Why do some ideas catch on, seem to take on a life of their own, and go viral while others seem to simply wither and die with a mere whimper? If you want to understand what makes a good idea, well a good idea…and if you’re interested in getting other people to embrace your ideas then you may want to pick up a copy of “Made to Stick.” In this book authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath assert that creating a successful idea is built through a simple, unexpected, concrete, credentialed, emotional, story.
How do we find the essential core of our ideas? 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, a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.
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 counter-intuitive. 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 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 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.
How do we make people believe our ideas? Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials, an intrinsic believability. We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves — a “try before you buy” philosophy for the world of ideas.
How do we get people to care about our ideas? We make them feel something. 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.
How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories.
The story Subway has used about “Jared” fits this model well. Even skinny people who aren’t interested in dieting are inspired by Jared’s story. He fought big odds and prevailed through perseverance. And this is the second major payoff that stories provide: inspiration. Inspiration drives action. Take a look at how well Jared’s story does on the 6 principles above:
It’s simple: Eat subs and lose weight.
It’s unexpected: A guy lost a ton of weight by eating fast food! This story violates our ideas about fast food.
It’s concrete: Think of the over-sized pants, the massive weight loss, and the diet composed of sandwiches.
It’s credible: The guy who was wearing 60-inch pants is giving us diet advice!
It’s emotional: We care more about an individual, Jared, than we do the masses. It’s a heartfelt story about a guy that reaches his potential and overcomes adversity.
It’s a story: Our protagonist overcomes big odds to triumph. It inspires the rest of us to do the same.
Posted in Creative Arts, Leadership