Made to Stick (review)

Whenever you give a presentation, the audience will forget nearly all of it within hours or days. However, sometimes ideas are "sticky" and they exist for years or centuries. This book by Dan and Chip Heath explores what makes ideas sticky and enables you to increase the stickyness of your ideas. The easiest way is to tell a story.

The students were flabbergasted at how little they remember. Keep in mind that only ten minutes have elapsed since the speeches were given. Nor was there a huge volume of information to begin with – at most, they've heard eight one-minute speeches. And yet the students are lucky to recall one or two ideas from each speaker's presentation.

When students are asked to recall the speeches, 63 percent remember the stories. Only 5 percent remember any individual statistic.

The distillate of the book, is the acronym SUCCES: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credentialed, Emotional, and Stories.

The biggest obstacle to stickyness is the Curse of Knowledge: It is hard to imagine how not to know something if you do. This is why experts have a hard time to explain their knowledge.

Accuracy to the point of uselessness is a symptom of the Curse of Knowledge. To a CEO, "maximizing shareholder value" may be an immensely useful rule of behavior. To a flight attendant, it's not. To a physicist, probability clouds are fascinating phenomena. To a child, they are incomprehensible.

People are tempted to tell you everything, with perfect accuracy, right up front, when they should be giving you just enough info to be useful, then a little more, then a little more.


The first aspect is special because it requires you to adapt your idea. Reduce it to its core because complex ideas are rarely sticky. Of course, you don't want to simplify an idea too much to loose its meaning, so this is not easy. Proverbs are examples of what you want to aim for.

The Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," is so profound that it can influence a lifetime of behavior. The Golden Rule is a great symbol of what we're chasing in this chapter: ideas that are compact enough to be sticky and meaningful enough to make a difference.


To get attention, tell something unexpected or mysterious. For example, Nordstrom brags about their customer service. They tell stories during onboarding, like the one where an employee kept the car of a customer warm.

To make a message stick, you've got to push it beyond common sense to uncommon sense. "Great customer service" is common sense. Warming customers' cars in the winter is uncommon sense.

You may withhold the answer to keep the attention.

Cialdini began to create mysteries in his own classroom, and the power of the approach quickly became clear. He would introduce the mystery at the start of class, return to it during the lecture, and reveal the answer at the end. In one lecture, though, the end-of-class bell rang before he had time to reveal the solution. He says, "Normally five to ten minutes before the scheduled end time, some students start preparing to leave. You know the signals–pencils are put away, notebooks folded, backpacks zipped up." This time, though, the class was silent. "After the bell ran, no one moved. In fact, when I tried to end the lecture without revealing the mystery, I was pelted with protests." He said he felt as if he'd discovered dynamite.


Abstraction is the luxury of experts. For a wider audience talk about concrete examples.

The manufacturing were thinking, Why don't you just come down to the factory floor and show me where the part should go? And the engineering people were thinking, What do I need to do to make the drawings better? [...]

Should both parties learn greater empathy for the other and, in essence, meet in the middle? Actually, no. The solution is for the engineers to change their behavior. Why? As Bechky notes, the physical machine was the most effective and relevant domain of communication. Everyone understands the machines fluently. Therefore problems should be solved at the level of the machine. [...]

The moral of the story is not to "dumb things down." The manufacturing people faced complex problems and they needed smart answers. Rather, the moral of the story is to find a "universal language," one that everyone speaks fluently. Inevitably, that universal language will be concrete.


Authority is helpful. If you have no authority already, a good example is also convincing.

When the directors of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange (LLDE) company tried to convince a workshop of people that their core value was ‘diversity,’ the audience seemed skeptical. One of the audience members said, “everyone claims that they value diversity, but you’re a dance company. You’re probably filled with a bunch of twenty‐five‐year‐old dancers, all of them tall and thin. Some of them are probably people of color, but is that diversity?”

Peter DiMuro, the artistic director of the LLDE, responded with an extreme example, “as a matter of fact,” he said, “the longest‐term member of our company is a seventy‐three‐year‐old man named Thomas Dwyer…” This detail—seventy‐three‐year‐old Thomas Dwyer—silenced the skepticism in the room.” The professors experienced a rare moment of speechlessness.

And there was a good reason that DiMuro could respond quickly with a vivid example. The reason is that diversity truly is a core value at the LLDE.


Humans are driven by their emotions more than they realize. While you cannot directly control emotions, you can piggyback on hopes, dreams, fears, and desires. For an example, Lee was responsible for an army canteen in Iraq:

Lee is well aware that being a soldier is relentlessly difficult. The soldiers often work eighteen-hour days, seven days a week. The threat of danger in Iraq is constant. Lee wants Pegasus to provide a respite from the turmoil. He's clear about his leadership mission: "As I see it, I am not just in charge of food service. I'm in charge of moral."


A story is the easy answer because a short story is usually simple, concrete, emotional, and contains an unexpected twist. Fortunately, the stories don't even have to be that good.

Have you ever noticed, when you teach, that the moment you start sharing a personal story with your students, they instantly snap to attention? You understand the value of stories. But some teachers don't insert many stories into their lessons, because they're worried that they don't have gripping stories to tell, or that they aren't good storytellers. So maybe it's worth identifying which kinds of stories are effective in making ideas stick. The answer is this: virtually any kind.

The stories don't have to be dramatic, they don't have to be captivating, and they don't have to be very entertaining. The form itself does most of the heavy lifting – even a boring story will be stickier than a set of facts.

Actually, stories might be so powerful, you might as well drop everything else. At a conference they tried this for a summary. The presenters got angry.

Suppose you're a manager at Nordstrom, addressing a conference of your peers. The final slide in your presentation might read, "Lessons from Nordstrom: In retail, outstanding customer service is a key source of competitive advantage." While discussing your fourth slide you might have mentioned, as a humorous aside, the Nordie who gift-wrapped a present bought at Macy's. These jokers from Klein's firm want to keep your gift-wrapping story but drop your punch line. And they're absolutely right.

So, I could try to tell with statistics that debugging is hard or you could read stories. The stories are much more likely to stick in your brain. I should collect more stories.

Who should read this book?

If you teach people, this book might make you more effective.

If you have an important message people should keep in mind, this book will give you advice how to present it.

If you want to influence people, then read Influence first.

I like that style of the authors, Dan and Chip Heath. They also wrote Switch. Both books are well structured, reference scientific papers, and are easy to read due to the stories.

Sticky ideas are simple, unexpected, concrete, credentialed, emotional, and a story.