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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 May 22, 2020

What Makes a Good Leader: 9 Critical Leadership Qualities

What Makes a Good Leader: 9 Critical Leadership Qualities

The word “leader” makes you think of people in charge, high-ranking people: your boss, politicians, presidents, CEOs…

But leadership really isn’t about a particular position or a person’s seniority. Just because someone has worked for many years doesn’t mean s/he has gained the qualities and skills to lead a team.

Getting promoted to a managerial position doesn’t automatically turn you into a leader either. CEOs and other high-ranking officials don’t always have great leadership skills.

So what makes a good leader? What are the characteristics of a leader?

Good leadership is about acquiring and honing specific skills. Leadership skills enable you to be a role model for a team in any environment. With great leadership qualities, successful leaders come in all shapes and sizes: in the home, at school, or in the workplace.

The following are some of the many characteristics great leaders exhibit.

1. A Positive Attitude

Great leaders know that they won’t have a happy and motivated team unless they themselves exhibit a positive attitude. This can be done by remaining positive when things go wrong and by creating a relaxed and happy atmosphere in the workplace.

Even some simple things like providing snacks or organizing a team Happy Hour can make a world of difference. An added perk is that team members are likely to work harder and do overtime when needed if they’re happy and appreciated.

Even in the worst situations, such as experiencing low team morale or team members having made a big mistake at work, a great leader stays positive and figures out ways to keep the team motivated to solve the problems.

Walt Disney had his share of hardships and challenges, and like any great leader, he managed to stay positive and find new opportunities. In 1928, Disney found that his film producer, Charles Mintz, wanted to reduce his payments for the Oswald series. Mintz threatened to cut ties entirely if Disney didn’t accept his terms, and Disney chose to part ways. But in leaving Oswald, Disney decided to create something new: the iconic Mickey Mouse[1].

The key is to break down huge challenges into smaller ones and find ways to tackle them one by one.

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Think about the lessons you can learn from the mistake and jot them down because sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

2. Confidence

All great leaders have to exhibit an air of confidence if they’re going to succeed. Please don’t confuse this with self-satisfaction and arrogance. You want people to look up to you for inspiration, not so they can punch you in the face.

Confidence is important because people will be looking to you on how to behave, particularly if things aren’t going 100% right. If you remain calm and poised, team members are far more likely to as well. As a result, morale and productivity will remain high, and the problem will be solved more quickly.

If you panic and give up, they will know immediately and things will simply go downhill from there.

Elon Musk is a great example of a leader with confidence. He truly believes that Tesla will be successful, which he has shown many times through his actions. He converted 532,000 stock options at $6.63 each, their value on Dec. 4, 2009, before Tesla went public. It was a hefty bargain considering Tesla’s stock price stood at around $195 per share at that time. He doesn’t apologize for his beliefs and has drawn fire from just about everyone for his political actions.

You can’t instantly become a very confident person, but all the small things you do every day will gradually make you more confident:

  • List 5 things you like about yourself every day (something different every day), and you’ll appreciate yourself more.
  • Work on your strengths and do your best to enhance them.

3. A Sense of Humor

It’s imperative for any kind of leader to have a sense of humor, particularly when things go wrong. And they will.

Your team members are going to be looking to you for how to react in a seemingly dire situation. It would probably be best if you weren’t stringing up a noose for yourself in the corner. You need to be able to laugh things off because if staff morale goes down, so will productivity.

Establish this environment prior to any kind of meltdown by encouraging humor and personal discussions in the workplace.

As a president, Barack Obama exuded confidence and calm during stressful situations. But he was also known for his “dad jokes,”[2] his genuinely funny speeches at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and appearing on Zack Galifianakis’s Between Two Ferns.[3] Obama’s sense of humor made him grounded, realistic, and honest, which no doubt helped during some tense moments in the White House!

Learn to laugh at yourself. Confident people laugh about their own silly mistakes, and when you do this, others will also trust you more because you’re willing to share your experiences.

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Be observant and learn from the jokes others make. You can also get a lot of inspiration from the internet.

4. Ability to Embrace Failure

No matter how hard you try to avoid it, failures will happen; that’s okay. You just need to know how to deal with them.

Great leaders take them in strides. They remain calm and logically think through the situation and utilize their resources. What they don’t do is fall apart and reveal to their team how worried they are, which leads to negative morale, fear, and binge-drinking under desks.

Great leaders do, in fact, lead, even when they’re faced with setbacks.

Henry Ford experienced a major setback after designing and improving the Ford Quadricycle. He founded the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899, but the resulting cars they produced did not live up to his standards and were too expensive. The company dissolved in 1901. Ford took this in stride and formed the Henry Ford Company. The sales were slow and the company had financial problems; it wasn’t until 1903 that the Ford Motor Company was successful and put the Ford on the map.

Get to the root cause of any problem so you can prevent it from happening again and learn from the mistake.

