A classic marketing book about how things sticks, and the power of virality. It’s a pretty interesting book, mainly because their authors make it so. Although you won’t learn a step-by-step plan on how to make things viral, it’s still useful and refreshing.
Date Finished: 30/05/2013
Here’s a link to the Amazon page.
The 6 Stickiness Principles
Principle 1: Simplicity
How do we find the essential core of our ideas? A successful defense lawyer says, “If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room they won’t remember any.” To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize. Saying something short is not the mission—sound bites are not the ideal. Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound. The Golden Rule is the ultimate model of simplicity: a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.
Principle 2: Unexpectedness
How do we get our audience to pay attention to our ideas, and how do we maintain their interest when we need time to get the ideas across? We need to violate people’s expectations. We need to be counterintuitive. A bag of popcorn is as unhealthy as a whole day’s worth of fatty foods! We can use surprise—an emotion whose function is to increase alertness and cause focus—to grab people’s attention. But surprise doesn’t last. For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity. How do you keep students engaged during the forty-eighth history class of the year? We can engage people’s curiosity over a long period of time by systematically “opening gaps” in their knowledge—and then filling those gaps.
Principle 3: Concreteness
How do we make our ideas clear? We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. This is where so much business communication goes awry. Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions—they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless. Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images—ice-filled bathtubs, apples with razors—because our brains are wired to remember concrete data. In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language: “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience.
Principle 4: Credibility
How do we make people believe our ideas? Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials. We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves—a “try before you buy” philosophy for the world of ideas. When we’re trying to build a case for something, most of us instinctively grasp for hard numbers. But in many cases this is exactly the wrong approach. In the sole U.S. presidential debate in 1980 between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, Reagan could have cited innumerable statistics demonstrating the sluggishness of the economy. Instead, he asked a simple question that allowed voters to test for themselves: “Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago.”
Principle 5: Emotions
How do we get people to care about our ideas? We make them feel something. In the case of movie popcorn, we make them feel disgusted by its unhealthiness. Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region. We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions. Sometimes the hard part is finding the right emotion to harness. For instance, it’s difficult to get teenagers to quit smoking by instilling in them a fear of the consequences, but it’s easier to get them to quit by tapping into their resentment of the duplicity of Big Tobacco.
Principle 6: Stories
How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories. Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.
Those are the six principles of successful ideas. To summarize, here’s our checklist for creating a successful idea: a Simple Unexpected Concrete Credentialed Emotional Story. A clever observer will note that this sentence can be compacted into the acronym SUCCESs. This is sheer coincidence, of course. (Okay, we admit, SUCCESs is a little corny. We could have changed “Simple” to “Core” and reordered a few letters. But, you have to admit, CCUCES is less memorable.)
No plan survives contact with the enemy. No doubt this principle has resonance for people who have no military experience whatsoever. No sales plan survives contact with the customer. No lesson plan survives contact with teenagers.
It’s hard to make ideas stick in a noisy, unpredictable, chaotic environment. If we’re to succeed, the first step is this: Be simple. Not simple in terms of “dumbing down” or “sound bites.” You don’t have to speak in monosyllables to be simple. What we mean by “simple” is finding the core of the idea.
“Finding the core” means stripping an idea down to its most critical essence. To get to the core, we’ve got to weed out superfluous and tangential elements. But that’s the easy part. The hard part is weeding out ideas that may be really important but just aren’t the most important idea. The Army’s Commander’s Intent forces its officers to highlight the most important goal of an operation. The value of the Intent comes from its singularity. You can’t have five North Stars, you can’t have five “most important goals,” and you can’t have five Commander’s Intents. Finding the core is analogous to writing the Commander’s Intent—it’s about discarding a lot of great insights in order to let the most important insight shine.
In fact, we’ll follow our own advice and strip this book down to its core. Here it is: There are two steps in making your ideas sticky—Step 1 is to find the core, and Step 2 is to translate the core using the SUCCESs checklist. That’s it.
Simplicity and Compactness
At one level, the idea of compactness is uncontroversial. Rarely will you get advice to make your communications lengthy and convoluted, unless you write interestate disclosures for a credit card company. We know that sentences are better than paragraphs. Two bullet points are better than five. Easy words are better than hard words. It’s a bandwidth issue: The more we reduce the amount of information in an idea, the stickier it will be.
But let’s be clear: Compactness alone isn’t enough. We could latch on to a compact message that isn’t core; in other words, a pithy slogan that doesn’t reflect our Commander’s Intent. Compact messages may be sticky, but that says nothing about their worth. We can imagine compact messages that are lies (“The earth is flat”), compact messages that are irrelevant (“Goats like sprouts”), and compact messages that are ill-advised (“Never let a day pass without a shoe purchase”).
In other cases, compactness itself can come to seem an unworthy goal. Lots of us have expertise in particular areas. Becoming an expert in something means that we become more and more fascinated by nuance and complexity. That’s when the Curse of Knowledge kicks in, and we start to forget what it’s like not to know what we know. At that point, making something simple can seem like “dumbing down.” As an expert, we don’t want to be accused of propagating sound bites or pandering to the lowest common denominator. Simplifying, we fear, can devolve into oversimplifying.
So if we’re going to define “simple” as core and compact, we need to assure ourselves that compactness is worth striving for. We’ve already got core, why do we need compact? Aren’t “stripped-down” ideas inherently less useful than fully elaborated ideas? Suppose we took compactness to its most extreme form. Is it possible to say something meaningful in the span of a sound bite?
Great simple ideas have an elegance and a utility that make them function a lot like proverbs. Cervantes’s definition of “proverbs” echoes our definition of Simple ideas: short sentences (compact) drawn from long experience (core). We are right to be skeptical of sound bites, because lots of sound bites are empty or misleading -they’re compact without being core. But the Simple we’re chasing isn’t a sound bite, it’s a proverb: compact and core.
How to Make a Profound Idea Compact
We’ve seen that compact ideas are stickier, but that compact ideas alone aren’t valuable—only ideas with profound compactness are valuable. So, to make a profound idea compact you’ve got to pack a lot of meaning into a little bit of messaging. And how do you do that? You use flags. You tap the existing memory terrain of your audience. You use what’s already there.
