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20160213 Made to Stick


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The main idea of this book is that it is possible, while unusual, to communicate ideas and information in such way that they stick in the memory. Such marvelous feat of communication skills is actually not that impossible to achieve, providing one uses 6 key principles of communications that author provides:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotions
  6. Stories

Authors provide mnemonic so one could always remember the key: SUCCES.



In introduction authors retell a couple of stories that stick in the memory such as story of the stolen kidney and discuss the very notion of stickiness, meaning that communicated ideas stick in people’s memory and can prompt them to act in the way intended by communicator: for example decrease consumption of popcorn in movie theaters.


In discussion of Simplicity authors provide example of simple communication transmitting huge information in practically one word such as: “Low-fare Airline for Southwest”, prompting its employees to pay most attention to costs of service. Consequently authors provide tips of how to achieve it:

  • Put lead upfront of message and spent most efforts on its polishing
  • Preferably compress essence of message into small space like “It’s economy, stupid”
  • Avoid decision paralysis: it is better to make wrong decision than nothing at all
  • Communicate one meme at the time. Too many memes will fight for the place in memory with high probability of none winning.

The chapter also includes what authors called Idea Clinic: example of how to convert ineffective message into effective. The final point is that a perfect example of simplicity use in communications is represented by the various proverbs that convey sometimes very complex ideas in very simple way.


This chapter is about use of unexpected in order to get attention of receivers. Without success in getting attention, there is now way to get message through regardless of how well it designed and how important it is. As typical, authors provide a number of examples and Clinic. A very impressive example from journalism 101 is “It will be no school on Thursday” story. The chapter also discusses methods of how to maintain attention after it was obtained and use of “Gap Theory” of Curiosity in order to achieve this.


Authors start chapter on “concrete” by retelling “sour grapes” fable to demonstrate masterful use of very concrete material – grapes for communicating a complex idea of self-deception in service of self-image. The authors go into discussion of concrete versus abstract using such examples as “concrete V8 engine” vs. “abstract high-performance engine”. In this framework they present “the Velcro theory of Memory” and discuss advantage of concrete notions and images for memory retention of ideas, improvement in coordination between people, and such. As illustration they provide “clinic” example and discuss success story.


The discussion of credibility is build on example of discovery of bacterial nature of ulcer after decades of everybody’s believing in its psychological character by two low level doctors and how this discovery was communicated to wider medical community using highly dramatic methods of increasing credibility. Then it goes into methods of increasing credibility: use power of vivid details, comply with Human-scale principle, and obtain testable credentials. Authors also pay special attention to statistics suggesting using it sparingly and more as tool of comparison rather then numerical presentation. A very nice example provided in “clinic”. Instead of statement probability of shark attack is so and so, it could be “death from accident with deer is hundred times more probable than from shark attack”.


Emotional content of message is highly important not that much for convincing people as for making them act on the content of message. This is achieved by linking message to preexisting ideas with high emotional content: children and childhood, parents and elders, and self-respect and self-interest. A very interesting example is answer to “Why to I need study algebra?” by planting emotional message: “Algebra is mental weight lifting so you’ll get a lot smarter in all areas by exercising your brain”.


The final part is about recommendation to arrange message as a story. The story is typically a form of entertainment and, if well designed, tend to dramatically improve retention of message because the human brain is developed to place all events and occurrences within a story logically consistent and preferably with content eliciting strong associations and emotional reaction. One important idea authors convey is to use real live stories rather then some concocted narrative. It is because real live stories are not only rich in details that are difficult to invent and then remember, but also because such stories quite often resonate with people’s own experience if not directly, then by easily fitting into it as possibility. So stress for inclusion of a story moves from invention to spotting them in real live. As example authors provide story of a guy who lost lots of weight by eating Submarine sandwiches.


At the end authors reference to their experience as lecturers and link steps by steps objective of communication to lecture audience to their SUCCESS framework in very nice and memorable way:

Objective                                            Method

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


I find this book potentially useful for just about anybody who has something to say and wants people to hear and remember it. Moreover with its very good examples and “clinic” analysis it could have value as reference material / check list when preparing whatever message one wants to deliver. Certainly examples of how this works are pretty good, but it is hard to say how big is share of framework in this success versus just plain luck and circumstance of audience being ready to accept the message. In any case the idea to organize message in this framework looks promising to me.



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