If you want to be a more effective communicator, this book is just what you need.If you want to be a more effective communicator, this book is just what you need.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been much of a story-teller or a fan of public-speaking. Crafting captivating narratives have never been my forte, and I’ve often struggled when it comes to communicating ideas that stick. If you’ve faced similar challenges, this book might just be what you need.
“Made To Stick” is a great resource that teaches you how to become a more effective communicator. Written by the Heath Brothers, it breaks down the magic behind sticky messages to help you share your ideas better. Beyond flawless delivery and insightful content, ideas stick because they possess a set of traits that allow them to persist throughout generations.
The SUCCESs Framework
Collectively known as “the SUCCESs framework”, these traits help readers understand what makes certain ideas sticky. They are:
By crafting our messages with these traits, they will leave a lasting impression among our audience for generations to come. Let’s take a deeper look into what each trait represents, and how we can use them.
“If you say three things, you don’t say anything.”
“Simple” messages must highlight the core aspect in a compact manner. Instead of dumbing down messages, it distills it down to a “rule of thumb” that guides people to adhere to its key intent. By being extremely selective and only presenting that one key idea, it helps to streamline the message and prevents us from “burying the lead” among the details.
One effective strategy shared in the book is to leverage on “schemas”. Schemas are pre-existing concepts that listeners already know, serving as tags for us to anchor our messages on to. When combined with a modifier (e.g. “an oversized grapefruit” to describe a pomelo ), schemas help the audience understand what we’re trying to say quickly without the need to provide too many details.
“… we can’t demand attention; we must attract it.”
To land a message, we must first be able to get people’s attention. In addition, we must also be able to keep the attention in order to delivery the message across completely. To achieve this, we introduce an element of unexpectedness in the way we communicate our ideas. This works because it invokes two key emotions – surprise and interest; Surprise captures the attention, while interest sustains the attention.
We can invoke surprise by going against pre-existing schemas. When messages go against the usual predictability of our schemas, it changes the expected outcome in our minds. Therefore, surprise works because it exploits the brain’s natural tendency to notice changes in our surroundings (e.g. blinking lights, ambulance sirens).
To do this, first we’ll need to figure out what is counterintuitive about our messages. Then, we communicate it across in way that breaks common sense. This creates a gap in our knowledge that demands closure, which makes listeners stick around to find out the answer. The authors describe this sense of curiosity elegantly in saying that it “comes from a gap between what we know and what we want to know”. In other words, with unexpectedness, we shift the thinking from “what information do I need to convey?” to “what questions do I want my audience to ask?”.
“Concreteness is a way of mobilising and focusing your brain.”
Concreteness is about turning abstract ideas into an experience – something that is relatable through the five senses. It makes messages objective, thereby limiting the number of ways it can be interpreted. Schemas work well to serve this function because they are the “building blocks of our existing knowledge and perceptions”. Therefore, we can tap on them to explain the context behind ideas to establish a universal language that everyone understands.
For this to work, ideas need to be communicated as specifically as possible. Imagine you’re now the Chief Engineer of Audi and you’re tasked to design the latest model of the R8 Coupe. Which of the two messages below do think will help your team understand what you want to achieve better?
- “The new 2020 Audi R8 Coupe must be the fastest sports car in the world.”
- “The new 2020 Audi R8 Coupe must be able to go from 0-100 km/h in five seconds.”
If you’ve picked #2, you’re on the right track!
“A citizen of the modern world… learns to develop skepticism about the sources of those messages”
Messages need to have weight or a sense of authority so that people will accept it without doubt. It draws upon previous schemas of what constitutes as an authority or influencer that makes ideas credible. Without it, ideas will bounce off skepticism and disbelief into oblivion. This principle is prevalent in advertising, where the medium of communicating the message matters. Maybe this is why we tend to regard “word-of-mouth” marketing as the most powerful form of advertising.
