BOOK REVIEW: “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath & Dan Heath (2010)

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others DieDid you know that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from space? You did? It’s not true.  It’s what´s known as an urban myth.  These are so stories that are so popular that they have become ingrained in our culture, and become retold throughout the world.  In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath explain why some of these stories ‘stick.’

Key words

Psychology, sociology, behavioral science, cognitive science, stereotypes.


McDonald´s and earthworms

Facts and numbers don’t always stick. However, a well-told story will stay in somebody’s mind.

Other common myths and stories include the rumor that McDonald´s used earthworms in its burgers, and the famous story of someone buying Kentucky Fried Chicken, only to bite into a rat.  Ray Crock, the charismatic CEO of McDonald´s, eventually fought off such rumors, by pointing out that a hamburger costs a dollar and a half a pound, whereas earthworms cost six dollars a pound.  We simply couldn’t have afforded to do it, he said.  Many books have been brought out in the past few years through storytelling.  Facts and numbers don’t always stick.  However, a well-told story will stay in somebody’s mind.  This book gives a useful and quite simple introduction to the idea of storytelling, and gives the reader a clear outline of how to get their stories better remembered.  The Heath brothers break this down into five ideas.  For a story to stick, it must be:

  1. Simple
  2. Unexpected (involving some kind of emotion)
  3. Concrete (the more detail, the better)
  4. Credible
  5. Emotional

They even get a little checklist at the end of each chapter, so that the readers can test themselves and rate each story according to the criteria suggested.

don’t mess with Texas

The sticky slogan “don’t mess with Texas” was initially used for anti-littering campaign.

Along the way, there are some nice little stories, including the anti-littering campaign “don’t mess with Texas,” which gave a very masculine image to people keeping their states tidy and doing their civic duty.  It shows how a newspaper, The Daily Record, managed to gain 120% penetration in the small town of Dunn, North Carolina, by concentrating on publishing people’s names, and gives some very interesting quotes from famous people known for their storytelling.  The Heaths are quite good storytellers themselves, and you can listen to their talks on iTunes, which should also give you some pointers as to how you can make your own stories better.  The only downside of the book is that it suffers like many others, as being a great article but not having quite enough material to make it into a really good book.  That aside though, it’s a nice introduction to storytelling in general if you ever wondered how you might get people to listen to you more attentively.

Interesting Quotes

Herb Kelleher (the longest-serving CEO of Southwest) once told someone, “I can teach you the secret to running this airline in thirty seconds. This is it: We are THE low-fare airline. Once you understand that fact, you can make any decision about this company’s future as well as I can.”

The Daily Record record

The Daily Record succeeded in Dunn because of three things: Names, names, and names.

Dunn, North Carolina, is a small town about forty miles south of Raleigh. It has 14,000 residents. The Daily Record’s penetration in the Dunn community is 112 percent, which is the highest penetration of any newspaper in the country. In fact, asked why the Daily Record has been so successful, Adams replies, “It’s because of three things: Names, names, and names.” As a publisher, Adams has presided over close to 20,000 issues.

Subway has created a metaphor for its frontline employees. They are “sandwich artists.” We wonder how long an employee would last at Subway if she exhibited a lot of individual expression —in dress, in interaction, in the presentation of sandwiches.

Researchers who study conspiracy theories, for instance, have noted that many of them arise when people are grappling with unexpected events, such as when the young and attractive die suddenly. There are conspiracy theories about the sudden deaths of JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and Kurt Cobain. There tends to be less conspiratorial interest in the sudden deaths of ninety-year-olds.

Common sense is the enemy of sticky messages.

In 1994, George Loewenstein, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University, provided the most comprehensive account of situational interest. It is surprisingly simple. Curiosity, he says, happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge.  Loewenstein argues that gaps cause pain.

Sticky story

Sticky stories must be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, and emotional.

What makes something “concrete”? If you can examine something with your senses, it’s concrete. A V8 engine is concrete. “High performance” is abstract. “World-class customer service” is abstract. A Nordie ironing a customer’s shirt is concrete. Concrete language helps people, especially novices, understand new concepts. Abstraction is the luxury of the expert.

Mother Teresa once said, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

William B. Yeats once said, “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.”

For decades, McDonald’s fought rumors that it used earthworms as filler in its burgers. By 1992, Ray Kroc, McDonald’s most famous CEO, had come up with a better approach. He said, “We couldn’t afford to grind worms into meat. Hamburger costs a dollar and a half a pound, and night crawlers cost six dollars!”

Chip Heath talks about sticky stories

See also:

Other Book Reviews

Sticking points

Guardian: “This is a self-help book for ideas. Like a diet book, it tells you to slim your ideas down. Simplicity is the key. Dan, an educational publisher, studied teachers and what made them effective. Chip, a social science professor at Stanford.”

Book Review: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

SANS Technology Institute: “Urban legends do not have a budget, they are usually not written by someone with a marketing degree and, yet, they can have as much impact as organization messages with major budgets. Imagine what happens when you have a commercial message that adheres to the sticky concepts.”

Book Review: Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive And Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Blog Critics: “In Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath look at the ins and outs of why some ideas flourish yet others wither on the vine. Part human nature study, part history lesson and practical wisdom acquired by both experience and experiments, Stick examines how to make your idea stand out in a crowd.”

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1 Comment

Filed under Behavior, Book Review, Culture, Intercultural, News, Psychology, Sociology

One response to “BOOK REVIEW: “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath & Dan Heath (2010)

  1. Pingback: BOOK REVIEW: “Leverage: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture” by John R. Childress (2013) | GlobalEd

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