Let us teach you what a “pomelo” is. (If you already know what a pomelo is, be a good sport and feign ignorance.) Here is one way that we can explain to you what a pomelo is:
Explanation 1: A pomelo is the largest citrus fruit. The rind is very thick but soft and easy to peel away. The resulting fruit has a light yellow to coral pink flesh and can vary from juicy to slightly dry and from seductively spicy-sweet to tangy and tart.
Let’s move on to an alternative explanation:
Explanation 2: A pomelo is basically a supersized grapefruit with a very thick and soft rind.
Explanation 2 sticks a flag on a concept that you already know: a grapefruit. When we tell you that a pomelo is like a grapefruit, you call up a mental image of a grapefruit. Then we tell you what to change about it: It’s “supersized.” Your visualized grapefruit grows accordingly.
We’ve made it easier for you to learn a new concept by tying it to a concept that you already know. In this case, the concept is “grapefruit.” “Grapefruit” is a schema that you already have.
Psychologists define schema as a collection of generic properties of a concept or category. Schemas consist of lots of prerecorded information stored in our memories. If someone tells you that she saw a great new sports car, a picture immediately springs to mind, filled with generic properties. You know what “sports cars” are like. You picture something small and two-door, with a convertible top perhaps. If the car in your picture moves, it moves fast. Its color is almost certainly red. Similarly, your schema of “grapefruit” also contains a cluster of generic properties: yellow-pink color, tart flavor, softball-sized, and so on.
By calling up your grapefruit schema, we were able to teach you the concept of pomelo much faster than if we had mechanically listed all the attributes of a pomelo.
By using schemas, Explanation 2 improves both our comprehension and our memory. Let’s think about the two definitions of “pomelo” in terms of the inverted pyramid structure. What’s the lead? Well, with Explanation 1 the lead is: citrus fruit.
With Explanation 2, the lead is: grapefruit-like. The second paragraph is: supersized. The third paragraph is: very thick and soft rind.
Simplicity “Techniques”: Analogies & Metaphors
Three simplicity “techniques” are analogies and metaphors. Also, proverbs are another “technique” that contain powerful simplicity, even though those can’t be constructed neither tweaked.
High-concept pitches are Hollywood’s version of core proverbs. Like most proverbs, they tap the power of analogy. By invoking schemas that already exist, the proverbs radically accelerate the learning process for people working on a brand-new movie.
Some analogies are so useful that they don’t merely shed light on a concept, they actually become platforms for novel thinking.
Good metaphors are “generative.” The psychologist Donald Schon introduced this term to describe metaphors that generate “new perceptions, explanations, and inventions.” Many simple sticky ideas are actually generative metaphors in disguise.
Generative metaphors and proverbs both derive their power from a clever substitution: They substitute some thing easy to think about for something difficult. The proverb “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush” gives us a tangible, easily processed statement that we can use for guidance in complex, emotionally fraught situations. Generative metaphors perform a similar role.
How to Get and Keep People’s Attention
The first problem of communication is getting people’s attention. Some communicators have the authority to demand attention. Parents are good at this: “Bobby, look at me!” Most of the time, though, we can’t demand attention; we must attract it. This is a tougher challenge.
The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern. Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns. Consistent sensory stimulation makes us tune out: Think of the hum of an air conditioner, or traffic noise, or the smell of a candle, or the sight of a bookshelf. We may become consciously aware of these things only when something changes: The air conditioner shuts off. Your spouse rearranges the books.
Our brain is designed to be keenly aware of changes. Smart product designers are well aware of this tendency. They make sure that, when products require users to pay attention, something changes.
We have to focus on two essential questions: How do I get people’s attention? And, just as crucially, How do I keep it? We can’t succeed if our messages don’t break through the clutter to get people’s attention. Furthermore, our messages are usually complex enough that we won’t succeed if we can’t keep people’s attention.
To understand the answers to these two questions, we have to understand two essential emotions—surprise and interest—that are commonly provoked by naturally sticky ideas.
- Surprise gets our attention. Some naturally sticky ideas propose surprising “facts”: The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure visible from space! You use only 10 percent of your brain! You should drink eight glasses of water a day! Urban legends frequently contain surprising plot twists.
- Interest keeps our attention. There are classes of sticky ideas that maintain our interest over time. Conspiracy theories keep people ravenously collecting new information. Gossip keeps us coming back to our friends for developments.
Naturally sticky ideas are frequently unexpected. If we can make our ideas more unexpected, they will be stickier. But can you generate “unexpectedness”? Isn’t “planned unexpectedness” an oxymoron?
Surprise is associated with a facial expression that is consistent across cultures. In a book called Unmasking the Face, Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen coined a term, “the surprise brow,” to describe the distinctive facial expression of surprise: “The eyebrows appear curved and high…. The skin below the brow has been stretched by the lifting of the brow, and is more visible than usual.”
When our brows go up, it widens our eyes and gives us a broader field of vision—the surprise brow is our body’s way of forcing us to see more. We may also do a double take to make sure that we saw what we thought we saw. By way of contrast, when we’re angry our eyes narrow so that we can focus on a known problem. In addition to making our eyebrows rise, surprise causes our jaws to drop and our mouths to gape. We’re struck momentarily speechless. Our bodies temporarily stop moving and our muscles go slack. It’s as though our bodies want to ensure that we’re not talking or moving when we ought to be taking in new information.
So surprise acts as a kind of emergency override when we confront something unexpected and our guessing machines fail. Things come to a halt, ongoing activities are interrupted, our attention focuses involuntarily on the event that surprised us. When a minivan commercial ends in a bloodcurdling crash, we stop and wonder, What is going on?
Unexpected ideas are more likely to stick because surprise makes us pay attention and think. That extra attention and thinking sears unexpected events into our memories. Surprise gets our attention. Sometimes the attention is fleeting, but in other cases surprise can lead to enduring attention. Surprise can prompt us to hunt for underlying causes, to imagine other possibilities, to figure out how to avoid surprises in the future.
Surprise makes us want to find an answer—to resolve the question of why we were surprised—and big surprises call for big answers. If we want to motivate people to pay attention, we should seize the power of big surprises.
