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Made to Stick April 15, 2012

Posted by belinda Lyons-Newman in Made to Stick, Uncategorized.


Made to Stick, written by brothers Chip and Dan Heath, provides insight into what makes ideas stick along with advice about how to put these insights into practice. The book is written in a similar style to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, and is intended as a complement to Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” in that it identifies specific traits that make ideas stick while Tipping Point looked at what makes social trends leap from a small group of people to a large group epidemic. Although the authors say that there is no formula for a sticky idea, sticky ideas do draw from a common set of traits, which make them more likely to succeed. The authors put forward their SUCCESs framework with six core principles that make ideas stick:

  • Simplicity: Prioritize and exclude relentlessly to uncover your core message
  • Unexpectedness: Generate and sustain people’s interest and curiosity with unexpected information. Our curiosity rises when we feel a gap in our knowledge and we experience it like an itch that needs scratching.
  • Concreteness: Ideas are easier to remember when they are concrete. Ideas will be stickier when explained in terms of sensory information and people’s actions.
  • Credibility: Information from a credible authority such as a person with personal experience, a celebrity or expert helps to make an idea stick. Statistics by themselves are not very sticky. They should be used only to illustrate a relationship, which people will remember.
  • Emotions: Make people care by forming an association between the thing you are introducing and something they care about in a way that taps into their identities and their aspirations.
  • Stories: Stories encompass many of the above principles. They inspire people to act. Stories drive action through providing an experience of simulation and providing inspiration.

The biggest challenge to stickiness and the common factor in ideas that don’t stick is what the Heath brothers call the Curse of Knowledge. When we know a lot of information about something it becomes difficult to put oneself in the perspective of someone who does not know it and it becomes difficult to imagine what it is like not to know it. The SUCCESs framework and exercises in the book instruct the reader on how to transform ideas to beat the Curse of Knowledge.

The authors are credible in part because the straightforward story-telling style of the book implements and serves as an example of the stickiness principles. The lessons in the book are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and told in stories. It is an engaging book and the principles are easy to take in and remember. The stories in the book are convincing because they document countless stories of the SUCCESs model principles effectively making ideas stick.

Although the authors do an excellent job of incorporating exercises and examples of how to design sticky ideas and transform important messages communicated in an un-sticky way into a more sticky format, most of the book is still nevertheless focused on success stories where we are looking retroactively at what made an idea stick. As I think about how I will incorporate the lessons from Made to Stick into my own work, I hope that it will be as easy to proactively create sticky-ness as it is to see what is successful about ideas that have already successfully stuck.

Made To Stick addresses a critical component of the design process where once such care has been taken to develop a good idea, we must then determine how to communicate it effectively so that it catches on. In this implementation design phase, once the research has been done and a good idea is in process, the SUCCESs principles can be used to think about how to communicate the idea. This part of the process is critical since even the best of ideas cannot get traction if they do not stick.

Other books I have read on similar topics include Tipping Point, Presentation Zen and marketing communications textbooks. Made to Stick reinforces some of the key messages from these other books, for example, Presentation Zen also focuses on the high value of simplicity. I will certainly use the lessons from Made To Stick in my future presentations and in crafting messages for my consulting work helping nonprofit organizations to maximize their social impact including in how they think about communicating their causes.


1. dairui72 - April 16, 2012

I wonder if there’s an example of how one may turn a non-sticky idea into a memorable one.

belinda Lyons-Newman - April 19, 2012

Hi dairui72,
Thanks for your comment. There are actually several “Clinics” throughout the book where the authors provide a “situation’ and walk you through various options of how to think about handling the situation in the most “sticky”way. I found these “Clinics” helpful, particularly in illustrating sticky and less sticky ways to address the same situation.

2. jhpittman - April 18, 2012

Belinda –

I found Made to Stick like a lot of business books. The core idea was in the first section and the rest illustrated, sometimes to excess. I’m glad you were able to relate to some of the other things you have read on this topic.

— Jon

3. belinda Lyons-Newman - April 19, 2012

Hi Jon,
Thanks for your comment. I agree that the core idea is covered early on and the first chapter was a great summary of the whole book. This introduction may be enough to understand the theory and overall takeaways of the book, but, at least for me, it takes a deeper integration of the material to successfully incorporate these lessons into the way we do our work and think about communicating. I found the details in the subsequent chapters and the stories helpful in walking through how to approach making ideas sticky. I found that the Clinics and stories reinforced the concepts and helped me to think through how I would use them.

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