Advertising
Advertising

Book Discussion: Chip and Dan Heath’s “Made to Stick”

Book Discussion: Chip and Dan Heath’s “Made to Stick”
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

    Imagine: a teacher stands in front of a classroom filled with bored, listless students. As he repeatedly fills the board and erases it, fills the board and erases it, he drones out a list of names and dates, formulae and proofs, theories and evidence. His students drop one by one into a dazed stupor, drool puddling beneath their vacant faces, necks craning to catch quick glimpses of the clock, thumbs twiddling against phonepads beneath their desks. Neither teacher nor students are inspired; six months later, neither will remember what was said or done that day or, indeed, any day.

    Now imagine: A period later, a different teacher stands in front of a different group of students teaching her section of the same class. As she goes over the same material from the same book, her students buzz with excitement, falling over themselves to answer every question she poses to the class, their gazes riveted tightly to hers as she spins out ever-more-fascinating details. Years later, her students remember vividly the material from her class, and look back at their semester together as a crucial turning point in their lives.

    Advertising

    Same material, same subject, very different outcomes. What is it that makes some teachers — along with some politicians, pundits, authors, scientists, novelists, corporate executives, advertisers, designers, engineers, and others — able to totally capture their audience’s attention while others communicate the same ideas an get ignored? What combination of strong ideas and strong presentation is necessary to get through to people, to be persuasive, memorable, and influential? Why do some ideas stick in the public’s consciousness while others — as good or even better — fade without a trace? What makes ideas “sticky” and how can we create “stickiness” in our own communications?

    These are the questions that Chip Heath and Dan Heath set out to answer in their new book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Random House, 2007). Drawing on their backgrounds and research as a Stanford business professor and an educational publisher, the Brothers Heath explore the mechanics and psychology of the spread of ideas ranging from ad slogans to urban legends to political campaigns. What they find and relate to their readers is a handful (six, to be exact) of principles that characterize nearly all of the good ideas that “stick” — and whose absence plagues the ones that don’t.

    Advertising

    What are Sticky Ideas?

    The world is full of ideas. Some are small: putting googly-eyes on a rock and selling it as a no-maintenance pet, for instance. Some are huge: consider the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Most are somewhere in between: a better way to slice bread, transport data over phone lines, get to work, or catch mice. History is littered with good ideas that failed to catch on, as well as bad ideas that, alas, didn’t.

    The ones that stay, that are passed from person to person and from generation to generation are the sticky ones. They’re not necessarily the best ideas, or even the right ones — people have been telling each other that Jews killed Christian children and cooked their blood into Passover matzoh since the Middle Ages, a pretty good run for an idea without a scrap of evidence outside of the fevered imaginations of the ignorant. The ideas that stick are the ones, good or bad, right or wrong, that sink hooks into people’s imaginations and stay there.

    Advertising

    What Makes Ideas Stick

    What makes it hard to communicate our ideas in ways that make them sticky? The most important factor in the failure of ideas to stick is what the Heaths call “the Curse of Knowledge”, the difficulty we have as knowledgeable people imagining what it’s like for people who do not share our knowledge. I run into this a lot as a teacher and as a step-parent, when it occurs to me that even the simplest, most common-sense ideas have to be learned at some point — we have to learn even the most basic stuff, like “fire bad” and “mommy good”. Parents, whose job is essentially to make the whole of our culture’s knowledge and wisdom stick in their children’s heads, face this repeatedly, and often give up — which is why the number one reason most parents can give for why things have to be done a certain way is “because mommy (or daddy) said so”.

    Overcoming the Curse of Knowledge means keeping a few basic principles at the front of our minds as we shape our communications. Chip and Dan Heath offer us six qualities that make ideas sticky, all wrapped up in a clever (if a bit hokey) acronym: Simple Unexpected Concrete Credible Emotional Stories (SUCCESs).