How to Make Your Ideas Stickier
If you want your ideas to be stickier, you’ve got to break someone’s guessing machine and then fix it. But in surprising people, in breaking their guessing machines, how do we avoid gimmicky surprise, like the wolves? The easiest way to avoid gimmicky surprise and ensure that your unexpected ideas produce insight is to make sure you target an aspect of your audience’s guessing machines that relates to your core message.
A good process for making your ideas stickier is:
- Identify the central message you need to communicate—find the core;
- Figure out what is counterintuitive about the message—i.e., What are the unexpected implications of your core message? Why isn’t it already happening naturally?;
- Communicate your message in a way that breaks your audience’s guessing machines along the critical, counterintuitive dimension. Then, once their guessing machines have failed, help them refine their machines.
Common sense is the enemy of sticky messages. When messages sound like common sense, they float gently in one ear and out the other. And why shouldn’t they? If I already intuitively “get” what you’re trying to tell me, why should I obsess about remembering it? The danger, of course, is that what sounds like common sense often isn’t, as with the Hoover Adams and Southwest examples. It’s your job, as a communicator, to expose the parts of your message that are uncommon sense.
Keeping People’s Attention: Misteries
Sometimes, though, our messages are more complex. How do we get people to stick with us through a more complex message? How do we keep people’s attention?
A few years ago, Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist at Arizona State University, set out to improve the way he talked about science in his writing and in his classes. For inspiration, he went to the library. He pulled down every book he could find in which scientists were writing for an audience of nonscientists.
“I also found something I had not expected—the most successful of these pieces all began with a mystery story. The authors described a state of affairs that seemed to make no sense and then invited the reader into the material as a way of solving the mystery.”
Mysteries are powerful, Cialdini says, because they create a need for closure. Cialdini began to create mysteries in his own classroom, and the power of the approach quickly became clear. He would introduce the mystery at the start of class, return to it during the lecture, and reveal the answer at the end.
Cialdini believes that a major benefit of teaching using mysteries is that “the process of resolving mysteries is remarkably similar to the process of science.” So, by using mysteries, teachers don’t just heighten students’ interest in the day’s material; they train them to think like scientists.
Mystery is created not from an unexpected moment but from an unexpected journey. We know where we’re headed—we want to solve the mystery—but we’re not sure how we’ll get there.
A schema violation is a onetime transaction. Boom, something has changed. If we were told that the rings of Saturn were made of dryer lint, a schema would be violated. We could call it “first-level” unexpectedness. But the actual “rings of Saturn mystery” is more extended and subtle. We are told that scientists do not know what Saturn’s rings are made of, and we’re asked to follow on a journey whose ending is unpredictable. That’s second-level unexpectedness. In this way, we jump from fleeting surprise to enduring interest.
The Gap Theory of Curiosity
Curiosity is the intellectual need to answer questions and close open patterns. Story plays to this universal desire by doing the opposite, posing questions and opening situations.
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. When we want to know something but don’t, it’s like having an itch that we need to scratch. To take away the pain, we need to fill the knowledge gap. We sit patiently through bad movies, even though they may be painful to watch, because it’s too painful not to know how they end.
This “gap theory” of interest seems to explain why some domains create fanatical interest: They naturally create knowledge gaps.
One important implication of the gap theory is that we need to open gaps before we close them. Our tendency is to tell people the facts. First, though, they must realize that they need these facts. The trick to convincing people that they need our message, according to Loewenstein, is to first highlight some specific knowledge that they’re missing. We can pose a question or puzzle that confronts people with a gap in their knowledge. We can point out that someone else knows something they don’t. We can present them with situations that have unknown resolutions, such as elections, sports events, or mysteries. We can challenge them to predict an outcome (which creates two knowledge gaps—What will happen? and Was I right?).
If curiosity arises from knowledge gaps, we might assume that when we know more, we’ll become less curious because there are fewer gaps in our knowledge. But Loewenstein argues that the opposite is true. He says that as we gain information we are more and more likely to focus on what we don’t know. Someone who knows the state capitals of 17 of 50 states may be proud of her knowledge. But someone who knows 47 may be more likely to think of herself as not knowing 3 capitals.
Some topics naturally highlight gaps in our knowledge. Human-interest stories are fascinating because we know what it’s like to be human—but we don’t know what it’s like to have certain dramatic experiences.
How do you get people interested in a topic? You point out a gap in their knowledge. But what if they lack so much knowledge about, say, the Georgia Bulldogs, that they’ve got more of an abyss than a gap? In that case, you have to fill in enough knowledge to make the abyss into a gap.
Knowledge gaps create interest. But to prove that the knowledge gaps exist, it may be necessary to highlight some knowledge first. “Here’s what you know. Now here’s what you’re missing.” Alternatively, you can set context so people care what comes next. It’s no accident that mystery novelists and crossword-puzzle writers give us clues. When we feel that we’re close to the solution of a puzzle, curiosity takes over and propels us to the finish.
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. And, as we’ll see, a red X of spectacular size can end up driving the actions of thousands of people for many years.
Abstraction and Concreteness
This is how concreteness helps us understand—it helps us construct higher, more abstract insights on the building blocks of our existing knowledge and perceptions. Abstraction demands some concrete foundation. Trying to teach an abstract principle without concrete foundations is like trying to start a house by building a roof in the air.
Concrete ideas are easier to remember. Take individual words, for instance. Experiments in human memory have shown that people are better at remembering concrete, easily visualized nouns (“bicycle” or “avocado”) than abstract ones (“justice” or “personality”). Naturally sticky ideas are stuffed full of concrete words and images.
How our Memories Work
What is it about concreteness that makes ideas stick? The answer lies with the nature of our memories.
Many of us have a sense that remembering something is a bit like putting it in storage. To remember a story is to file it away in our cerebral filing cabinets. There’s nothing wrong with that analogy. But the surprising thing is that there may be completely different filing cabinets for different kinds of memories.
Memory, then, is not like a single filing cabinet. It is more like Velcro. If you look at the two sides of Velcro material, you’ll see that one is covered with thousands of tiny hooks and the other is covered with thousands of tiny loops. When you press the two sides together, a huge number of hooks get snagged inside the loops, and that’s what causes Velcro to seal.
