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Sticky Ideas Workshop (Part 4): Credible

Sticky Ideas Workshop (Part 4): Credible
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

    ”I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Back in the early ‘80s, Vick’s Formula 44 cough syrup ran commercials that opened with that line, featuring Peter Bergman, who indeed played a doctor on The Young and the Restless All My Children. Vick’s could, of course, have chosen an actual doctor to tell us how good Vick’s product was, but instead chose a TV star – someone much better known at the time than any doctor would have been.

    Bergman’s appearance in this commercial was a bid by Vick’s for credibility – their hope was that by securing the endorsement of someone that TV viewers trusted, people would be more inclined to see Vick’s cough syrup as a product they could trust. I have no idea how well the campaign worked as far as selling cough syrup, but it’s well over 20 years later and people are still quoting the commercial!

    Where Does Credibility Come From?

    In Made to Stick, the Heath brothers outline two kinds of credibility. The Vick’s commercial above, and other celebrity endorsements, are examples of external credibility, credibility lent a product, theory, or thought by its association with someone we find trust-worthy, for whatever reason. Often this kind of credibility comes from a person’s authority; Einstein talking about physics or the surgeon general talking about smoking are likely to be listened to and believed because we know they are experts in their fields.

    Another kind of external credibility can come from figures the Heath’s call anti-authorities — the actor who played the Marlboro Man doing an anti-smoking commercial as he fights cancer, for instance, or a recovering drug addict talking to a group of teenagers about the dangers of drugs. These people are credible not because of their expertise but because of their experiences, their authentic connection with the ideas they are expressing.

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    It’s In the Details

    Lacking a prominent actor, government figure, or anti-authority to push your ideas, though, most of us must rely on internal credibility. Internal credibility is the ability of our ideas themselves to convince through an appeal to our audience’s sense of how the world works and how they see it. For instance, I’ve already mentioned the importance of concrete details in establishing credibility. We assume that a high level of detail can only be gained through authentic experience – people who are lying about something wouldn’t know the level of fine detail that someone who actually experienced it would.

    Of course, too much detail can undermine credibility, for the same reason: we know there’s only so much a person can remember about a scene or event, so we believe they’re making stuff up when they start overwhelming us with detail. (Plus, we get bored – a very important thing to keep in mind!) In On Writing, Stephen King, whose been known to create a sticky idea or two in his time, puts it like this:

    Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Overdescription buries him or her in details and images. The trick is to find a happy medium. It’s also important to know what to describe and what can be left alone while you get on with your main job, which is telling a story.

    Too much detail distracts from the point, which is getting your audience to believe something.

    4 Out of 5 Dentists Prefer Statistics

    Statistics are another source of internal credibility – when used well. As I said above, boring your audience is a sure way not to see your ideas stick, and nothing bores an audience more than reams of statistics. Statistics suffer, too, from being too abstract: is a 42% correlation between income level and test scores a lot? What does it mean? (By the way, I totally made up that statistic!)

    The trick, then, is to draw from the data a simple, concrete statement (even better if it’s unexpected, too!). I love the example they give in the book: Shark attacks are very rare but every summer the news is filled with reports of shark attacks, shark attack victims file through the round of talk shows, and little kids gain new reasons to fear the ocean. If you wanted to show how ridiculous our annual national panic over sharks is, you could tell everyone that only .4 people per year die in shark attacks. Or, once they’ve woken up, you could explain how they were some 25 times more likely to die by drowning than by shark attack – that’ll get the kids to the beach! Or you could tell them of the dangers of marauding Bambis, the deadly deer that roam our backwoods and kill 300 times more people every year than sharks. Automotive collisions with deer are much more common than shark attacks, and usually have deadlier consequences – but we don’t huddle in our homes terrified of death by deer!

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    ”Don’t Take My Word for It…”

    Statistics are a source of credibility, but only when used well. Although they can be quite compelling, people have also learned to be somewhat suspicious of statistics, which we believe can be twisted to tell any story they want to. Another source of credibility, then, is found in your audience’s own experiences, whether past or future. This is the promise of the money-back guarantee: a company that promises to pay you back if you don’t like something is much more credible than one with an “as-is” policy.

    The Heaths call this a testable credential, meaning that the credibility comes directly from your audience, who uses your product or follows your advice and agrees that, indeed, it does work. This kind of credibility is hard-won, though, and erased by dishonesty. As with statistics, the misuse of testable credentials can undermine your credibility, even faster than they build it up.

    And Now: Sinatra!

    Finally, credibility can be earned through what the Heaths call “The Sinatra Test”, inspired by the chorus of “New York, New York”: “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”. The basic principle here is to demonstrate competency in dealing with the extremes: if you can make it in crazy, hectic, punishing New York City, then Ames, Iowa isn’t going to present much of a challenge. If your product is used successfully by NASA in its space missions, it can probably hold up to everyday office use. If your life-coaching can make a serial killer into a good neighbor, it can probably help ease the tensions in the typical workplace.

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    If unexpectedness gets an audience listening, and concreteness gets their attention, credibility helps them believe you. It is the reward that says their attention isn’t being wasted, that you indeed have something useful to say. I expect there’s other ways of establishing credibility, though, that the Heaths don’t cover. What do you do to show that you’re worth listening to?

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    Last Updated on July 15, 2019

    41 Beautiful Pictures That Show What True Love Is All About

    41 Beautiful Pictures That Show What True Love Is All About

    Some things in life are hard to describe, yet we can recognize them when we see them.

