Chip Heath & Dan Heath – Made to Stick


Brothers Chip and Dan Heath set out to answer the question of what makes ideas “sticky”[1] (memorable + actionable) in this engaging book. Although they don’t go into any depth about their methodology, the brothers essentially did a content analysis of things they considered to be sticky (e.g. proverbs, Chicken Soup for the Soul), and extrapolated 6 traits that all seemed to share. The SUCCES “checklist” thus emerges as a tool people can use to evaluate the stickiness of ideas. In addition to being an analytic assessment tool, the SUCCES list also works as an inventional aid – when crafting messages in any media for any context, authors can turn to the list to ensure that they are, for example, using the right kind of story for their purposes, and that they are not falling victim to the two biggest sticky idea villains: “The Curse of Knowledge”[2] and “burying the lead.” Heath & Heath sum up the core of their book like this: “There are two steps in making your ideas sticky – Step 1 is to find the core, and Step 2 is to translate the core using the SUCCES checklist” (28).

Although their methodology for generating the list is severely flawed (i.e. they had no external raters to verify the traits, and the sources from which they drew “sticky” ideas were not exhaustive, nor were they necessarily valid – as they basically admitted with the CSFTS books), and the implication is that these traits are absolute (without being formulaic (15)), the book itself sticks. Why? In perhaps the most compelling example of SUCCES’s power, the brothers themselves employ each of the techniques throughout the book. Made to Stick is full of interesting stories, unexpected statements (e.g. use an “antiauthority” to establish authority (137)), communication maxims, and wit & intelligence. It’s a practical page-turner that’s brimming with concrete examples which drive the (very little) abstract content home.

Notes on the SUCCES list:

  • Simplicity – an idea stripped to its core (16).
  • Unexpectedness – “The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern (64). Schema violation.
  • Concreteness – explanations in terms of human action and sensory information (16).
  • Credibility – Allow people to test ideas for themselves (i.e. a “testable credential” (157)). Use props (i.e. create an experience) to make statistics come alive.
  • Emotions – “for people to take action, they have to care (168)
  • Stories – make ideas actionable (16). “Story’s power is twofold: It provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act) (206).

My Takeaways

–       Method = taxonomy; factor analysis

–       Acronym as organizing strategy (must create acronym from interpellation mechanisms)

–       Using lots of stories and examples to maintain interest and make concepts accessible

–       Using the strategies themselves as often as possible when writing

–       Striving for the “Communication Framework” as an ending:

Heath and Heath’s way (246): For an idea to stick, for it to be useful and lasting, it’s got to make the audience:

  1. Pay attention (UNEXPECTED)
  2. Understand and remember it (CONCRETE)
  3. Agree / Believe (CREDIBLE)
  4. Care (EMOTIONAL)
  5. Be able to act on it (STORY)

My translation: For an interface to be interpellative, for it to hail / persuade audiences into adopting certain subject positions, it’s got to do [x. x=technique] by being [y. y=interpellation trait ].

My Question

1. It’s Saturday morning, and you’re on your way to a college football game with your parents and friends. After an hour of driving, you stop at the Welcome Center on the state line and are pleased to run into some of your parents friends who haven’t seen you in a while. As you’re on your way to the restroom, one of them turns to you and says, with a smile on her face and a gleam of genuine interest in her eyes, “Your mom tells me you’re working on your dissertation. What are you writing about?”

What’s your “elevator speech”? Does it pass Heath and Heath’s SUCCES test for a sticky idea?

1.   “By ‘stick’ we mean that your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact – they change your audiences’ opinions and behavior” (8).

2.   Heath & Heath define the Curse of Knowledge as follows: “Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it…And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind” (20).

“If a message can’t be used to make predictions or decisions, it is without value, no matter how accurate or comprehensive it is…Accuracy to the point of uselessness is a symptom of the Curse of Knowledge” (56-57).


~ by ahatter on September 7, 2009.

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