curiosity as they seek to gain the requisite information they are missing.
Concreteness: Like Mr. Kennedy, you need to explain your ideas through clear, concrete images, appealing where possible to the senses. Instead of talking of saving two million acres a year of critical California lands, the Nature Conservancy calls for help saving five landscapes a year -- a much more concrete idea. Instead of talking about world-class customer service, Nordstrom's tells its employees about specific ways staff went out of their way to help customers. The Heath brothers believe this principle of concreteness is the easiest of the six traits of stickiness to embrace and probably the most effective.
Credibility: If you can't, through your own stature, give your ideas credibility, you must ensure they carry their own credentials. That means figuring out a way people can test the ideas for themselves -- a "try before you buy" philosophy for ideas. Ronald Reagan did that in 1980 when, in challenging U.S. president Jimmy Carter, he asked Americans: "Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off than you were four years ago."
Emotions: You have to make people feel something about your idea. For them to act on it, they must care. Often that will mean appealing to self-interest. You want to move up the scale of the Maslow hierarchy, so you are appealing to the desire for belonging, esteem, learning, aesthetic tastes, self-fulfillment and helping others to reach their potential.
Stories: Telling stories helps people to connect with your story. It inspires and creates a deeper understanding.
The Heaths stress there is no formula for sticky ideas. But using those principles will help to make your ideas stickier, and your messages more likely to succeed.
The book is reminiscent of The Tipping Point, which first gave widespread attention to the notion of stickiness and had a similarly engaging style, mixing anecdotes and research studies in a simple-to-read -- yes, sticky -- format. The Tipping Point was enormously influential and this book deserves to be too, given how many important but unsticky ideas we are assaulted with.
In addition: Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton have written a series of books on the importance of employee recognition, based on the notion of giving them carrots. Their latest, The Carrot Principle (Free Press, 224 pages, $26.99), offers the results of a 10-year study on employee engagement as well as their own principles for leadership. Unfortunately, it's not done in a particularly engaging fashion, since many of the insights are already well known, but in the last 50 pages, they do what they do best, offering concrete steps for developing a recognition program. Some of the ideas and tools are new but their previous books were better, notably Managing With Carrots and A Carrot A Day.
Just In: Montreal-based consultant Frema Engel focuses on getting violence out of the workplace in the second edition of Taming The Beast (Ashwell Publishing, 365 pages, $29.95).
In Oops (Collins, 304 pages, $16.50), journalists Martin J. Smith and Patrick J. Kiger offer 20 life lessons from the fiascos that shaped modern America, such as the paper dress (convenience is not enough), the 1995 Dodge La Femme (pandering will get you nowhere) and the 1967 Jimi Hendrix-Monkees tour (understand the market).
Former entertainment reporter and publicist James Robert Parish offers a history of Hollywood's iconic flops in Fiasco (John Wiley & Sons, 368 pages, $17.99).
Feldenkrais instructor Lavinia Plonka explores how to change your life through the magic of body language in Walking Your Talk (Tarcher, 208 pages, $23.50).
Clarification: In last week's review of Payback: Reaping the Rewards of Innovation, one of the authors was misidentified in the body of the review. Harold Sirkin is the co-author.
KENNEDY THEN AND NOW
John F. Kennedy uttered these famous words at his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961:
"Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."
"Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate."
Now let's imagine those same thoughts but using today's sometimes mind-numbing jargon:
Consider how your skill sets can be proactively deployed to add more brand value to the enterprise of the country.
Going forward, let us strive for face time with our adversaries in order to achieve mission-critical success.