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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 June 3, 2020

    19 Definitions Of Success You Should Never Ignore

    19 Definitions Of Success You Should Never Ignore

    What is success?

    Is it wealth? Is it happiness? Is it fame?

    The late Zig Ziglar was one of the most respected modern day experts on success, motivation, and leading a balanced life. In his book Born to Win!, he argues that success cannot be defined in one sentence, but instead it is comprised of many things. One could argue that the definition depends on the individual and that one size does not fit all[1].

    Here are 19 different definitions of success. Not all of these will resonate with you, but chances are at least a few of them will. Use these or find inspiration here to create your own definition of success that can be applied to your unique life.

    1. Success is always doing your best.

    Success can be achieved when you try your best in all aspects of everything you do, even if that doesn’t lead to big results. If you’ve done your best, you should feel proud of your efforts.

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    2. Success is properly setting concrete goals.

    Be realistic and concrete when setting goals. Success does not come from setting abstract goals. If you know where you’re heading, that is a success in itself, even if you don’t ultimately arrive to the planned destination.

    3. Success is having a place to call home.

    Home is where your heart soars. You are always successful when you can call a place home. Home doesn’t have to be a specific structure. It can be a country, a city, or even a person. If you have a place you feel comfortable and safe, you’re already achieving something great.

    4. Success is understanding the difference between need and want.

    If you can meet your monthly obligations and fulfill your basic needs, you are successful. Being able to identify when you absolutely need something and when you can do without it often leads to financial stability and is a great way to succeed.

    5. Success is believing you can.

    If you believe you can, you will succeed. Self-belief doesn’t come naturally to everyone, so if you’re able to tell yourself that you can achieve the goals in your plans, you’re doing great.

    6. Success is remembering to balance work with passion.

    Work without passion creates undue stress and empty achievements. Focus on what excites you. If you’re happy at your job, that’s great. However, even if you aren’t, you can balance your formal job with hobbies or volunteer work you’re passionate about.

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    7. Success is taking care of your needs.

    Remember to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Self-care is essential if you want to have any meaningful impact on the world around you.

    8. Success is learning that you sometimes have to say no.

    Success only comes with a balanced life. Part of balance is learning to say no. Saying no doesn’t mean you are selfish; it simply means you have priorities and know what you need to give your attention to at any given time.

    9. Success is knowing your life is filled with abundance.

    Love, health, friends, family…life is filled with abundance. Recognizing this is an important step to feeling grateful for all life has given you. If you can feel this, you are already experiencing success.

    10. Success is understanding you cannot keep what you don’t give away.

    You will only succeed if you help others succeed. Learning to give instead of always take is part of creating a world we all want to live in. When you help others, you will also create an environment where others want to help you.

    11. Success is overcoming fear.

    Conquering a fear makes you feel invincible. Even if it’s confronting just one small fear each week, that is certainly something to feel proud of. The bigger fears will take more time, but any work you do to overcome fear will lead to success.

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    12. Success is learning something new each day.

    Successful people understand that learning never stops. Take time each day to converse with someone with opposing views, read an interesting article on a topic you know little about, or watch a TED talk on new research. It doesn’t take long to learn, so get started now.

    13. Success is learning that losing a few battles can help you win a war.

    Successful people choose their battles wisely. When you know which battles will ultimately help you achieve your goals, you will be successful.

    14. Success is loving and being loved back.

    Opening your heart to others is difficult and can produce fear. Having the courage to love and accept love from others is a step toward a fulfilling life and great success.

    15. Success is standing your ground when you believe in something.

    Successful people never give up on things they believe with all their heart. You may hold views that many people disagree with, but if you’ve done your research and know that it’s the right belief for you, you shouldn’t let it go without a fight.

    16. Success is not giving up.

    Perseverance creates grit, and grit achieves success. Even if it takes years to achieve a goal, persisting is key if you want success.

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    17. Success is celebrating small victories.

    Anytime a goal is reached or an obstacle is overcome, take time to celebrate, even if it’s something small. All goals require smaller objectives to be achieved first, so each time you complete one, take time to appreciate the work you put into it.

    18. Success is never letting a disability hold you back.

    Disabilities do not define a person’s success. The body and mind will compensate. Just because you can’t do absolutely everything doesn’t mean you can’t do something. Do what your body and mind allow and always push yourself. That is true success.

    19. Success is understanding that you control your destiny.

    Your destiny is controlled by you and you alone. Take responsibility for your actions and their consequences and you’ll find that you naturally become more successful.

    The Bottom Line

    Success can be defined in many ways. If you are experiencing happiness, love, or adventure in this moment, you’ve already found success. Keep it up.

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    Featured photo credit: Dino Reichmuth via unsplash.com

    Reference

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