Why do some ideas stick?

As a follow up to my last post about how to encourage the generation of helpful and innovative ideas from your organization, this post focuses on how to develop and communicate those ideas so they stick.  For an idea to stick, for it to be useful and lasting, it  makes/allows the audience to:

  1. Pay attention
  2. Understand and remember it
  3. Agree/Believe
  4. Care
  5. Be able to act on it

Chip and Dan Heath, in their latest phenomenal book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, go into some detail about how you make ideas stick.  Their research over several years uncovered six common factors of almost every enduring idea – from Kennedy’s moonshot to Aesop’s Fables to Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

Kennedy moonshot

The ideas that endured have these elements in common:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories

Those six factors (mentioned above) spell SUCCESs which is, in itself, a memorable way to explain them.  You can use them as guides to help you get people to remember your product, service, story. joke, etc. Here are each in a bit more detail (taken directly from the book):

  • SIMPLICITY – To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize. Saying something short is not the mission—sound bites are not the ideal. Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound. The Golden Rule is the ultimate model of simplicity: a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.
  • UNEXPECTEDNESS – We need to violate people’s expectations. We need to be counterintuitive. For instance, “A bag of popcorn is as unhealthy as a whole day’s worth of fatty foods!” is an unexpected and memorable way to say that movie popcorn is bad for you. For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity.  We need to rise above the bombardment of everyday distractions.
  • CONCRETENESS – We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. This is where so much business communication goes awry. Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions—they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless. Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images.  In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language: “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience.
  • CREDIBILITY – When the former surgeon general C. Everett Koop talks about a public-health issue, most people accept his ideas without skepticism. But in most day-to-day situations we don’t enjoy this authority. Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials. We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves—a “try before you buy” philosophy for the world of ideas.
  • EMOTIONS – We must make our intended audience feel something. In the case of movie popcorn, we make them feel disgusted by its unhealthiness. Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region. We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions. Sometimes the hard part is finding the right emotion to harness. For instance, it’s difficult to get teenagers to quit smoking by instilling in them a fear of the consequences, but it’s easier to get them to quit by tapping into their resentment of the duplicity of Big Tobacco or their disdain of authority.
  • STORIES – Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment.  Firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire, and by doing so they multiply their experience; after years of hearing stories, they have a richer, more complete mental catalog of critical situations they might confront during a fire and the appropriate responses to those situations. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.

Try applying some or all of these principles next time you want to communicate an idea.  Use these concepts as a checklist before you hit “Publish”  Even better, pick up the book for lots more detail on how to apply these to your particular needs.  Let me know how it went!

Here’s a great idea for MA companies – Master the 3-5X Rockefeller growth habits for half the price. See below.*

Be Exceptional!

Bill  – Certified Premium Scaling Up/Gravitas Impact Coach


* Ask me how MA (and other states) may help pay for my leadership coaching services.  For MA companies, as an approved Training and Development provider, Catalyst Growth Advisors can offer you 50% off program fees.  Click here to see if you qualify.

Published by Bill Flynn

Gazelles Member Advisor and early stage startup specialist with a proven track record with 16 Boston-based startups (9 to date with 5 successful outcomes, advisor to 7 others); SMB to Fortune 500 companies. 20+ years of Senior Sales, Marketing and GM experience in industries including mobile advertising, security, digital advertising, e-commerce and IT. Core Competencies: Player/Coach, Metrics-driven, Execution-based philosophy, Life-long learner

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