Your brain hosts a truly staggering number of loops. The more hooks an idea has, the better it will cling to memory. Your childhood home has a gazillion hooks in your brain. A new credit card number has one, if it’s lucky.
Great teachers have a knack for multiplying the hooks in a particular idea.
More on Abstraction
But if concreteness is so powerful, why do we slip so easily into abstraction?
The reason is simple: because the difference between an expert and a novice is the ability to think abstractly. New jurors are struck by lawyers’ personalities and factual details and courtroom rituals. Meanwhile, judges weigh the current case against the abstract lessons of past cases and legal precedent. Biology students try to remember whether reptiles lay eggs or not. Biology teachers think in terms of the grand system of animal taxonomy.
Novices perceive concrete details as concrete details. Experts perceive concrete details as symbols of patterns and insights that they have learned through years of experience. And, because they are capable of seeing a higher level of insight, they naturally want to talk on a higher level. They want to talk about chess strategies, not about bishops moving diagonally.
And here is where our classic villain, the Curse of Knowledge, inserts itself.
It’s easy to lose awareness that we’re talking like an expert. We start to suffer from the Curse of Knowledge, like the tappers in the “tappers and listeners” game. It can feel unnatural to speak concretely about subject matter we’ve known intimately for years. But if we’re willing to make the effort we’ll see the rewards: Our audience will understand what we’re saying and remember it.
The moral of this story is not to “dumb things down.” Rather, the moral of the story is to find a “universal language,” one that everyone speaks fluently. Inevitably, that universal language will be concrete.
More on Concreteness
Of the six traits of stickiness that we review in this book, concreteness is perhaps the easiest to embrace. It may also be the most effective of the traits.
To be simple—to find our core message—is quite difficult. (It’s certainly worth the effort, but let’s not kid ourselves that it’s easy.) Crafting our ideas in an unexpected way takes a fair amount of effort and applied creativity. But being concrete isn’t hard, and it doesn’t require a lot of effort. The barrier is simply forgetfulness—we forget that we’re slipping into abstractspeak. We forget that other people don’t know what we know. We’re the engineers who keep flipping back to our drawings, not noticing that the assemblers just want us to follow them down to the factory floor.
Credibility and Details
Let’s pose the question in the broadest possible terms: What makes people believe ideas? How’s that for an ambitious question? Let’s start with the obvious answers. We believe because our parents or our friends believe. We believe because we’ve had experiences that led us to our beliefs. We believe because of our religious faith. We believe because we trust authorities.
These are powerful forces—family, personal experience, faith. And, thankfully, we have no control over the way these forces affect people. We can’t route our memos through people’s mothers to add credibility. We can’t construct a PowerPoint presentation that will nullify people’s core beliefs.
If we’re trying to persuade a skeptical audience to believe a new message, the reality is that we’re fighting an uphill battle against a lifetime of personal learning and social relationships. It would seem that there’s nothing much we can do to affect what people believe. But if we’re skeptical about our ability to affect belief, we merely have to look at naturally sticky ideas, because some of them persuade us to believe some pretty incredible things.
We don’t always have an external authority who can vouch for our message; most of the time our messages have to vouch for themselves. They must have “internal credibility.” Of course, internal credibility frequently depends on what topic we’re discussing: A credible math proof looks different from a credible movie review. But, surprisingly, there are some general principles for establishing internal credibility. To see these principles in action, we can again turn to urban legends.
An expert on folk legends, Jan Brunvand, says that legends “acquire a good deal of their credibility and effect from their localized details.”
A person’s knowledge of details is often a good proxy for her expertise. Think of how a history buff can quickly establish her credibility by telling an interesting Civil War anecdote. But concrete details don’t just lend credibility to the authorities who provide them; they lend credibility to the idea itself.
Using Statisctics to Boost Credibility
The use of vivid details is one way to create internal credibility—to weave sources of credibility into the idea itself. Another way is to use statistics. Since grade school, we’ve been taught to support our arguments with statistical evidence. But statistics tend to be eye-glazing. How can we use them while still managing to engage our audience?
Beyond War was started by a group of citizens who were alarmed by the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Beyond War participants went door-to-door in their neighborhoods, hoping to galvanize a public outcry against the arms race. They struggled with the problem of how to make credible their belief that the arms race was out of control. How do you make clear to people the staggering destructive capability of the world’s nuclear stockpile? It’s so intangible, so invisible. And yet telling stories, or providing details, seems inadequate: Grappling with the nuclear arms race requires us to grapple with the scale of it. Scale relies on numbers.
First, Beyond War had a core belief: “The public needs to wake up and do something about the arms race.” Second, the group’s members determined what was unexpected about the message: Everyone knew that the world’s nuclear arsenal had grown since World War II, but no one realized the scale of the growth. Third, they had a statistic to make their belief credible—i.e., that the world had 5,000 nuclear warheads when a single one was enough to decimate a city. But the problem was that the number 5,000 means very little to people. The trick was to make this large number meaningful.
The final twist was the demonstration—the bucket and the BBs, which added a sensory dimension to an otherwise abstract concept. Furthermore, the demonstration was carefully chosen—BBs are weapons, and the sound of the BBs hitting the bucket was fittingly threatening.
Notice something that may be counterintuitive: The statistic didn’t stick. It couldn’t possibly stick. No one who saw the demonstration would remember, a week later, that there were 5,000 nuclear warheads in the world.
What did stick was the sudden, visceral awareness of a huge danger—the massive scale-up from World War II’s limited atomic weaponry to the present worldwide arsenal. It was irrelevant whether there were 4,135 nuclear warheads or 9,437. The point was to hit people in the gut with the realization that this was a problem that was out of control.
This is the most important thing to remember about using statistics effectively. Statistics are rarely meaningful in and of themselves. Statistics will, and should, almost always be used to illustrate a relationship. It’s more important for people to remember the relationship than the number.
