Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. Unabashedly inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling The Tipping Point, the brothers Heath—Chip a professor at Stanford’s business school, Dan a teacher and textbook publisher—offer an entertaining, practical guide to effective communication. Drawing extensively on psychosocial studies on memory, emotion and motivation, their study is couched in terms of “stickiness”—that is, the art of making ideas unforgettable. They start by relating the gruesome urban legend about a man who succumbs to a barroom flirtation only to wake up in a tub of ice, victim of an organ-harvesting ring. What makes such stories memorable and ensures their spread around the globe? The authors credit six key principles: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories. (The initial letters spell out “success”—well, almost.) They illustrate these principles with a host of stories, some familiar (Kennedy’s stirring call to “land a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth” within a decade) and others very funny (Nora Ephron’s anecdote of how her high school journalism teacher used a simple, embarrassing trick to teach her how not to “bury the lead”). Throughout the book, sidebars show how bland messages can be made intriguing. Fun to read and solidly researched, this book deserves a wide readership.

While at first glance this volume might resemble the latest in a series of trendy business advice books, ultimately it is about storytelling, and it is a how-to for crafting a compelling narrative. Employing a lighthearted tone, the Heaths apply those selfsame techniques to create an enjoyable read. They analyze such narratives as urban legends and advertisements to discover what makes them memorable. The authors provide a simple mnemonic to remember their stickiness formula, and the basic principles may be applied in any situation where persuasiveness is an asset. The book is a fast read peppered with exercises to test the techniques proposed. Some examples act as pop quizzes and engage readers in moments of self-reflection. The book draws on examples from teachers, scientists, and soldiers who have been successful at crafting memorable ideas, from the well-known blue eye/brown eye exercise conducted by an Iowa elementary school teacher as an experiential lesson in prejudice following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to conversations among Xerox repairmen. Readers who enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (2005) and The Tipping Point (2000, both Little, Brown) will appreciate this clever take on contemporary culture.—Heidi Dolamore, San Mateo County Library, CA