    Advertising

    • Simple: Simplicity is achieved when an idea is stripped down to its core, to the most essential elements that make it work. Perhaps the simplest of all sticky ideas is Einstein’s E=MC2, which renders the complexity of the material universe and the mystery of relativity in five letters, numbers, and symbols. Simple does not have to mean short (but it helps); what is important is that the single most important thing be highlighted.
    • Unexpected: The best ideas represent a break from the everyday, the ordinary, the status quo. They become sticky when they interject themselves into our established patterns, forcing us to sit up and take notice. Once our attention is grabbed, sticky ideas refuse to let go, holding our interest by creating in us a need to discover the outcome, to see how things work. Think of a mystery novel that simply refuses to leave our hands until the last page is turned and our curiosity fulfilled.
    • Concrete: Abstraction is the enemy of stickiness. Sticky ideas don’t promise better nourishment for untold millions, they put a chicken in every pot, a steak dinner on the table of Tom Everyman, or rice into the bowl of the wide-eyed African child whose name and life history are sent to you with a letter and photograph. Some of the stickiest ideas are fables, myths, and legends — the fox and the (sour) grapes, Moses and the golden calf, Robin Hood, and the friend of your friend’s uncle who found a lump on the back of his neck and one day it opened up and a million baby spiders crawled out. The piling on of specific details — who, what, where, when, why, in journalism-speak — makes ideas become realities and allows us to directly relate to them. They also make ideas more memorable — every fable has a patronizing moral attached to it, but it’s the image of the fox leaping to reach the sweet, ripe grapes that sticks with us.
    • Credible: Sticky ideas give us a reason to believe they’re true (even when they’re not). Some of us are just naturally credible — a physicist explaining the nature of the atom, for instance, or the Secretary of Education describing a new testing policy. The rest of us must construct our ideas so that they defend themselves. Statistics are useful, though they suffer from a lack of concreteness; sticky ideas make statistics accessible, bringing them too a human scale that makes their significance clear. Another source of credibility is personal experience, ideas that are clear to anyone who has come across a situation before. Comedians do this all the time, from Jerry Seinfeld’s “did you ever notice…” (of course you have!) to Chris Rock’s ruminations on the differences between black and white people.
    • Emotional: Give your audience a reason to care about your idea. Sticky ideas resonate with us on a level below our immediate consciousness — we can see this in stark clarity with the recent iPhone launch, where thousands stood in line for a product (a little bundle of ideas) that promised to make them cooler, more efficient, better informed, and more capable of dealing with whatever their lives threw at them. Sticky ideas appeal to our wishes, desires, and hopes, and interlock with our image of ourselves.
    • Stories: Why do we go to the trouble of telling fables and myths when we could just as easily tell people the moral? Beware of envy. Don’t worship false idols. Don’t go camping with your college buddies in the woods where that guy with the hockey mask killed those kids last summer. Beside satisfying a number of the other principles of stickiness — offering surprises, concrete details, and emotional resonance — stories act as simulation chambers, allowing us to come to their morals on our own terms. Stories are like the kid who learns that fire hurts by sticking his hand in the burner, only instead of sticking our hands in the burner, we experience somebody else doing so. In addition, stories provide us with a surplus of meaning, allowing us to extend ideas beyond their original domains — which only increases their stickiness.

    Over the next few weeks, I will revisit each of these principles, one at a time, to help show how they work and what they do. As far as I’m concerned, Made to Stick is essential reading for anyone who deals with ideas — marketers and business leaders, of course, but also teachers, knowledge workers, designers, parents, clergy, copy writers, journalists, activists, authors, and so on. If taken seriously, the ideas in Made to Stick will have as big an effect on readers as David Allen’s Getting Things Done has — it’s that powerful (and, like Allen’s book, told in a simple, homey voice that brings you along for the ride instead of preaching at you).

    I’d also like to hear from the Great Communicators out there — how do you make ideas stick? What works, and just as importantly, what doesn’t? Tell your stories in the comments, or visit our forums and start a thread there.

    More by this author

    Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion How to Become an Expert (And Spot out One Nearby) The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed Back to Basics: Your Calendar

    Trending in Communication

    1 How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future 2 19 Golden Pieces of Relationship Advice From the Experts 3 This Is What Happens When You Move Out Of the Comfort Zone 4 What Does Success Look Like? Revealed by 12 Highly Successful People 5 How to Practice Mindful Meditation to Calm Your Thoughts

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on May 20, 2019

    How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future

    How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future

    We sometimes hear people talk about the importance of living in the moment. We might hear about the different ways it will benefit us. It all sounds wonderful, but how exactly can we live in the moment when our mind is constantly racing?

    In this article, we’ll discuss some of the benefits of living in the moment you may not be aware of. Then we’ll look at some of the obstacles, and why we worry. Finally, and most importantly, I’ll show you how to live in the moment and stop worrying using some simple practices that you can easily incorporate into your busy schedule.

