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Made to Stick

book cover image and link to amazon


I finished this book recently and wanted to put together a book shelf review for it. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Chip & Dan Heath wrote it together because they each have backgrounds working with ideas and concepts which are sticky. Dan Heath also wrote Upstream which was another great book with a true mind-virus as the core concept.

Ideas and Concepts that are Sticky

This book deals with how to make ideas sticky in a way that they effectively stick in the minds of other people. The core concepts (and chapters) revolve around the acronym "SUCCES". The letters stand for:

  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotional
  • Stories

Various chapters of the book go through these items in detail and use examples and stories to drive home why that trait makes concepts sticky. For example, a simple message sticks more effectively than a complex message. A message which is unexpected is more likely to be remembered than something obvious. Some concepts seem superficially obvious. But as you read the details provided by the authors you start to understand the amount of research and thought that went into the descriptions.

Stories Beat Information

My favorite chapter of the book was about stories. The authors provided some really great examples about how telling stories is far more effective than any amount of credibility or facts. In one research experiment, they found students giving presentations that included stories were vastly more memorable later than people who had far more flashy presentations, or far more charisma and speaking ability. Simply telling your information in the form a story embeds your words and thoughts into the minds of the audience more effectively than anything else.

They also provided an anecdote about The readers of the book loved the idea and found it really compelling. The presenters felt like the stories didn't present as much value as their hard-developed slide decks and summary bullet points. It was an interesting paradox that the most effective summaries were disliked by the very people hoping to make the biggest impact with readers.

sticky tape

Three Unique Features of the Book

There were three features of this book that were new and interesting and made it extra sticky to me as a reader.

  1. The paper cover for the hardback book appears to have a piece of duct tape on it. The piece of tape has the texture, shine, and overall appearance of a piece of duct tape. It even has a raised texture on the "wrinkles". It was unique and makes the cover memorable. There were smaller tape pieces on the spine and the inside cover.
  2. The index at the beginning of the book has a short paragraph summarizing each chapter with key words and phrases that are contained within. By scanning these pages you don't only see the name of the chapter, but also quick notes of what is inside. For instance, you might see "Shop talk at Xerox" which reminds you of the section talking about a Xerox repairman story. This is a really nice touch that I've never seen before.
  3. The final chapter is a summary of the book. They re-summarize each chapter quickly and pull everything together. They've essentially built three versions of the book: a bare minimum version of the book in the index, the book itself in the middle, and a medium - summarized version at the end.

These items were unique and made the book more memorable and useful as a reference tool in the future.

Three Barriers to Strategy

Lastly, I wanted to make a note of one section to ensure I don't forget it. There is part of the final chapter which provides ways to ensure advice is sticky. In this section they discuss three problems with an effective sticky strategy. Those items are:

  • Curse of Knowledge: This is well described in the book as the way people with deep knowledge of a subject are unable to remember how it feels to be without it. They used the example of people tapping out a song and having other people guess it. The tappers are shocked at how difficult it is for the listeners.
  • Decision Paralysis: The authors discuss how giving people lots of choices rarely works out to be a positive. We need to keep strategies simple and choices to a bare minimum which align to our goals and directions for them.
  • Lack of a Common Language: They discuss how setting some common language to be used is a powerful idea. For instance, having a strategy to "be the number 1 shoe company in the world" doesn't provide people the ability to disagree or discuss alternatives. When Disney calls its employees "cast members", everyone understands right away what is expected of them. If an employee has a problem they can use that phrase and related vocabulary to raise it. I love this idea and want to increase how I use this within our team.

Wrap Up

To wrap-up, this was a great book that will rank highly on my book shelf. I would recommend this to anyone trying to make stickier messaging, more powerful strategies, or trying to get better at thought leadership. As someone working toward those goals, I found this book immensely useful.

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