How to Make Statistics Meaningful
Another way to bring statistics to life is to contextualize them in terms that are more human, more everyday. As a scientific example, contrast the following two statements:
- Scientists recently computed an important physical constraint to an extraordinary accuracy. To put the accuracy in perspective, imagine throwing a rock from the sun to the earth and hitting the target within one third of a mile of dead center.
- Scientists recently computed an important physical constraint to an extraordinary accuracy. To put the accuracy in perspective, imagine throwing a rock from New York to Los Angeles and hitting the target within two thirds of an inch of dead center.
Which statement seems more accurate?
As you may have guessed, the accuracy levels in both questions are exactly the same, but when different groups evaluated the two statements, 58 percent of respondents ranked the statistic about the sun to the earth as “very impressive.” That jumped to 83 percent for the statistic about New York to Los Angeles. We have no human experience, no intuition, about the distance between the sun and the earth. The distance from New York to Los Angeles is much more tangible.
Statistics aren’t inherently helpful; it’s the scale and context that make them so.
When it comes to statistics, our best advice is to use them as input, not output. Use them to make up your mind on an issue. Don’t make up your mind and then go looking for the numbers to support yourself—that’s asking for temptation and trouble. But if we use statistics to help us make up our minds, we’ll be in a great position to share the pivotal numbers with others, as did Geoff Ainscow and the Beyond War supporters
What Not to Do with Statistics
When we use statistics, the less we rely on the actual numbers the better. The numbers inform us about the underlying relationship, but there are better ways to illustrate the underlying relationship than the numbers themselves. Juxtaposing the deer and the shark is similar to Ainscow’s use of BBs in a bucket.
The Sinatra Test of Credibility
We’ve seen that we can make our ideas more credible, on their own merits, by using compelling details or by using statistics. A third way to develop internal credibility is to use a particular type of example, an example that passes what we call the Sinatra Test.
In Frank Sinatra’s classic “New York, New York,” he sings about starting a new life in New York City, and the chorus declares, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” An example passes the Sinatra Test when one example alone is enough to establish credibility in a given domain. For instance, if you’ve got the security contract for Fort Knox, you’re in the running for any security contract (even if you have no other clients). If you catered a White House function, you can compete for any catering contract. It’s the Sinatra Test: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
Asking customers to test a claim for them-selves—is a “testable credential.” Testable credentials can provide an enormous credibility boost, since they essentially allow your audience members to “try before they buy.”
Testable credentials are useful in many domains. For example, take the question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Ronald Reagan famously posed this question to the audience during his 1980 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter. Reagan could have focused on statistics—the high inflation rate, the loss of jobs, the rising interest rates. But instead of selling his case he deferred to his audience.
Analytical versus Emotional
To raise funding to an african cause, some researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University tried two versions of a request letter. One had lots of facts, and the other one was written like this:
Any money that you donate will go to Rokia, a seven-year-old girl from Mali, Africa. Rokia is desperately poor and faces the threat of severe hunger or even starvation. Her life will be changed for the better as a result of your financial gift. With your support, and the support of other caring sponsors, Save the Children will work with Rokia’s family and other members of the community to help feed and educate her and provide basic medical care and hygiene education.
The researchers gave participants one of the two different letters, then left them alone. They chose how much money, if any, to put back into the envelope, then they sealed the envelope and handed it back to a researcher.
On average, the people who read the statistics contributed $1.14. The people who read about Rokia contributed $2.38—more than twice as much.
The researchers theorized that thinking about statistics shifts people into a more analytical frame of mind. When people think analytically, they’re less likely to think emotionally. And the researchers believed it was people’s emotional response to Rokia’s plight that led them to act.
Everyone believes there is tremendous human suffering in Africa; there’s no doubt about the facts. But belief does not necessarily make people care enough to act. Everyone believes that eating lots of fatty food leads to health problems; there’s no doubt about the facts. But the belief does not make people care enough to act.
The Power of Association
The most basic way to make people care is to form an association between something they don’t yet care about and something they do care about. We all naturally practice the tactic of association. What “relativity” and “unique” teach us is that in using associations we can overuse colors. Over time, associations get overused and become diluted in value; people end up saying things like “This is really, truly unique.”
The superlatives of one generation—groovy, awesome, cool, phat—fade over time because they’ve been associated with too many things. When you hear your father call something “cool,” coolness loses its punch. When your finance professor starts using the word “dude,” you must eliminate the word from your vocabulary. Using associations, then, is an arms race of sorts. The other guy builds a missile, so you have to build two. If he’s “unique,” you’ve got to be “super-unique.”
How to Make People Care
Since 1988, Jim Thompson, the founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), has struggled with an important problem. How do you clean up the bad behavior often associated with youth sports?
Sportsmanship was once a powerful idea in athletics, but Thompson felt that it had become a weak term. “Sportsmanship trophies are seen as consolation prizes for losers,” he says.
Thompson knew that people still admired the underlying ideals of sportsmanship. Parents did want their kids to learn respect and manners from athletics. Coaches did want to be mentors, not just victorious taskmasters. Kids did want their teams to be respected by others. All three groups sometimes slipped up and acted like jerks. But Thompson saw that the need and the desire for sportsmanship remained, even though the term “sportsmanship” had lost its ability to motivate good behavior.
Thompson and the PCA needed a different way of encouraging people, not just to avoid bad behavior but to embrace good behavior.
They called it Honoring the Game. People care about sports, they care about the Game. It’s a way of making the point that the Game and its integrity are larger than the individual participants. “Honoring the Game” is a kind of sports patriotism. It implies that you owe your sport basic respect.
If we want to make people care, we’ve got to tap into the things they care about. When everybody taps into the same thing, an arms race emerges. To avoid it, we’ve either got to shift onto new turf, as Thompson did, or find associations that are distinctive for our ideas.
Appealing to Self-Interest
What matters to people? People matter to themselves. It will come as no surprise that one reliable way of making people care is by invoking self-interest.
In 1925, John Caples was assigned to write a headline for an advertisement promoting the correspondence music course offered by the U.S. School of Music. Caples had no advertising experience, but he was a natural. He sat at his typewriter and pecked out the most famous headline in print-advertising history: “They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano … But When I Started to Play!”
This is a classic underdog story in fifteen words. People laughed at him! And he shut them up through his playing!
