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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 December 10, 2019

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

Here’s the truth: your effectiveness at life is not what it could be. You’re missing out.

Each day passes by and you have nothing to prove that it even happened. Did you achieve something? Go on a date? Have an emotional breakthrough? Who knows?

But what you do know is that you don’t want to make the same mistakes that you’ve made in the past.

Our lives are full of hidden gems of knowledge and insight, and the most recent events in our lives contain the most useful gems of all. Do you know why? It’s simple, those hidden lessons are the most up to date, meaning they have the largest impact on what we’re doing right now.

But the question is, how do you get those lessons? There’s a simple way to do it, and it doesn’t involve time machines:

Journal writing.

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Improved mental clarity, the ability to see our lives in the big picture, as well as serving as a piece of evidence cataloguing every success we’ve ever had; we are provided all of the above and more by doing some journal writing.

Journal writing is a useful and flexible tool to help shed light on achieving your goals.

Here’s 5 smart reasons why you should do journal writing:

1. Journals Help You Have a Better Connection with Your Values, Emotions, and Goals

By journaling about what you believe in, why you believe it, how you feel, and what your goals are, you understand your relationships with these things better. This is because you must sort through the mental clutter and provide details on why you do what you do and feel what you feel.

Consider this:

Perhaps you’ve spent the last year or so working at a job you don’t like. It would be easy to just suck it up and keep working with your head down, going on as if it’s supposed to be normal to not like your job. Nobody else is complaining, so why should you, right?

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But a little journal writing will set things straight for you. You don’t like your job. You feel like it’s robbing you of happiness and satisfaction, and you don’t see yourself better there in the future.

The other workers? Maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t care. But you do, you know and care enough to do something about it. And you’re capable of fixing this problem because your journal writing allows you to finally be honest with yourself about it.

2. Journals Improve Mental Clarity and Help Improve Your Focus

If there’s one thing journal writing is good for, it’s clearing the mental clutter.

How does it work? Simply, whenever you have a problem and write about it in a journal, you transfer the problem from your head to the paper. This empties the mind, allowing allocation of precious resources to problem-solving rather than problem-storing.

Let’s say you’ve been juggling several tasks at work. You’ve got data entry, testing, e-mails, problems with the boss, and so on—enough to overwhelm you—but as you start journal writing, things become clearer and easier to understand: Data entry can actually wait till Thursday; Bill kindly offered earlier to do my testing; For e-mails, I can check them now; the boss is just upset because Becky called in sick, etc.

You become better able to focus and reason your tasks out, and this is an indispensable and useful skill to have.

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3. Journals Improve Insight and Understanding

As a positive consequence of improving your mental clarity, you become more open to insights you may have missed before. As you write your notes out, you’re essentially having a dialogue with yourself. This draws out insights that you would have missed otherwise; it’s almost as if two people are working together to better understand each other. This kind of insight is only available to the person who has taken the time to connect with and understand themselves in the form of writing.

Once you’ve gotten a few entries written down, new insights can be gleaned from reading over them. What themes do you see in your life? Do you keep switching goals halfway through? Are you constantly dating the same type of people who aren’t good for you? Have you slowly but surely pushed people out of your life for fear of being hurt?

All of these questions can be answered by simply self-reflecting, but you can only discover the answers if you’ve captured them in writing. These questions are going to be tough to answer without a journal of your actions and experiences.

4. Journals Track Your Overall Development

Life happens, and it can happen fast. Sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and look around at what’s happening to us at each moment. We don’t get to see the step-by-step progress that we’re making in our own lives. So what happens? One day it’s the future, and you have no idea how you’ve gotten there.

Journal writing allows you to see how you’ve changed over time, so you can see where you did things right, and you can see where you took a misstep and fell.

The great thing about journals is that you’ll know what that misstep was, and you can make sure it doesn’t happen again—all because you made sure to log it, allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes.

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5. Journals Facilitate Personal Growth

The best thing about journal writing is that no matter what you end up writing about, it’s hard to not grow from it. You can’t just look at a past entry in which you acted shamefully and say “that was dumb, anyway!” No, we say “I will never make a dumb choice like that again!”

It’s impossible not to grow when it comes to journal writing. That’s what makes journal writing such a powerful tool, whether it’s about achieving goals, becoming a better person, or just general personal-development. No matter what you use it for, you’ll eventually see yourself growing as a person.

Kickstart Journaling

How can journaling best be of use to you? To vent your emotions? To help achieve your goals? To help clear your mind? What do you think makes journaling such a useful life skill?

Know the answer? Then it’s about time you reap the benefits of journal writing and start putting pen to paper.

Here’s what you can do to start journaling:

Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com

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