Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive And Others Die, by Chip & Dan Heath
I particularly appreciated this book because it managed to provide something striking and worthwhile and also intensely practical, and that is a way to understand how it is to make something that we say stick with our audience more. Not everyone may be a skilled copywriter, but most people at least should be able to see what works and then recognize what it is that draws and sustains interest. To be sure, the skills that these authors discuss can and often are used for evil in the spreading of urban myths about stolen kidneys, as well as clickbait articles that rely on unexpected reversals about vegetables that we should stop eating right now. And these authors do not shy away from that understanding while also pointing the reader towards using these particular skills for the good in our own messages and our own writings. And while not all aspects of this particular subject are equally enjoyable, the book does a very good job at pointing out some qualities that make our ideas and stories stick and should provide some structure to the pitching of those ideas to others that is very worthwhile and also very thought provoking.
Coming in at 250 pages or so, the book begins with an introduction discussing what sticks, or what is understandable, memorable, and effective in changing thoughts and behaviors. After that the authors talk about the importance of simplicity, which must be compact and have a core of meaning (1). This leads to a discussion of the importance of the unexpected (2) in what we have to say. After that the authors point out the importance of concrete details with less abstraction (3) and the importance of being credible (4). After this there is a discussion of the need for emotional hooks in order to motivate change (5) as well as the importance of telling stories (6). And the authors, it should be noted, practice what they preach throughout the book by providing stories and hooks and examples full of details and establishing their own credibility. The book then ends with an epilogue that looks at what sticks by providing yet more concrete examples of how we have misremembered certain statements because they are more memorable in a slightly adapted form, after which the authors have an easy reference guide to making ideas stick more as well as notes, acknowledgments, and an index.
When a book is an example of its own approach, that is definitely a winning strategy, even if the authors tend to establish their credibility in a very standard and expected way in referring to a lot of stories and research by others. There are at least a few of the stories that stand out particularly well, including insights about Mother Teresa and the need to focus on individual stories rather than abstract statistics about suffering that one wants to ameliorate, the surprising and unexpected role of bacteria in ulcers that completely changed the way that we think about and treat ulcers (no more antacids for ulcers, now we use antibiotics), and ways that copywriters still find themselves copied after decades because of the way that their hooks increase the appeal of print advertising. Particularly worthwhile is the practical approach of the authors, not only in talking about what makes ideas stick (and not always the truth or good ideas either), but also in providing insights and structure that allow people to make their own efforts at communication more memorable through being concise, concrete, full of details and credibility, unexpected, and told as part of a story. Such techniques have served many well in the past and also can serve others well in the future.