So what’s the nonadvertising, nonschlocky takeaway from the Caples techniques? The first lesson is not to overlook self-interest. Jerry Weissman, a former TV producer and screenwriter who now coaches CEOs in how to deliver speeches, says that you shouldn’t dance around the appeal to self-interest. He says that the WIIFY—“what’s in it for you,” pronounced whiff-y—should be a central aspect of every speech.
If you’ve got self-interest on your side, don’t bury it. Don’t talk around it. Even subtle tweaks can make a difference. It’s important, Caples says, to keep the self in self-interest: “Don’t say, ‘People will enjoy a sense of security when they use Goodyear Tires.’ Say, ‘You enjoy a sense of security when you use Goodyear Tires.’”
Self-Interest and Decision Making
Sometimes self-interest helps people care, and sometimes it backfires. What are we to make of this? The mystery deepens if we consider politics. The conventional wisdom is that voters are paragons of self-interest. If there’s a proposal on the table to raise the marginal tax rate on the highest incomes, we expect rich people to vote against it and everyone else to vote for it.
Actually, this conventional wisdom is wrong. There’s not much evidence that public opinion can be predicted by narrow self-interest. So, if people aren’t supporting their own self-interest, whose interests are they supporting?
The answer is nuanced. First, self-interest does seem to matter, quite a bit, when the effects of a public policy are significant, tangible, and immediate. Second, self-interest shapes what we pay attention to, even if it doesn’t dictate our stance.
But self-interest isn’t the whole story. Principles—equality, individualism, ideals about government, human rights, and the like—may matter to us even when they violate our immediate self-interest. We may dislike hearing the views of some fringe political group but support its right to speak because we treasure free speech.
And perhaps the most important part of the story is this: “Group interest” is often a better predictor of political opinions than self-interest. Kinder says that in forming opinions people seem to ask not “What’s in it for me?” but, rather, “What’s in it for my group?” Our group affiliation may be based on race, class, religion, gender, region, political party, industry, or countless other dimensions of difference.
A related idea comes from James March, a professor at Stanford University, who proposes that we use two basic models to make decisions. The first model involves calculating consequences. We weigh our alternatives, assessing the value of each one, and we choose the alternative that yields us the most value. This model is the standard view of decision-making in economics classes: People are self-interested and rational. The rational agent asks, Which sofa will provide me with the greatest comfort and the best aesthetics for the price? Which political candidate will best serve my economic and social interests? The second model is quite different. It assumes that people make decisions based on identity. They ask themselves three questions: Who am I? What kind of situation is this? And what do people like me do in this kind of situation?
Notice that in the second model people aren’t analyzing the consequences or outcomes for themselves. There are no calculations, only norms and principles. Which sofa would someone like me—a Southeastern accountant—be more likely to buy? Which political candidate should a Hollywood Buddhist get behind? It’s almost as if people consulted an ideal self-image: What would someone like me do?
Self-interest is important. There’s no question that we can make people care by appealing to it. But it makes for a limited palette. Always structuring our ideas around self-interest is like always painting with one color. It’s stifling for us and uninspiring for others.
The Three Whys
The tactic of the “Three Whys” can be useful in bypassing the Curse of Knowledge. (Toyota actually has a “Five Whys” process for getting to the bottom of problems on its production line. Feel free to use as many “Whys” as you like.) Asking “Why?” helps to remind us of the core values, the core principles, that underlie our ideas
How to Make People Care About our Ideas
How can we make people care about our ideas? We get them to take off their Analytical Hats. We create empathy for specific individuals. We show how our ideas are associated with things that people already care about. We appeal to their self-interest, but we also appeal to their identities—not only to the people they are right now but also to the people they would like to be
And, while we should always think about “what’s in it” for our audience, we should remember to stay clear of Maslow’s Basement. “What’s in it” for our audience might be aesthetic motivation or the desire for transcendence rather than a $250 bonus.
The story’s power is twofold: It provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act). Note that both benefits, simulation and inspiration, are geared to generating action. In the last few chapters, we’ve seen that a credible idea makes people believe. An emotional idea makes people care.
Why Mental Simulation Works
Why does mental simulation work? It works because we can’t imagine events or sequences without evoking the same modules of the brain that are evoked in real physical activity. Brain scans show that when people imagine a flashing light, they activate the visual area of the brain; when they imagine someone tapping on their skin, they activate tactile areas of the brain. The activity of mental simulation is not limited to the insides of our heads. People who imagine words that start with b or p can’t resist subtle lip movements, and people who imagine looking at the Eiffel Tower can’t resist moving their eyes upward. Mental simulation can even alter visceral physical responses: When people drink water but imagine that it’s lemon juice, they salivate more. Even more surprisingly, when people drink lemon juice but imagine that it’s water, they salivate less.
Mental simulations help us manage emotions. There is a standard treatment for phobias of various kinds—spiders, public speaking, airplane travel, and others. Patients are introduced to a relaxation procedure that inhibits anxiety, and then asked to visualize exposure to the thing they fear. The first visualizations start at the periphery of the fear. For example, someone who’s afraid of air travel might start by thinking about the drive to the airport. The therapist leads the patient through a series of visualizations that get closer and closer to the heart of the fear (“Now the airplanes’ engines are revving up on the runway, sounding louder and louder …”). Each time the visualizations create anxiety, the person pauses for a moment and uses the relaxation technique to restore equilibrium.
Notice that these visualizations focus on the events themselves—the process, rather than the outcomes. No one has ever been cured of a phobia by imagining how happy they’ll be when it’s gone.
Mental simulation helps with problem-solving. Even in mundane planning situations, mentally simulating an event helps us think of things that we might otherwise have neglected. Imagining a trip to the grocery store reminds us that we could drop off the dry cleaning at the store in the same shopping center. Mental simulations help us anticipate appropriate responses to future situations. Picturing a potential argument with our boss, imagining what she will say, may lead us to have the right words available when the time comes (and avoid saying the wrong words). Research has suggested that mental rehearsal can prevent people from relapsing into bad habits such as smoking, excessive drinking, or overeating. A man trying to kick a drinking problem will be better off if he mentally rehearses how he will handle Super Bowl Sunday: How should he respond when someone gets up for beers?