    Love is one of those things.

    True love comes in many different forms, but here are some that many of us know well.

    True love means supporting those who can’t support themselves

    supportive couple

      A young man comforts his date in Times Square, New York City. Image by mbtrama

      strong hug

        A young man holds his significant other close to him. Image by Brad Fults

        running help

          A young track competitor helps one of her injured opponents over the finish line. Image from ViralNova.com

          feeding kitten

            A soldier in the Korean War takes time to feed a baby kitten. Image from US Naval Insititute

            It’s having the perfect selfie partner

            mom and daughter selfie

              A mother and her daughter take a selfie together. Image by Andrew Fysh

              girlfriends

                Two young girls pose for the camera. Image by Rolands Lakis

                selfies

                  A happy couple takes a picture together. Image by Kayla Heineman

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                  selfie

                    Two best friends take a selfie together. Image by Jason Wahido

                    dude selfie

                      Friends take a selfie together. Image by Glenn Scofield Williams

                      It’s all the warm fuzzies

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                        A young man spends time with his dog on a beach. Image by Magdalena Roeseler

                        DSC06952

                          A pet owner hugs his dog while on a day trip in San Francisco. Image by Taro the Shiba Inu

                          It means having a friend to photobomb you

                          photobomb

                            A boy makes a funny face as he poses for a picture with his brother. Image by Michael Bentley

                            old man photobomb

                              A man photobombs his wife while their grandson snaps a picture. Image by Frank

                              family photobomb

                                Family members photobomb their relatives’ Thanksgiving day family photo. Image by Beth Scupham

                                boyfriend photobomb

                                  A friend photobombs the photographer and their friend, the woman in the foreground of this photo. Image by Lachlan Hardy

                                  True love means being there even when life gets unbearably hard

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                                  shoulder to cry on

                                    A family watches the Vermont National Guard depart for Afghanistan. Image by The U.S. Army

                                    flood dog

                                      During a monsoon in the Philippines, a boy carries his dog to safety. Image by Romeo Ranoco

                                      A woman is rescued from flood waters by a resident standing on top of her car during heavy rain in Chalandri suburb north of Athens

                                        A man helps a woman out of her vehicle during a flood in Chalandri, Greece. Image by John Kolesidis

                                        lunch

                                          A woman has lunch with her husband every day, even after he’s passed away. Image from ViralNova.com

                                          hug

                                            A woman hugs the mother of 6-year-old Noah Ponzer, who was one of the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings. Image by Spencer Platt

                                            rubble

                                              An Oklahoma couple pauses while trying to salvage belongings from a family member’s home after a tornado. Image by Adrees Latif

                                              sister and brother

                                                A girl puts her arm around her little brother as they wait outside of Sandy Hook Elementary after gunshots are fired. Image by Reuters.

                                                headstone

                                                  A woman sits at her husband’s grave the day before their wedding anniversary. Image from NBC news

                                                  It means taking the time for long goodbyes

                                                  110321-N-BT887-100

                                                    A man says goodbye to his son before deploying. Image by Official U.S. Navy Page

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                                                    national guard goodbye

                                                      A South Carolina man says goodbye to his son before deploying for Afghanistan. Image by The National Guard

                                                      saying goodbye

                                                        A Sergeant hugs both of his sons before being deployed to Afghanistan. Image by The National Guard

                                                        And cherishing reunions

                                                        husband home

                                                          A woman hugs her husband as she sees him for the first time since his deployment to Iraq. Image by The U.S. Army

                                                          boyfriend home

                                                            A young  woman hugs her significant other as he returns home for Kuwait. Image by The National Guard

                                                            mother hug

                                                              A mother drops to her knees as she hugs her son on her return home from the Persian Gulf. Image by The National Guard

                                                              True love is letting yourself feel young when they’re around

                                                              elderly women

                                                                Two friends on their smartphones. Image by Robert Neff

                                                                feeling young

                                                                  A young couple getting their picture taken. Image by db Photograph

                                                                  sprinkler dad

                                                                    A father plays in a sprinkler with his daughter at Millennium Park in Chicago. Image by Ben Forsberg

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                                                                    subway couple

                                                                      A young couple on a subway enjoys sharing time together, while the girlfriend’s father sneaks a photo of them. Image by Gareth Williams

                                                                      wheelchairs

                                                                        A couple holds hands on a fall day. Image by David Amsler

                                                                        It’s letting yourself be silly… just because they’ll enjoy it

                                                                        silly faces

                                                                          A grandfather makes faces at the camera with his granddaughters. Image by Tim Pierce

                                                                          vote for pedro

                                                                            A woman’s father wears a Napoleon Dynamite t-shirt to make his daughter laugh. Image by emdot

                                                                            True love is allowing yourself to show how you really feel

                                                                            date night

                                                                              A young couple kisses in the back of a restaurant in Washington, D.C. Image by Derek Key

                                                                              playing violin

                                                                                Violinist Nancy Dinovo plays at a memorial service for the victims of 9/11. Image by Christopher Morris

                                                                                True love is timeless

                                                                                old friends

                                                                                  Friends spending some time together. Image by Cristian Bortes

                                                                                  sitting around a fire

                                                                                    A group of friends sits around a campfire eating. Image by New Old Stock

                                                                                    elderly couple

                                                                                      An elderly couple walks down a street together. Image by Matteo Paciotti

                                                                                      Featured photo credit: Matteo Paciotti via flickr.com

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