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The Sticking Point for Busting the Communications Stall
am 22. Mai 2007
This is the best book about communications I've read since I discovered Stephen Denning's work on telling business stories. I highly recommend Made to Stick to all those who want to get their messages across in business more effectively.
Imagine if people remembered what you had to say and acted on it. Wouldn't that be great? What if people not only remembered and acted, but told hundreds of others who also acted and told? Now you're really getting somewhere!
Brothers Chip (an educational consultant and publisher) and Dan (a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Business School) Heath combine to develop Malcolm Gladwell's point about "stickiness" in The Tipping Point. To help you understand what they have in mind, the book opens with the hoary urban tale of the man who ends up in a bathtub packed with ice missing his kidney after accepting a drink from a beautiful woman. That story, while untrue, has virtually universal awareness. Many other untrue stories do, too, especially those about what someone found in a fast food meal.
The brothers Heath put memorable and quickly forgotten information side-by-side to make the case for six factors (in combination) making the difference between what's memorable and what isn't. The six factors are:
1. Simplicity (any idea over one is too many)
2. Unexpectedness (a surprise grabs our attention)
3. Concreteness (the more dimensions of details the more hooks our minds use to create a memory)
4. Credibility (even untrue stories don't stick unless there's a hint of truth, such as beware of what's too good to be true in the urban legend that opens the book)
5. Incite Emotions in Listeners (we remember emotional experiences much more than anything else; we care more about individuals than groups; and we care about things that reflect our identities)
6. Combine Messages in Stories (information is more memorable and meaningful in a story form . . . like the urban legend that opens the book)
Before commenting on the book further, I have a confession to make. This book has special meaning for me. I was one of the first people to employ and popularize the term "Maximize Shareholder Value" by making that the title of my consulting firm's annual report (Mitchell and Company) over 25 years ago when we began our practice in stock-price improvement. That term has become almost ubiquitous in CEO and CFO suites, but hasn't gone very far beyond the discussions of corporate leaders, investment bankers and institutional investors and analysts.
The authors use that term in the book as an example of a communication that hasn't stuck broadly. And they are right. Having watched that term over the years go into all kinds of unexpected places and be quoted by people who had no idea how to do it long ago convinced me of the wisdom of telling people what to do . . . not just what the objective is.
The authors make this point beautifully in citing Southwest Airline's goal of being "THE low-fare airline." If something conflicts with being a good low-fare airline at Southwest, it's obvious to everybody not to do it.
You'll probably find that some of the examples and lessons strike you right in the middle of the forehead, too. That's good. That's how we learn. I went back to a new manuscript I'm writing now and wrote a whole new beginning to better reflect the lessons in Made to Stick. I've also recommended the book already to about a dozen of my graduate business students. So clearly Made to Stick is sticking with me.
If you find yourself skipping rapidly through the book, be sure to slow down and pay attention on pages 247-249 where the authors take common communications problems and recommend what to do about them (such as how to get people to pay attention to your message). That's the most valuable part of the book. It integrates the individual points very effectively and succinctly.
I also liked the reference guide on pages 252-257 that outlines the book's contents. You won't need to take notes with this reference guide in place.
So why should you pay attention? The authors demonstrate with an exercise that people who know and use these principles are more successful in communicating through advertisements than those who are talented in making advertisements but don't know these principles. Without more such experiments, it's hard to know how broad the principle is . . . but I'm willing to assume that they have a point here.
No book is perfect: How could this one have been even better? Unlike Stephen Denning's wonderful books on storytelling, this book is more about the principles than how to apply the principles. I hope the authors will come back with many how-to books and workbooks.
I would also like to commend the book's cover designer for doing such a good job of simulating a piece of duct tape on the dust jacket. That feature adds to the stickiness of this book.