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Sticky Ideas Workshop (Part 1): Simple

Sticky Ideas Workshop (Part 1): Simple
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

“Just Do It.” Those words make up perhaps the stickiest marketing slogan of the past couple decades. In three words, only eight letters, Nike manages to say everything they want you to think, feel, believe about their brand. Three words to sum up the competitive edge Nike shoes and sports equipment promises, the can-do attitude that Americans so strongly believe, the strength, control, and optimism that Nike relies on to sell shoes.

“Just do it” is, in a word, simple. It’s everything Nike is (or wants us to think it is) boiled down to its absolute essence. Certainly Nike could rattle off a dozen reasons its shoes are superior to its competitors (and surely its competitors could rattle off the same number of reasons that they’re superior to Nike) but they don’t. “Just do it” speaks for itself.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

In Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick (“M2S” hereafter), simplicity is the first principle of stickiness. Most of us shy away from simplicity — simple is seen as less than, inferior, dumb. Simple is seen as the opposite of complex (better, more, superior, smart), when the reality couldn’t be more different.

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Simple is not the opposite of complex. Consider the example I gave in my introduction to M2S, Einstein’s formula E=MC2, which wrestles the vastness and mystery of the universe into a bite-size slogan that practically everyone knows (even if few understand it). Einsteinian relativity certainly doesn’t lack for complexity, yet it can be grasped, at least in part, in the simplicity of an elegant mathematical formula.

Simple is opposed to not complexity but complication, the “clutter” that stands between us and an idea. Think of the average person at the camera counter at Best Buy — each camera sits above a card listing specifications like shutter delay time, built-in memory, megapixels, the size of the CCD, and the f-stop range of the lens. Most of which means nothing to the average consumer; all they want to know is which camera is the best for them. Standing there, assailed by facts and figures — even if we allow that the specs are accurate — they literally have no idea.

What is wanted is someone to cut through the clutter and say “this is the camera that’s right for you”, and if you’re a communicator (whether you write, lecture, give presentation, podcast, produce commercials, or whatever) you could do worse than setting as your goal to be the one who sweeps the choices aside and says “this is the one you want”.

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Eliminate Choices

In today’s relentlessly Darwinian free market philosophy, choice is supposed to be the best thing since freeze-dried ice cream. But your job as a communicator is not to celebrate the free market, it’s to inspire action in your audience — to get them to do what you want, whether that’s buying your product, voting for your candidate, funding your proposal, or accepting you into a graduate program.

In M2S, the Heath’s discuss a research program studying the psychology of choices in college students. One group of students were told that a prominent speaker whose work they’re interested in would be on campus that night, and asked whether they would prefer to see the presentation or stay in and study. As you can expect, a large percentage of students chose to see the speaker. Another group was told the same thing, but they were also told that there was a foreign film they’d wanted to see showing in the campus theater at the same time as the presentation. In this group, something odd happened — the largest group of students chose to go neither to the presentation nor to the foreign film; the majority chose to stay in and study!

This study demonstrates something psychologists call “decision paralysis”. As it happens, our brains simply don’t handle choice all that well. Given a choice between two equally good options, we seize up, riddled with anxiety over making the wrong choice or, in choosing, giving up an opportunity, so we retreat to the tried and true.

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So to make an idea sticky, we have to eliminate competing choices, to strip our ideas down to the core. There may be ten good reasons why someone should vote for you, buy from you, or promote you, but nobody can hold ten thoughts, even ten good thoughts, in their mind at once. Instead of offering the ten good reasons to do something, you offer the one best reason.

Communicating the Core?

Sticky ideas are more than just the pared-down essence of more complex ideas, though. Finding the core of your message is the first step; figuring out how to get it across is the next. Ideas need to be more than just good, or even great, they need to resonate with your audience, to hit ’em where it hurts.

One way to do this is to take advantage of the ideas that your audience is already carrying around with them. Returning yet again to Einstein (who apparently knew what he was doing!), when Einstein wanted to explain what it meant that motion is relative, he turned to an experience that everyone of his generation would have been familiar with: riding on a train. Imagine, he said, someone walking backwards on a moving train at the same speed the train was moving forward; to the observer beside the tracks, it would look as if he were not moving at all, while to an observer on the train. it would appear he was moving quite fast indeed. Relativity, Einstein assured us, was like that.

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The use of analogy relates something we have never experienced to something we are already familiar with, making it that much easier to understand and accept. If we’re really good at it, we can even tap into all the positive feelings people hold for the thing we’re using to explain our idea. The Heaths highlight a particularly good example of this, done by people who are especially talented at manipulating feelings: the Hollywood high concept pitch.