    The result: a happier and more fulfilling life.

    Why Live in the Moment?

    “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” – Buddha

    Living in the moment has innumerable benefits. Here are just a few that will enhance your life tremendously:

    Better Health

    By reducing stress and anxiety, you avoid many of the associated health consequences, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Studies have shown that being present can also improve psychological well-being.[1]

    Improve Your Relationships

    Have you ever been with someone who is physically present, but mentally he’s a million miles away?

    Being with unavailable people is a struggle, and makes relationships with them extremely difficult.

    How about being with someone who is fully present? We enjoy being with him because we can make a much deeper connection with him.

    By living in the moment, you can be that person other people enjoy being with, and you make relationships much easier.

    Greater Self-Control

    You have greater control over your mind, body, and emotions. Imagine how much better your life would be if it weren’t at the mercy of a racing mind, and unpredictable emotions. You would certainly be more at peace, and much happier.[2]

    Why Do We Worry?

    Before we answer this question, it’s important to distinguish between worry and concern.

    When we are concerned about something, we are more likely dealing with a real problem with realistic solutions. Then once we do whatever we can to address the problem, we’re willing to live with the outcome.

    Worrying, on the other hand, involves unrealistic thinking. We may worry about a problem that doesn’t really exist, or dwell on all the bad things that can happen as a result. Then, we feel unable to deal with the outcome. Either way, we have difficulty dealing with uncertainty, which is a normal part of life.

    Certainly, some of our problems may not have desirable outcomes, such as a serious health issue. Some problems may be beyond our control, such as civil unrest or economic downturn. In such cases, it can be hard to avoid worrying, but not impossible.

    We sometimes worry when we don’t know how to deal with a problem. For example, have you ever received a letter from the IRS telling you that you owe more money than you thought, and don’t have the funds to pay it? This is enough to scare anyone who is not familiar with taxes.

    How to Live in the Moment

    Step 1: Overcome Worrying

    In order to overcome worrying, we need to do two things:

    Advertising

    Learn How to Live in the Moment

    By living in the moment, you calm your mind, and are able to see more clearly.

    The reason some problems seem so daunting is that our mind is racing so fast that we cannot see things as they truly are. So we make up a bunch of possible scenarios in our mind, most of which are unlikely to come true.

    In addition to seeing more clearly, living in the moment will help us think more realistically. Unrealistic thinking is fueled by confusion and uncontrolled emotions. Calming your mind will reduce confusion and calm your emotions.

    Learn to Focus on Solutions Instead of Problems

    Some people tend to be more solution-oriented, and others more problem-oriented. Some of the factors that may determine this are gender, upbringing, and education.

    People with higher educations tend to be problem-solvers. That is what their years of education train them to do. In addition, their jobs probably reinforce this way of thinking.

    If you’re not problem-solving oriented, don’t worry. You can train yourself to worry less. We’ll discuss that soon.

    Step 2: Identify Obstacles to Living in the Moment

    In today’s busy world, it can be a challenge to live in the moment. The reasons revolve around how our mind works, and outside influences.

    Racing Mind

    Many busy people have a racing mind that never seems to slow down. Their mind gets so agitated from too much sensory stimulation.

    You see, anything that stimulates any of our five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell) will trigger a thought, and that thought leads to another, and then another, and so on.

    If you have a busy life, all your activities will overstimulate your mind, and make it seemingly impossible to slow it down. And an agitated mind wants to go to another place and time.

    Unpleasant Situations and Troublesome Past

    None of us want to be in unpleasant situations, or remember those of the past. They can bring up painful emotions, which we don’t want to feel.

    So how do most people cope with painful emotions?

    By doing whatever we can to avoid them, and we can avoid them by taking our mind to another place and time where things are more pleasant.

    In other words, we avoid living in the present moment.

    Some people resort to doing things that stimulate sensory pleasure, such as eating, alcohol or sex. Others will consume substances that dull their mind, and keep them from thinking about unpleasant or stressful situations.

    A Wandering Mind

    From the moment we are born (likely sooner) until the time we die, our body and mind are active performing some function. So it’s natural for our mind to have some level of activity, whether conscious or unconscious.