By asking “why” 5 times (or more) on why something happened, you can find out the key factor that caused the problem and can find the best solution to tackle the problem.

You’ll also learn how to prevent this from happening again in the future after finding out a problem’s root cause.

5. Careful Listening and Feedback

This is far more complex than it actually sounds. Good communication skills are essential for a great leader. You may very well understand the cave of crazy that is your brain, but that doesn’t mean that you can adequately take the ideas out of it and explain them to someone else.

The best leaders need to be able to communicate clearly with the people around them. They also need to be able to interpret other people properly and not take what they say personally.

The Dalai Lama, as a symbol of the unification of the state of Tibet, represents and practices Buddhist values. The Dalai Lama’s leadership is benevolent and aims toward truth and understanding, alongside the other Buddhist precepts. This is a great example for all leaders: if you want to give good directions to others, you have to get feedback from others to understand the situation properly.

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Encourage communication between team members and establish an open door policy.

Practice not interrupting team members when they’re talking. Instead, summarize what they say and ask for feedback after you have talked about your ideas.

6. Knowing How and When to Delegate

No matter how much you might want to, you can’t actually do everything yourself. Even if you could, in a team environment that would be a terrible idea anyway.

Good leaders recognize that delegation does more than simply alleviate their own stress levels (although that’s obviously a nice perk). Delegating to others shows that you have confidence in their abilities, which subsequently results in higher morale in the workplace, as well as loyalty from your staff. They want to feel appreciated and trusted.

Although Steve Jobs was known for focusing in on the smallest of details, he knew how to delegate. By finding, cultivating, and trusting capable team members, Jobs was able to make Apple run smoothly, even when he had to be absent for extended periods of time.

To know when and how to delegate work to team members, you have to be very familiar with each of them:

  • List out all of their strengths, weaknesses, and personalities.
  • Talk with your team members more to know about their passion and interests.

Take a look at this guide and learn more about delegation: How to Delegate Work Effectively (The Definitive Guide for Leaders)

7. Growth Mindset

Any good leader knows how important it is to develop the skills of those around them. The best can recognize those skills early on. Not only will development make work easier as they improve and grow, it will also foster morale. In addition, they may develop some skills that you don’t possess that will be beneficial to the workplace.

Great leaders share their knowledge with the team and give them the opportunity to achieve. This is how leaders gain their respect and loyalty.

Pope Francis has been unusually popular with many Catholics and many non-Catholics. His position isn’t totally traditional, which is part of his appeal, but he also has admirable leadership skills. Pope Francis’s TED talk[4] drew attention because he encouraged leaders to be humble and to demonstrate solidarity with others. This inclusive, kind, and respectful style of leadership is incredibly important for any situation.

It’s important to spend time talking with other team members individually to understand them.

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Find out team members’ current challenges and try to give feedback and encouragement so they will grow and do better.

8. Responsibility

Great leaders know that when it comes to their company, work place or whatever situation they’re in, they need to take personal responsibility for failure. How can they expect employees to hold themselves accountable if they themselves don’t?

The best leaders don’t make excuses; they take the blame and then work out how to fix the problem as soon as possible. This proves that they’re trustworthy and possess integrity.

Howard Gillman is the chancellor of UC Irvine. You might have heard of how the university rescinded a bunch of acceptances, and then changed its mind[5], This past spring, an unusually high number of accepted students decided to matriculate; the school initially responded by rescinding offers over things like missed deadlines. But the college realized this was a mistake and reversed its decision. Gillman and the university accepted responsibility and decided to move past their earlier bad decision.

Always ask yourself what you can do better or what you should change. Take responsibility and think about what you can do better to prevent this from happening next time.

9. A Desire to Learn

It’s safe to say that all great leaders will have to enter unchartered waters at some point during their career. Because of this, they have to be able to trust their intuition and draw on past experiences to guide them.

Great leaders know that there’s always something to learn from everything they have experienced before. They are able to connect the present challenges with the lessons learned in the past to make decisions and take actions promptly.

You can either recall what you’ve learned from your memories or search your notes (ideally, a software that you can access anywhere with things well-organized).

Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world, has mostly made the right calls. But in dealing with huge amounts of money, Buffett has also made several multi-million (and sometimes multi-billion) dollar mistakes. He has stated that buying the company Berkshire Hathaway was his biggest mistake[6]. From that poor choice, he realized that it was unwise to pursue “improvements” and “expansions” in the existing textile industry. Despite mistakes like this, Buffett has invested wisely, and it shows.

To effectively learn from the past, write down lessons you’ve learned from any mistakes you’ve made. Have all the lessons well organized, and when similar things happen again in future, take these lessons as references.

The Bottom Line

Leadership traits are learnable. If you practice consistently, you can be a great leader, too.

Make small changes to your habits when you work with your team, wherever that may be. Most of us aren’t presidents or CEOs, but we all work with other people, and our actions always impact others. This gives every person the chance to develop leadership skills and to stand out from the crowd.

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Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com

Reference

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