Book Review: How to Make Ideas Stick

According to Jared Spool there are Five indispensable skills for a UX Mastery, among them are presenting and storytelling.  The book by Chip and Dan Heath, How to Make Ideas Stick, squarely focuses on optimizing these skills. Below are the Six Principles of SUCCESs that anyone can employ to make their ideas understandable, memorable, and effective in changing thought or behavior – you know, sticky.

  1. Simple
    • Stay on message: beat decision paralysis through relentless prioritizing – keep asking why to remind yourself of the core principles and values that underlie your idea(s)
    • Keep it compact: leverage existing schema to succinctly describe your message
  2. Unexpected
    • Get attention with surprise: highlight a knowledge gap1 – break assumptions – make the resolution satisfying and obvious in hindsight
    • Hold attention with mystery: reveal “clues” one at a time to engage active participation and maintain interest
  3. Concrete
    • Help people understand: language abstraction is the luxury of experts – in chess, experts want to talk strategy…but novices need to first understand that bishops move diagonally
    • Help people remember: use the Velcro theory of memory (more hooks = better retention)
    • Help people coordinate: provide context and a protagonist2– find a shared level of understanding – set common goals in tangible terms – create a turf where people can collaborate
  4. Credible
    • External credibility: is gained through authority (Stan Lee, Comics) and/or anti-authority (Jared and the Subway Diet)
    • Internal credibility: is made possible with vivid, convincing details (such as statistics) – keep statistics on a human scale – illustrate a relationship for context
    • Pass the Sinatra test: “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere” – convey prior relate-able successes
    • Offer testable credentials: invite your audience to see for themselves 3
    • Beware of availability bias: people judge an event’s probability by its availability in their memory
  5. Emotional
    • Make people care:  find what motivates them
    • The power of association: form an association between what people don’t yet care about and something they do care about
    • Avoid semantic stretch: the diluted meaning of words and concepts (relates to credibility and concreteness)4
    • Appeal to self-interest: WIIFY (what’s in it for you) – visualize the benefits to your audience – focus on tangibility, rather than the magnitude, of benefits
    • Appeal to identity: who they are, and who they would like to be – “how do people like me respond to this situation?” – don’t assume that people are baser than you and falsely appeal to less cerebral motivations (such as those in the “basement” of Maslow’s Hierarchy)

      Maslow’s Hierarchy

    • The curse of knowledge is assuming your audience has knowledge of insights you gained from the struggles, the political battles, the missteps, the pain of your experiences5 – don’t assume others are as passionate about the same things as you
    • Get personal: the business world tends to emphasize the pattern rather than the particular – intellectual aspects of pattern prevent people from caring – the analytical mind is less emotional
  6. Stories
    • Create a non-passive audience: simulate the story in their minds – simulation (tell people how to act) – inspiration (motivate people to act) – if you present an argument, you are implicitly asking your audience to evaluate, judge, debate, and criticize your position.  With a story, you are asking them to participate with you.
    • Three common plot types:
      • challenge – to overcome obstacles (David and Goliath)
      • connection – to get along or reconnect (develop a relationship that bridges a gap)
      • creativity – to inspire a new way of thinking (mental breakthrough, solving a long-standing puzzle, or attacking a problem in an innovative way)

Final kernels of wisdom

  • No matter how accurate or comprehensive, if a message can’t be used to make predictions or decisions it is without value.
  • The test of our success as idea creators isn’t whether people mimic our exact words, it’s whether we achieve our goals.

Whether you’re a Product Manager, a User Experience Professional or just occasionally find yourself in front of an audience; I hope this outline helps you in your SUCCESs and motivates you to seek out this great book.

  1. Gap Theory: the trick to convincing people that they need our message, is first to highlight some specific knowledge they lack.
  2. In UX personas can address this need.
  3. This can backfire if their conclusions are invalid (i.e. False rumors about Snapple supporting the KKK, because of the K (kosher symbol) on the bottle).
  4. It’s hard to be passionate about abstract buzzwords and abbreviations.
  5. Relates to speaking in concrete terms and holding their attention with the stepped reveal of your discovery.