Perhaps most surprisingly, mental simulation can also build skills. A review of thirty-five studies featuring 3,214 participants showed that mental practice alone—sitting quietly, without moving, and picturing yourself performing a task successfully from start to finish—improves performance significantly. Not surprisingly, mental practice is more effective when a task involves more mental activity (e.g., trombone playing) as opposed to physical activity (e.g., balancing), but the magnitude of gains from mental practice is large on average: Overall, mental practice alone produced about two thirds of the benefits of actual physical practice.
The takeaway is simple: Mental simulation is not as good as actually doing something, but it’s the next best thing. And, to circle back to the world of sticky ideas, what we’re suggesting is that the right kind of story is, effectively, a simulation. Stories are like flight simulators for the brain. Hearing the nurse’s heart-monitor story isn’t like being there, but it’s the next best thing.
This is the role that stories play—putting knowledge into a framework that is more lifelike, more true to our day-to-day existence. More like a flight simulator. Being the audience for a story isn’t so passive, after all. Inside, we’re getting ready to act.
How do we make sure that we don’t let a great idea float right under our nose? Spotting isn’t hard, but it isn’t natural, either. Ideas don’t flag themselves to get our attention. We have to consciously look for the right ones. So what is it, exactly, that we should look for?
Just as there are ad templates that have been proven effective, so, too, there are story templates that have been proven effective. Learning the templates gives our spotting ability a huge boost.
Aristotle believed there were four primary dramatic plots: Simple Tragic, Simple Fortunate, Complex Tragic, and Complex Fortunate. Robert McKee, the screenwriting guru, lists twenty-five types of stories in his book: the modern epic, the disillusionment plot, and so on. When we finished sorting through a big pile of inspirational stories—a much narrower domain—we came to the conclusion that there are three basic plots: the Challenge plot, the Connection plot, and the Creativity plot.
These three basic plots can be used to classify more than 80 percent of the stories that appear in the original Chicken Soup collection. Perhaps more surprisingly, they can also be used to classify more than 60 percent of the stories published by People magazine about people who aren’t celebrities. If an average person makes it into People, it’s usually because he or she has an inspiring story for the rest of us.
The Challenge Plot
The story of David and Goliath is the classic Challenge plot. A protagonist overcomes a formidable challenge and succeeds. David fells a giant with his homemade slingshot. There are variations of the Challenge plot that we all recognize: the underdog story, the rags-toiches story, the triumph of sheer willpower over adversity.
The key element of a Challenge plot is that the obstacles seem daunting to the protagonist. The American Revolution. Seabiscuit. The Star Wars movies. Lance Armstrong.
Challenge plots are inspiring even when they’re much less dramatic and historical than these examples. Challenge plots are inspiring in a defined way. They inspire us by appealing to our perseverance and courage. They make us want to work harder, take on new challenges, overcome obstacles. Challenge plots inspire us to act.
The Connection Plot
A Connection plot is all about a story about people who develop a relationship that bridges a gap—racial, class, ethnic, religious, demographic, or otherwise. The Connection plot doesn’t have to deal with life-and-death stakes, as does the Good Samaritan. The connection can be as trivial as a bottle of a Coke, as in the famous Mean Joe Greene commercial. A scrawny young white fan encounters a towering famous black athlete. A bottle of Coke links them. It ain’t the Good Samaritan, but it’s clearly a Connection plot.
Connection plots are also fabulous for romance stories—think of Romeo and Juliet (or the top-grossing movie of all time, Titanic). All Connection plots inspire us in social ways. They make us want to help others, be more tolerant of others, work with others, love others.
Where Challenge plots involve overcoming challenges, Connection plots are about our relationships with other people. If you’re telling a story at the company Christmas party, it’s probably best to use the Connection plot. If you’re telling a story at the kickoff party for a new project, go with the Challenge plot.
The Creativity Plot
The third major type of inspirational story is the Creativity plot. The prototype might be the story of the apple that falls on Newton’s head, inspiring his theory of gravity. The Creativity plot involves someone making a mental breakthrough, solving a long-standing puzzle, or attacking a problem in an innovative way.
How Important Stories Are
Stories can almost single-handedly defeat the Curse of Knowledge. In fact, they naturally embody 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. You don’t want a general lining up his troops before battle to tell a Connection plot story.
Stories have the amazing dual power to simulate and to inspire. And most of the time we don’t even have to use much creativity to harness these powers—we just need to be ready to spot the good ones that life generates every day.
Accepting the Audience’s Opinion
In making ideas stick, the audience gets a vote. The audience may change the meaning of your idea, as happened with Durocher. The audience may actually improve your idea, as was the case with Sherlock Holmes. Or the audience may retain some of your ideas and jettison others, as with Carville.
All of us tend to have a lot of “idea pride.” We want our message to endure in the form we designed. Durocher’s response, when the audience shaped his idea, was to deny, deny, deny … then eventually accept.
The question we have to ask ourselves in any situation is this: Is the audience’s version of my message still core?
If the world takes our ideas and changes them—or accepts some and discards others—all we need to decide is whether the mutated versions are still core. If they are—as with “It’s the economy, stupid”—then we should humbly embrace the audience’s judgment. Ultimately, the test of our success as idea creators isn’t whether people mimic our exact words, it’s whether we achieve our goals.
Spotting versus Creating Ideas
In the Introduction, we debunked the common assumption that you need natural creative genius to cook up a great idea. You don’t. But, beyond that, it’s crucial to realize that creation, period, is unnecessary.
Think of the ideas in this book that were spotted rather than created: Nordies. Jared. The mystery of Saturn’s rings. Pam Laffin, the smoking antiauthority. The nurse who ignored the heart monitor, listened with her stethoscope, and saved the baby’s life. If you’re a great spotter, you’ll always trump a great creator. Why? Because the world will always produce more great ideas than any single individual, even the most creative one
Why Can’t Smart People Make Ideas Stick?