    Generally, a wandering mind is unproductive. As noted above, one thought starts an endless chain of thoughts. The reason is that one thought reminds us of something else, and this process can go on until we need our mind to perform a specific function, or until we get distracted with something else.

    Advertising

    Now, there are times when a wandering mind can be productive, such as when creating works of art, or trying to find creative solutions to problems. In such cases, we need our mind to explore different possibilities.[3]

    Outside Influences

    Most of us are not fully aware of how our environment and social norms influence our thinking and behavior. People and institutions are constantly competing for our attention. The news media draw our attention to the past, and advertising usually to the future.[4]

    Many people around us who dwell on the past or future try to draw us to their way of thinking. Even the whole concept of the American dream is geared toward the future. It tells us that if we acquire things like a good career, family, and house, then we’ll be happy.

    Step 3: Practice Mindfulness

    So how can we live in the moment in a world that is constantly trying to draw our attention to the past and future?

    Before we get into concrete actions you can take, it’s important to understand what mindfulness is. You’ve probably heard the term before, but may not fully understand what it means.

    Understand Mindfulness

    The concept of mindfulness is actually quite simple. To be mindful IS to live in the moment.

    When you are mindful, your attention is focused on what is happening in the present moment. When you are mindful, you are fully in touch with reality because the present moment is where reality is taking place.

    You are aware of what is happening in your body, mind, emotions, and the world around you. This is different than thinking about these things. To develop greater understanding, you don’t have to think about them so much, but rather just observe them.

    This may be counter-intuitive to many people, especially intellectuals, because they’re so used to using logic to develop greater understanding. With mindfulness, we calm our mind and emotions so we can see clearer. Then much of our understanding will come from simply observation. When we develop mindfulness, we literally expand our awareness.

    To develop mindfulness, we need to train ourselves to observe things more objectively, that is, without our emotions or preconceived ideas influencing our views.

    You’d be surprised to find out just how much your emotions and past experiences influence your judgments. What many of us do, including intellectuals, is make a quick judgment about a person or situation, then add the reasoning afterwards. That is not logic, but rather rationalization.

    When you are mindful, you reserve judgment until you have more information. Notice how I said “more information,” and not “complete information.” It is impossible to have complete information about something because there are infinite numbers of factors affecting it. So the best thing to do is be as objective as possible, and always be open to new information.

    Viewing the world in this manner can be a challenge, and takes some practice to overcome years of habitual thinking. But it can make our lives infinitely more fulfilling, as we’ll be able to make much better decisions that will result in real happiness and inner peace.

    So if you’re ready to live a better life, read on for some simple mindfulness practices that you can incorporate into your busy life to help you live in the moment, that is, reality.

    You don’t have to do all of them, but rather choose the ones that appeal to you, and suit your lifestyle.

    Mindfulness Meditation

    Mindfulness meditation is the mainstay of developing mindfulness and living in the moment. To practice mindfulness meditation, all you really have to do is sit quietly and follow your breathing. When your mind wanders off, just bring it back to your breath.

    Notice how your lungs expand with each in-breath, and contract with each out-breath. Let your breathing become relaxed and natural.

    Advertising

    You don’t have to do it perfectly. The idea is to give your mind a rest from the constant sensory stimulation of all your activities, and just allow it to settle down naturally. Start with about 5 to 10 minutes per day and work your way up to about 20 minutes or longer.

    This practice is highly effective, and can have both short-term and long-term benefits.

    If you want to learn more about mindfulness meditation, take a look at this article: How to Practice Mindful Meditation to Calm Your Thoughts

    Also, there are many good books on the market that explain the concepts and techniques in greater detail. Some examples are

    Mindful Breathing

    While this may sound the same as mindfulness meditation, all you’re really doing is taking short breaks occasionally (10 to 15 seconds) to observe your breathing. Stop whatever you’re doing, and take a few mindful breaths, then resume your activity. That’s it.

    You can do mindful breathing at any time of the day during your busy schedule. What it does is interrupt the acceleration of your mind. It is like taking your foot off the accelerator while driving. It’s a nice refreshing break you can take without anyone noticing.

    Here’re some breathing exercises you can try to learn: 5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly)

    Mindful Walking

    Walking is an activity that you perform several times throughout the day. We often think we’re being productive by texting, or calling someone while walking. But are we really?

    Instead of getting on your cell phone, or letting your mind wander off, why not use your walking for training yourself to live in the moment?

