Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

{original squeezed contributor: petemodi}

We can engage people's curiosity over a long period of time by systematically "opening gaps" in their knowledge - and then filling those gaps.

After the lead, information is presented in decreasing order of importance.  Journalists call this the "inverted pyramid" structure - the most important info (the widest part of the pyramid) is at the top.

Becoming an expert in something means that we become more and more fascinated by nuance and complexity.

When you say three things, you say nothing.

Palm Pilot and James Carville (on the Clinton Campaign) had teams comprised of people who were knowledgeable and passionate about their work - had the capability and desire to do a lot of different things to argue every issue and engineer every feature.  Yet in both cases the team needed a simple reminder to fight the temptation to do too much.  

People are tempted to tell you everything, with perfect accuracy, right up front, when they should be giving you just enough info to be useful, then a little more, then a little more.  

Schemas in Hollywood - Use analogies - Speed was pitched as Die Hard on a bus.

Understand a compact message because they invoke concepts that you already know.

There is value in sequencing information - not dumping a stack of information on someone at once but dropping a clue, then another clue, then another.  This method of communication resembles flirting more than lecturing.  

Unexpected ideas, by opening a knowledge gap, tease and flirt.  They mark a big red X on something that needs to be discovered but don't necessarily tell you how to get there.  

Sinatra Test - If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere

When one example alone is enough to establish credibility in a given domain

Testable credentials - Are you better off now than you were four years ago?  Ronald Reagan in the 1980 debate against Carter.  Instead of focusing on statistics of inflation, employment rate, interest rates, he deferred to his audience.  

The problem is that when you hit listeners between the eyes they respond by fighting back.  The way you deliver a message to them is a cue to how they should react.  If you make an argument, you're implicitly asking them to evaluate your argument - judge it, debate it, criticize it - and then argue back, at least in their minds.  But with a story, Denning argues, you engage the audience - you are involving people with your idea, asking them to participate with you.

Someone tapping a tune can hear the song in their head, while listeners of the tapping cant.

Stories can almost single handedly defeat the Curse of Knowledge.  In fast, they naturally emboady most of the SUCCESs framework.  Stories are almost always concrete.  Most of them have Emotional and Unexpected elements.  The hardest part of using stories effectively is making sure that they're Simple - that they reflect your core message.  It's not enough to tell a great story, the story has to reflect your agenda. 

Ultimately, the test our success as idea creators isn't whether people mimic our exact words, it's whether we achieve our goals.

The first villain is the natural tendency to bury the lead - to get lost in a sea of information.  One of the worst things about knowing a lot, or having access to a lot of information, is that we're tempted to share it all.  

The second villain is the tendency to focus on the presentation rather than on the message.  Public speakers naturally want to appear composed, charismatic, and motivational.  And, certainly, charisma will help a properly designed message stick better.  But all the charisma in the world doesn't save a dense, unfocused speech.  

To beat decision paralysis, communicators have to do the hard work of finding the core.  Lawyers must stress one or two points in their closing arguments, not ten.  

The Curse of Knowledge, is a worthy adversary because in some sense it's inevitable.  Getting a message across has two stages: the Answer stage and the Telling Others stage.  In the Answer stage, you use your expertise to arrive at the idea that you want to share.  Doctors study for a decade to be capable of giving the Answer.  Business managers may deliberate for months to arrive at the Answer.  

Business managers seem to believe that once they've clicked through a PowerPoint presentation showcasing their conclusions, they've successfully communicated their ideas.  What they've done is share data.  If they're good speakers, they may even have created an enhanced sense, among their employees and peers that they are "decisive" or "managerial" or "motivational".  But, like the Stanford students, the surprise will come when they realize that nothing they've said had impact.  They've shared data, but they haven't created ideas that are useful and lasting.  Nothing stuck.  