As you can imagine, most Hollywood people are busy, busy, busy — and have to wade through a lot of crap to find the handful of movies worth spending money to make and distribute (consider that — the movies in the cineplex right now are what was left after the worst stuff was thrown out). So Hollywood has developed a kind of shorthand for pitching movies, the high concept, which sums up the proposed movie by comparing it to movies everyone wishes they had made. Speed‘s high concept is well-known: Die Hard on bus. Everyone wants to produce a movie as successful as Die Hard, so this pitch appeals directly to the primal urges that drive Hollywood filmmakers.

Guided by the Core

When ideas are presented simply enough, they become guides to further action. The Heaths call this “generative analogy”, a decidedly un-sticky phrase, which simply means that the ideas tell us what to do. They use the example of Disney’s park employees, who are referred to as “cast members”; when they’re working, they’re “onstage”. By comparing employees to the cast of a theatrical production, Disney is providing them with a model for their actions that guides them even when no explicit rule or script tells them what to do. Should you scream at a kid who’s being rude? Would an actor stop in mid-scene to chastise a rude child in the audience? Then you’d better grin and bear it, Disney boy!

Compare the associations and meanings wrapped up in the idea of “cast members” with the kind of label your name-tag might have borne at your first job: maybe you were something like “customer relations associate”. Maybe you don’t remember — most of them aren’t too sticky. How does a customer relations associate act when someone is rude to them? Can a customer relations associate take her break in front of the store? (“Cast members” know the answer — absolutely not. You wouldn’t step off-stage and have a seat in the audience, would you?)

The key to simplicity lies in finding the core of your idea and presenting it in a powerful way. In some cases, simplicity itself is enough to make an idea sticky, but most of the time, simplicity works in tandem with the Heath’s other five principles. Next time, we attack the unexpected (or does it attack us?!). Until then, though, share your own ideas about simplicity in the forum.

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Last Updated on August 12, 2019

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

Mentally strong people have healthy habits. They manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that set them up for success in life.

Take a look at these 13 things that mentally strong people don’t do so that you too can become mentally stronger.

1. They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves

Mentally strong people don’t sit around feeling sorry about their circumstances or how others have treated them. Instead, they take responsibility for their role in life and understand that life isn’t always easy or fair.

2. They Don’t Give Away Their Power

They don’t allow others to control them, and they don’t give someone else power over them. They don’t say things like, “My boss makes me feel bad,” because they understand that they are in control over their own emotions and they have a choice in how they respond.

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3. They Don’t Shy Away from Change

Mentally strong people don’t try to avoid change. Instead, they welcome positive change and are willing to be flexible. They understand that change is inevitable and believe in their abilities to adapt.

4. They Don’t Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control

You won’t hear a mentally strong person complaining over lost luggage or traffic jams. Instead, they focus on what they can control in their lives. They recognize that sometimes, the only thing they can control is their attitude.

5. They Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone

Mentally strong people recognize that they don’t need to please everyone all the time. They’re not afraid to say no or speak up when necessary. They strive to be kind and fair, but can handle other people being upset if they didn’t make them happy.

6. They Don’t Fear Taking Calculated Risks

They don’t take reckless or foolish risks, but don’t mind taking calculated risks. Mentally strong people spend time weighing the risks and benefits before making a big decision, and they’re fully informed of the potential downsides before they take action.

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7. They Don’t Dwell on the Past

Mentally strong people don’t waste time dwelling on the past and wishing things could be different. They acknowledge their past and can say what they’ve learned from it.

However, they don’t constantly relive bad experiences or fantasize about the glory days. Instead, they live for the present and plan for the future.

8. They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over

Mentally strong people accept responsibility for their behavior and learn from their past mistakes. As a result, they don’t keep repeating those mistakes over and over. Instead, they move on and make better decisions in the future.

9. They Don’t Resent Other People’s Success

Mentally strong people can appreciate and celebrate other people’s success in life. They don’t grow jealous or feel cheated when others surpass them. Instead, they recognize that success comes with hard work, and they are willing to work hard for their own chance at success.

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10. They Don’t Give Up After the First Failure

Mentally strong people don’t view failure as a reason to give up. Instead, they use failure as an opportunity to grow and improve. They are willing to keep trying until they get it right.

11. They Don’t Fear Alone Time

Mentally strong people can tolerate being alone and they don’t fear silence. They aren’t afraid to be alone with their thoughts and they can use downtime to be productive.

They enjoy their own company and aren’t dependent on others for companionship and entertainment all the time but instead can be happy alone.

12. They Don’t Feel the World Owes Them Anything

Mentally strong people don’t feel entitled to things in life. They weren’t born with a mentality that others would take care of them or that the world must give them something. Instead, they look for opportunities based on their own merits.

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13. They Don’t Expect Immediate Results

Whether they are working on improving their health or getting a new business off the ground, mentally strong people don’t expect immediate results. Instead, they apply their skills and time to the best of their ability and understand that real change takes time.

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Featured photo credit: Candice Picard via unsplash.com

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