Book Review: Made to Stick

Whether it is for school, work, or just everyday interaction, communicating ideas effectively is one of the most crucial skills one can learn: especially in an age of hyper-connection. When ideas fail to be communicated properly, it leads to confusion. How do we solve the issue of failed communication? How can we share ideas so that they are memorable? In the book Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath explore the attributes of ideas that make a lasting impact.

It is critical to learn how to communicate ideas that make a lasting impact. We live in an era where the world is moving faster than ever. Effective communication is necessary to pass on information, quickly and accurately. Whether it is a CEO pitching their company in front of investors or a pre-school teacher giving instruction to their students, communication is everything. Made to Stick provides the blueprints so that you can stop wasting efforts and start making the ideas you express more memorable.

Why do we fail to communicate?

In 1990, a study was conducted by Elizabeth Newton in which she assigned a group of people two roles: a “tapper” and a “listener”. The “tapper” was asked to tap out the rhythm of a well-known song such as “Happy Birthday to You” on a table. The listener was responsible for trying to guess which song was being tapped on the table. This study was conducted 120 times. When asking the tapper how often they think the listener would be able to guess which song they tapped, they predicted 50%. How often did the listener guess the correct song? 2.5%. This can be explained as “the curse of knowledge”. The curse of knowledge is a bias that a communicator has when they assume that their audience has the same background and knowledge as they do. To help avoid communication biases, Dan and Chip Heath came up with an acronym to help guide the different aspects every strong idea must have: SUCCES.








 Simple. “Core messages help people avoid bad choices by reminding them of what’s important.” 

Determining the single most important idea will help an audience better understand what the main takeaways are. 

Unexpected. “The first problem of communication is getting people’s attention.”

Unexpected events force the brain to pay attention. Incorporating unexpected elements to your stories or ideas will pique your audience’s interest. We won’t remember the patterns, but we will remember the idea that broke the pattern.

Concrete. “Trying to teach an abstract principle without concrete foundations is like trying to start a house by building a roof in the air.”

Abstract ideas are hard to interpret. It leaves the audience to interpret the idea themselves, which can lead to miscommunication. Concrete language provides a common language and a foundation, which are important when expressing thoughts in group settings.

Credible. “Statistics aren’t inherently helpful: it’s the scale and context that make them so.”

One way to strengthen an idea is to use the words of an expert to back your idea. Statistics are a great way of adding credibility, but they need to be accessible. People won’t necessarily remember the exact statistic, but they’ll remember the relevance of the statistic within the right context.

Emotional. “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.” 

Emotions are the most natural way to get your audience to care about your message.  The “why” of an idea is the single most powerful takeaway. Appealing to who your audience is on a personal level makes your message more impactful in ways that numbers cannot.

Stories. “Mental simulation is not as good as actually doing something, but it’s the next best thing.”

Being able to communicate an idea in a story is a critical aspect of a sticky idea. Stories offer a way for the audience to think for themselves while you present your idea.