The Communication Framework:

For an idea to stick, for it to be useful and lasting, it's got to make the audience:

  1. Pay attention - Unexpected
  2. Understand and remember it - Concrete
  3. Agree/Believe - Credible
  4. Care - Emotional
  5. Be able to act on it - Story

Symptom: Apathy - No one seems fired up about this

Solution: Remember the Mother Teresa effect - people care more about individuals than they do about abstractions.  Tell them an inspiring Challenge plot or Creativity ploy story.  Tap into their sens of their own identities like the "Don't Mess with Texas" ads.

Curse of knowledge tempts people to use language that is sweeping, high-level, and abstract: The most efficient manufacturer of semiconductors?  The lowest-cost provider of stereo equipment!  World class customer service!

Psychologists have uncovered situations where the mere existence of choice, even choice among several good options, seems to paralyze us in making decisions.  

Three barriers to talking strategy - The Curse of Knowledge, decision paralysis, and the lack of a common strategic vocabulary - emerge for different reasons, but they can be overcome in similar ways.  

Be concrete - Specific and sensory - So everyone understands you message in a similar way.

  1. Say something unexpected - Don't waste your time communicating a common sense strategy - Identify the uncommon sense - new or different aspects of the strategy.  
  2. Tell stories - A good story is better than an abstract statement

The conventional wisdom is that leaders should spend a lot of their time presenting and discussing strategy.  The most common refrain in strategic communication is repetition, repetition, repetition.  Keep repeating the strategy, again and again, until it finally sinks in.  Here's the problem: Repetition doesn't prevent the Curse of Knowledge or encourage two-way communication.  

Rather we are proposing that leaders treat strategy as a two-step process: Step 1 is determining the right strategy.  Step 2 is communicating it in a way that allows it to become part of the organizational vocabulary.  Both are necessary.  

If strategies are to be living and active - if they are to become embodied in the actions of employees and outside partners - they must be woven into day-to-day conversations and decisions.  

If your frontline employees can talk about your strategy, can tell stories about it, can talk back to their managers and feel credible doing so, then the strategy is doing precisely what it was intended to do: guide behavior.  

To make an idea simple, then, first find the core of your lesson, then anchor it in knowledge that your students already have.  

Sticky = understandable, memorable, and effective in changing thought or behavior.

SUCCESs: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories

The Villain: The Curse of Knowledge - It's hard to be a tapper.  Creativity starts with templates: Beat the curse with the SUCCESs checklist:
  1. Simple
    1. Find the Core - Commander's intent - Determine the single most important thing.  Inverted pyramid.  Don't bury the lead.  The pain of decision paralysis.  Names, names, names.  
    2. Share the Core - Simple = core + compact.  Proverbs: sound bites that are profound.  Visual proverbs: The Palm Pilot wood block.  How to pack a lot of punch into a compact communication:
      1. Tap into existing schemas: The pomelo
      2. Create a high concept pitch: Die Hard on a bus
      3. Use a generative analogy: Disney's cast members
  2. Unexpected
    1. Get Attention: Surprise - Break a pattern - The surprise brow: a pause to collect information.  
    2. Hold attention - Interest - Create a mystery - Highlight a knowledge gap.  Use the news-teaser approach.  
  3. Concrete 
    1. Help people understand and remember.  Write with the concreteness of a fable.  Make abstraction concrete by redefining it.  Provide a concrete context.  Put people into the story.  Use more hooks in your idea.  
    2. Help people coordinate - Find common ground at a shared level of understanding. Set common goals in tangible terms - Our plane will land on runway 4-22.  Make it real.  Why concreteness helps - white things vs white things in your fride.  Create a turf where people can bring their knowledge to bear.  Talk about people, not data.
  4. Credible
    1. Help people believe
    2. External credibility - Authorities and anti-authorities
    3. Internal credibility - Use convincing details - Jurors and the Darth Vader toothbrush.  Make stats accessible - Nukes as bbs.  The Sinatra Test.  Use testable credentials.
  5. Emotional
    1. Make people care - Mother Teresa principle - If I look at the one, I will act
    2. Use the power of association - 
    3. Appeal to self interest
    4. Appeal to identity - Don't mess with Texas
  6. Stories 
    1. Get people to act
    2. Stories as simulations - Tell people how to act
    3. Stories as inspiration

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