“Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath, Dan Heath

This book was recommended by my trusted colleague, Stefan Bauer, as a bit of light reading over the weekend.  Weighing in at only 291 pages, it was a book that proved very hard to put down once started.

The authors take a look at what it takes to make ideas and messages resonate and stick with people.   By using lots of case studies they illustrate just how easy it is to manipulate people’s minds by simply rearranging words and challenging the conventional wisdom of what you would think should work.

An example they use is getting people to choose a given outcome.  First they present 2 choices, and then run the study again and offer 3 choices.

Suppose, instead, you had been given three choices: 1. Attend the lecture. 2. Go to the library and study. 3. Watch a foreign film that you’ve been wanting to see. Does your answer differ? Remarkably, when a different group of students were given the three choices, 40 percent decided to study—double the number who did before. Giving students two good alternatives to studying, rather than one, paradoxically makes them less likely to choose either. This behavior isn’t “rational,” but it is human.

Another idea they discuss in depth is how we tend to over indulge our audience with facts and figures, we tend to give too much information.   It is a natural effect but the key is to be aware of it and break it.

People are tempted to tell you everything, with perfect accuracy, right up front, when they should be giving you just enough info to be useful, then a little more, then a little more

[..]

Becoming an expert in something means that we become more and more fascinated by nuance and complexity. That’s when the Curse of Knowledge kicks in, and we start to forget what it’s like not to know what we know.

[..]

If you want your ideas to be stickier, you’ve got to break someone’s guessing machine and then fix it

One of the most fascinating things that the authors illustrated was how positive thinking wasn’t always the best way of making us better.  In fact they argue that replaying every single step that laid up to the poor outcome should be re-imagined.  The idea being that you need to be aware of the conditions so you can recognize the signs and take steps to avoid them.

It turns out that a positive mental attitude isn’t quite enough to get the job done. Maybe financial gurus shouldn’t be telling us to imagine that we’re filthy rich; instead, they should be telling us to replay the steps that led to our being poor.

There are lots of great examples of how urban myths and proverbs stick in our minds.  How have those ideas lasted thousands of years and makes people want to repeat them.  They pick apart the process and how you can manage that with the messages you are trying to sell.

I have read a number of books like this and it still amazes me how we think we have “free will”.  Humans really are just programmable bots and if you know the right words to use you can get them thinking whatever it is you want for a particular subject.

While this book won’t give you the secret code, it will help you hone your message and make your ideas stick with people for a bit longer.  Well worth the read.

“Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath, Dan Heath