    Mindful walking is similar to mindful breathing. But instead of focusing on your breath, focus on your walking. Pay attention to each footstep. Also, notice the different motions of your arms, legs, and torso. When your mind wanders off, just bring your attention back to your walking.

    You can even make a meditation out of walking. That is, go walking for a few minutes outside. Start by slowing down your pace. If you slow down your body, your mind will follow.

    In addition to paying attention to your walking, notice the trees, sunshine, and critters. A mindful walk is enjoyable, and can really help your mind settle down.

    Mindful Eating

    Eating is an activity that most of us perform mindlessly. The reason is that it doesn’t require your attention to perform. So what many of us do is try to multitask while we eat. We may talk on the phone, text, watch TV, or even hold a meeting.

    The problem with not eating mindfully is that we don’t eat what our body and mind need to perform at an optimal level. We may eat unhealthy foods, or too much. This can lead to various health problems, especially as we get older.

    Mindful eating has many health benefits, such as reduced food cravings, better digestion, and even weight loss.[5]

    So how do you eat mindfully? Start by slowing down, and avoid the temptation to distract yourself with another activity. Here are 3 different aspects of eating where you can practice mindfulness:

    • Eating itself: Focus your attention on choosing a portion of food to insert into your mouth. Notice the smell, flavor, and texture as you chew it; then finally swallow it. As with following your breath during meditation, pay close attention to every aspect of eating.
    • Choice of foods: Although you’ve already chosen your food before you have begun eating, you can still take the opportunity to contemplate your choices. Think about the nutrients your body needs to sustain itself. Ask yourself, “Is this what my body and mind need to be healthy, and perform at an optimal level?” “Is it sufficient, or too much?” By asking yourself these questions, you will be more inclined to make better choices in the future.
    • Contemplating the sources: Most of us don’t think about all the work it takes to provide us with the food we eat. While you’re eating, consider all the work by the farmer, shipping company, and the grocery store. These are real people who worked hard to provide you with the food necessary for your survival.

    You can find more tips about mindful eating here: 7 Simple Steps to Mindful Eating

    Advertising

    Mindful Activities

    Choose an activity that you perform regularly, such as washing dishes. Focus all your attention on this activity, and resist the temptation to let your mind wander, or get distracted. When it does, then just bring your attention back to washing dishes.

    Notice some of the specific movements, or sensations of washing dishes, such as how the soapy water feels on your hands, the circular motion of scrubbing the dish, or the rinsing. You’d be surprised at how such a mundane activity can truly expand your awareness.

    You can choose any activity you like, such as ironing, folding clothes, mowing the lawn, or showering. Over time, you will begin doing all these activities with greater mindfulness.

    Bonus Suggestion

    Here is one activity that is not generally considered a mindful activity. It is physical training. For those of you who already workout, it may be easy to see how physical training requires you to live in the moment.

    Here’s how it works:

    In order to perform an exercise to get the desired benefit, you need to use a proper technique. In order to use the proper technique, you need to pay close attention to how you are doing the exercise. In other words, you need to be fully present in the moment.

    Another aspect of training that helps you live in the moment is tuning into what is happening in your body. First, during exercising, you need to pay close attention to how your body feels. Are you exercising hard enough, or not enough?

    There are times to go easy, such as during warm-up exercises; and times to push yourself hard, such as when you’re warmed up and want to stimulate growth.

    Second, when you’re not in the gym training, you need to pay close attention to the signals your body is sending you. What nutrients and how much do you need to consume to support your training? How much rest do you need?

    By tuning in to your body, you force yourself to be in the moment. So, physical training done properly is just about as effective as meditation, or any mindful activity, for developing mindfulness. It’s also great for your health.

    Final Thoughts

    Practicing mindfulness is like regularly putting small amounts of change in a jar. They will all add up over time. And this will add up to greater peace and happiness.

    Remember, you don’t have to do the mindfulness practices perfectly to get the benefits. All you have to do is keep bringing your mind back to the present moment when it wanders off.

    Practicing mindfulness may be a bit challenging in the beginning; but I can assure you, it will get easier fairly quickly.

    The benefits of living in the moment are well within your reach, no matter how much your mind is racing. If you stick with these mindfulness practices, you too will learn how to live in the moment and stop worrying; and when you do, a whole new world will open up for you. This is what Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls the ultimate reality.

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next