Must Read Book: Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath (Book Review)

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There are books you want your students (and everyone else who works in communication!) to read, and there are books they must read.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip & Dan Heath falls into the must read category. Here’s why:

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Made to Stick addresses the challenge of getting ideas across in the age of content barrage. In the hyper-connected social world, we need to take to heart the communication skills the authors address in this book.

The book advocates that communicators focus on SUCCES – or building ideas that are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and Stories.

Of course, some of these ideas you’ve heard elsewhere, like the power of storytelling. You’ve probably heard about consumer identity before, such as this Seth Godin quote PRNews posted to Instagram recently.

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But, there are important reminders, great examples, tips, and even exercises for helping you not just talk the talk about creating stories with your students, but jump in with them as they create memorable messages.

Here’s a quick rundown of the SUCCES model.

Simple = core idea+ compact (few words).  Think of proverbs like “waste not, want not” – rules of thumb that help guide individual decisions. Simple ideas aren’t dumbed down. They are made accessible.

Unexpected – Common sense is a waste of breath.Yet, we see it all the time, especially in employee communication. Think training manuals: “Try to defuse conflict…”  The idea has to be novel and break conventional wisdom. One of my favorite phrases from the book is: “Imagination is flight simulation for the mind.” Think about how true that is and how it brings existing schema together. But saying, imagination is practice is simple but it is not unexpected and not concrete.

Concrete – Make abstract ideas (e.g., statistics) concrete. Don’t simply tell, show by putting the person into the experience.

Credible – Your wisdom of communicator credibility gives you a start. But the book offers more than what typically comes to mind, such as spokespersons and influencers.

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Emotional – Emotions make people care.  As Josef Stalin once said, “One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic.” Focus on individuals, they are easier to relate to. Interestingly, our overuse of certain terms deludes their emotional impact. The authors call this ‘semantic stretch.’ If everything is awesome, nothing is awesome (Sorry Emmet from the Lego movie). New phrases are sometimes needed to reboot  emotional connections.

Stories – Creating stories can be challenging. But, there are many inspiring stories all around us. Professional communicators often fail to see them. The book cites the Jared weight-loss story and the  “Subway diet” ad that made Jared a household name years ago. At the time, Subway had a competing ad campaign about the number of subs that were low in fat (stats). No one remembers that.  But the story of the “Subway diet” and Jared almost never saw the light of day were it not for a few persistent people. The book talks about effective plots and finding the story.

This book goes hand in hand with what we are working to help our students do. or, as the authors put it, get people to: Pay Attention, Understand and Remember, Believe and Agree, Care, and Act.

Using This Book In Your Teaching:

Students are more distracted than ever. You better bring the superglue to your classes.

Educators themselves, Heath and Heath provide several examples of how these ideas can apply to the classroom.  In fact, there is a section in the back specifically for teachers. Read this book to help you make your classes a bit stickier. It sure helped me.

Using This Book In Class:

There are many ways you could incorporate this text. It could be used in an intro course, a persuasion course, or any number of other courses where students will get to apply what they are learning in the book into class exercises or projects. I’m thinking about making it a required text in my Strategic Campaigns class next year. Ideally, I’d like to get these ideas into their hands earlier in their schooling.But, for me, the book just seems to fit best in that class. It’s going to be a fun addition and I think the students will really benefit.

While reading the book last semester, I would come into class and start talking about topics from the book like “Creating mystery.” I’d stand before my students as they worked on their campaign proposal pitches and talk about how they can build stronger hooks for their pitch. In creating campaign themes and slogans, we talked about SUCCES.  These were off-the-cuff. Next year, I plan to integrate specific ideas into the class and plan activities for students to apply concepts to deconstruct real world examples as well as build their own messaging.

I’ve also used reinforcement from this book in my professional work outside the classroom.

Whether you use this book in your classes directly, use it to reinforce what you already know or learn new ideas, apply it to your own professional communication, or use it ramp up the superglue in your classroom, I think you’ll find it a worthwhile read.

This is the best book I read last year. It’s a must read for communication professionals, professors, and students.

-Cheers!

Matt

Lego characters property of the Lego Group. Book logo property of Random House.

 

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