Why can’t these smart, talented speakers make their ideas stick? A few of the villains discussed in this book are implicated. 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 know ing a lot, or having access to a lot of information, is that we’re tempted to share it all. High school teachers will tell you that when students write research papers they feel obligated to include every unearthed fact, as though the value were in the quantity of data amassed rather than in its pur pose or clarity. Stripping out information, in order to focus on the core, is not instinctual.
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 won’t save a dense, unfocused speech, as some Stanford students learn the hard way
How to Overcome the Curse of Knowledge
The archvillain of sticky ideas, as you know by now, is the Curse of Knowledge.
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.
Here’s the rub: The same factors that worked to your advantage in the Answer stage will backfire on you during the Telling Others stage. To get the Answer, you need expertise, but you can’t dissociate expertise from the Curse of Knowledge. You know things that others don’t know, and you can’t remember what it was like not to know those things. So when you get around to sharing the Answer, you’ll tend to communicate as if your audience were you.
You’ll stress the scads of statistics that were pivotal in arriving at the Answer—and, like the Stanford students, you’ll find that no one remembers them afterward. You’ll share the punch line—the overarching truth that emerged from months of study and analysis—and, like the CEO who stresses “maximizing shareholder value” to his frontline employees, no one will have a clue how your punch line relates to the day-to-day work.
Making an Idea Stick: the Communication Framework
For an idea to stick, for it to be useful and lasting, it’s got to make the audience:
- Pay attention
- Understand and remember it
- Be able to act on it
The SUCCESs checklist is a substitute for the framework above, and its advantage is that it’s more tangible and less subject to the Curse of Knowledge. In fact, if you think back across the chapters you’ve read, you’ll notice that the framework matches up nicely:
- Pay attention – Unexpected
- Understand and remember it – Concrete
- Agree/Believe – Credible
- Care – Emotional
- Be able to act on it – Story
So, rather than guess about whether people will understand our ideas, we should ask, “Is it concrete?” Rather than speculate about whether people will care, we should ask, “Is it emotional? Does it get out of Maslow’s basement? Does it force people to put on an Analytical Hat or allow them to feel empathy?” (By the way, “Simple” is not on the list above because it’s mainly about the Answer stage—honing in on the core of your message and making it as compact as possible. But Simple messages help throughout the process, especially in helping people to understand and act.)
The SUCCESs checklist, then, is an ideal tool for dealing with communication problems. Let’s look at some common symptoms of communication problems and how we can respond to them
How to Get People to Pay Attention to a Message
Create curiosity gaps—tell people just enough for them to realize the piece that’s missing from their knowledge. (Remember Roone Arledge’s introductions to college football games, setting the context for the rivalry.) Or create mysteries or puzzles that are slowly solved over the course of the communication. (Like the professor who started each class with a mystery, such as the one about Saturn’s rings.)
How to Get People to Understand and Remember/Agree and Believe You
Make the message simpler and use concrete language. Use what people already know as a way to make your intentions clearer, as with a generative analogy (like Disney’s “cast member” metaphor). Or use concrete, real-world examples. Don’t talk about “knowledge management;” tell a story about a health worker in Zambia getting information on malaria from the Internet.
Create a highly concrete turf where people can apply their knowledge. (Think of the venture-capital pitch for a portable computer where the entrepreneur tossed his binder onto the table, sparking brainstorming.) Have people grapple with specific examples or cases rather than concepts.
How to Get People to Care and Act
Remember the Mother Teresa effect—people care more about individuals than they do about abstractions. Tell them an inspiring Challenge plot or Creativity plot story. Tap into their sense of their own identities, like the “Don’t Mess with Texas” ads, which suggested that not littering was the Texan thing to do.
Inspire them with a Challenge plot story (Jared, David and Goliath) or engage them by using a springboard story (the World Bank). Make sure your message is simple and concrete enough to be useful—turn it into a proverb (“Names, names, and names”).
Making Strategies Stick: Three Principles
- Be concrete. The beauty of concrete language—language that is specific and sensory—is that everyone understands your message in a similar way. Trader Joe’s “unemployed college professor” provides a common understanding; “upscale but budget-conscious customer” does not.
- Say something unexpected. If a strategy is common sense, don’t waste your time communicating it. (If it’s common sense, why bother?) It’s critical, though, for leaders to identify the uncommon sense in their strategies. What’s new about the strategy? What’s different? Edison’s muckers concept was uncommon sense—in an era when hard work involved farming from dawn until dusk, Edison was telling people to goof around at work.
- Tell stories. A good story is better than an abstract strategy statement. Remember, you can reconstruct the moral from the story, but you can’t reconstruct the story from the moral. Think of the power packed into the FedEx Purple Promise award stories, or Costco’s salmon stories. If your company doesn’t have stories that convey your strategy, that should be a warning flag about your strategy—it may not be sufficiently clear to influence how people act. (Otherwise, you’d have some stories to tell.)
How to Unstick a Sticky Idea
You can’t. There’s no Goo Gone for ideas. Sticky ideas stick. There are millions of people who’ve come to follow, willingly or unwillingly, the antics of a party-girl heiress. There’s no magic sticky incantation that will make us divert our attention to alternative energy, or some other worthy topic. Our best advice, on the Paris Hilton matter, was: Just wait it out. As we age, the memories will fade, and perhaps those neurons will die off entirely. (With any luck, they’ll go before the “dress ourselves” neurons.)
But the question—How do I unstick an idea?—nagged at us. The thing is: we shouldn’t try to unstick ideas. We should fight sticky with stickier, meet Scotch tape with duct tape.
Sometimes the best way to fight a sticky idea is not with a message at all, even a stickier one. Sometimes what you need is a sticky action.
So, first of all, be realistic. It took seventeen years for reliability races to establish public trust in the automobile. The rumor about earthworms in McDonald’s hamburgers still circulates in some places, despite Ray Kroc’s brilliant response. Sticky ideas endure, and, as we’ve seen in the book, that can be a great thing. It can also be a real nuisance if you’re working against a sticky idea that’s false.
Our advice is simple: Fight sticky ideas with stickier ideas. We hope we’ve given you some useful tools for making your ideas sticky. And if you want to unstick Paris Hilton, maybe you should be looking for another fame-hungry heiress to take her place? (We’re not sure heiress races will do the trick.)