We can make our ideas be more credible by introducing details and relevant statistics. According to the authors, “a person’s knowledge of details is often a good proxy for their expertise”. Details add realism to ideas because it helps listeners imagine and visualise the scene. Statistics contribute by illustrating a relationship. However, we must be careful with numbers because they are difficult to remember, especially if they cover large scales. Therefore, it is important to apply a “human-scale” to statistics to make them feel more tangible. Think “10 million gallons of water” versus “15 Olympic-sized swimming pools”.
“For people to take action, they have to care.”
Before people take action, they must first care. To do this, we introduce an element of emotion into our messages because it inspires people to act. This can be done on two fronts – on the individual level and on the community level.
On an individual level, we can make people care by appealing to things that matter to them. In this corner, it’s all about invoking self-interest; the “what’s-in-it-for-me”. The book references a great example that I also came across in Seth Godin’s “This Is Marketing“. This example describes how people don’t buy drill-bits for what they are; they buy it for the quarter-inch holes so that they can hang their children’s pictures. A similar analogy can be made about Singaporeans owning sports cars. In a country where the speed-limit on freeways are capped at 90 km/h, rich Singaporeans don’t buy sports cars for specifications; they buy it for the status of affluence it confers.
On the other hand, self-interest may not be as effective when applied to a group or a community. On this level, ideas that appeal to their perceptions of their group identity work better. People have a tendency to align themselves to group-think. They will ask themselves, “what do people like me do in a situation like this?”. There is thus a change from “what’s in it for me?” to “what’s in it for my group?”.
When crafting messages like this, try to frame it such that it puts the audience into the starring role. Go beyond the facts and highlight the benefits it will bring to the listener. When people can visualise and experience the benefits in their minds, it makes them more invested into the idea.
“The moral is implicit in the story, but the story is not implicit in the moral.”
The final component of the SUCCESs framework is about stories. If credible ideas make people believe, and emotional ideas make people care, then the right stories will make people act. Stories take the audience on a mental journey, helping them simulate the experience in their minds. This makes the idea feel more realistic and relatable.
Mental simulation activates the same areas of our brain as when we are doing the actual activity itself. According to the authors, it can produce about two-thirds of the benefits of actual physical practice. I’ve read about athletes who visualise games in their minds before events tends get “in the zone”. Personally, I find these mental exercises to be very helpful as it primes the body for the upcoming activity. Perhaps good and sticky stories are indeed effective simulations.
Stories also add hooks to our ideas in the form of emotions and context. These hooks exert a powerful effect on the audience as it turns them from passive listeners to active simulators. It encourages participation and buy-in, making it one step closer to winning the audience.
The Curse of Knowledge
One of the main reasons why it can be challenging to convey our ideas across effectively is due to the “Curse of Knowledge”. When we know too much, it sometimes becomes impossible for us to recall how was it like when we did not know what we know now. For example, have you ever tried to explain the the colour “red” or “blue” to someone who is colour-blind?
The Curse of Knowledge lurks in the shadows of every component of the SUCCESs framework above. It’s the reason why we have a tendency to “bury the lead”; pre-existing schemas make us predict what is expected to happen; different pre-existing schemas make it difficult for people to agree on generic expressions. This framework thus helps our audience generate an interpretation in their minds the same way we did in ours.
In making ideas stick, the audience gets a vote. Depending on how it is communicated, ideas may take on different forms, and may interpreted in various different ways. To ensure that our audience gets what we want them to understand, it’s important to keep it simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and shared with stories.
“Made To Stick” is a fantastic guidebook for anyone looking to overhaul their existing schemas about communication. The concepts introduced are super relevant and highly applicable in many aspects of our lives. As long as you need to communicate any idea to any one, you can practice the SUCCESs framework and be on your way to becoming a better communicator.
Share your thoughts with me!
If you’ve read “Made To Stick“, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book. Drop a comment below, or share this post with your friends with the tag @kopi.thoughts!