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Making Ideas Stick

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Evolution has designed human beings to survive in a group. Communicating our ideas effectively is essential for our existence.

As I mentioned in my comments on the book The Tipping Point, one of the fundamental factors for guaranteeing that our ideas spread like an epidemic is precisely what the brothers Chip and Dan Heath describe in their book about the "stickiness factor," Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Simply put, the stickiness factor is a quality that makes some concepts stay alive in the collective memory of society and even self-propagate.

Based on research of different forms of communication, from teaching to urban legends, the Heath brothers identified six characteristics that guarantee a "sticky" way of selling ideas:

  1. Simple
  2. Unexpected
  3. Concrete
  4. Credible
  5. Emotional
  6. Stories
  • Simple: Simplicity means expressing the core of an idea in a few words. The best of example of "simple" in an idea is any proverb: for example "a bird in hand" is a phrase we can find in dozens of cultures. One of our values is precisely "quick and simple".
  • Unexpected: This makes it possible to solve the initial problem of communication: getting the attention of the person you're communicating with, breaking down preconceived ideas so they pay attention to you.
  • Concrete: Language is abstract, but life is not. The Heath brothers don't recommend you dumb down your ideas so anybody can understand you: that is a lack of respect for your audience and yourself. Rather, what you should do is give examples, make models, concretize. Often we explain our ideas in a totally abstract way when people are dying for a good example. The Greek fabulist Aesop was a magician in concretizing ideas; that is why his teachings have lasted more than 2,500 years.
  • Credible: There are several ways to achieve credibility for what we want to say: giving details or statistics, using public figures or celebrities (or anti-celebrities). Make your clients test your ideas and products; that's the best way to gain their trust.
  • Emotional: Mother Teresa of Calcutta taught us that when we bring a human being in trouble close to us -- not when we speak about an abstract need -- we are more likely to help. People will seek to identify with a group and its values; very often appealing to their emotions is more effective than appealing to reason.
  • Stories: Everyone remembers a spectacular urban legend or a message behind a human interest story. Few people memorize informational bulletins or mailings.

In all human activity, it is vital that our ideas move people: a simple idea makes people set priorities; an unexpected idea attracts their attention; a concrete idea is easier to understand; a truthful idea makes people believe; an emotional idea makes people desire; and a good story invites the audience to act.