Are sticky ideas born or made?

The former makes them magic: either you’re a Sticky Wizard or you’re not. The Heath brothers – authors of Made to Stick – believe sticky ideas are made, and anyone can make ideas stickier once we learn what makes ideas sticky. Are they right? Let’s see…. (More)

Sticky Ideas, Part III – Make it Stickier (Non-Cynical Saturday)

As progressive Democrats, we need sticky ideas that people will hear, remember, repeat, and act on. So this week Morning Feature explored Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Thursday we discussed ideas that are simple, unexpected, and concrete. Yesterday we considered credible, emotional stories. Today we conclude with a Stickiness Clinic, helping each other put it all together.

Are the Heath brothers right? Can any of us make ideas stickier, once we learn what makes ideas sticky? Let’s hope so, because this just came in on the BPI Hotline:

Democratic Leaders Want You!

Bloggers, we need your help. We know … you’ve been offering it all along. We thought we knew how to do messaging. We were wrong. We’re sorry.

We have 16 days left to energize voters for the upcoming elections. Can you make our ideas stickier and take them to ordinary people, canvassing and phone-banking? We’ll even put you in charge of messaging to ordinary people from now on. Will you take the job? Thanks!

That makes us the heroes of this story. But every story needs a villain. And the Heath brothers say the villain is….

The Curse of Knowledge

Do you know the three branches of our federal government? Okay, too easy. Let’s try a hard question: Do you remember not knowing the three branches of government?

You probably can’t. It’s incredibly difficult to remember not knowing something, once we know it. The Heath brothers call that The Curse of Knowledge, a point they discuss briefly in the book. In the epilogue they share presentations given since the book was written … and say they wish they’d put more emphasis on The Curse of Knowledge. It’s the washed out bridge on the road to Stickyland, and most messages never get across that river.

The Heath brothers use the example of Tappers and Listeners. Can you name this tune?


You probably can’t. I described the rhythm as best I can in words, but you probably couldn’t identify it even if you heard me tapping it on my desk. If you tried this game with a friend, you might get frustrated that they can’t identify a tune you know they know. And you do know the tune above: “Happy Birthday To You.”

The Heath brothers use the Tappers and Listeners exercise in seminars to illustrate The Curse of Knowledge. Tappers (experts) hear the melody as they tap it, so their tapping seems obvious to them. But Listeners (non-experts) don’t already know which tune it is, so they don’t hear the melody in the taps … even for a common tune.

Experts, who hear the tunes of their topics, often speak in taps. That works for other experts, who also know and hear the tune, but not for the rest of us. “Expert” messages stop at the washed out bridge called The Curse Of Knowledge, never crossing the river to Stickyland. To cross that river, we must sing the tune. How do we do that?


We discussed the Heath brothers’ six points of stickiness in detail Thursday and Friday, but here’s a brief reminder:

  • Simple – Not simplistic or dumbed down, but the essential core such that, if listeners remember nothing else, they can still use your idea.
  • Unexpected – We tune out the ordinary. Sticky ideas surprise or intrigue us. Like clues in treasure maps, they beckon us on a journey.
  • Concrete – Sticky ideas evoke doing something. Avoid abstraction and theory. Use real world, active examples.
  • Credible – Make statistics tangible. Even better, use evidence from ordinary life experience that listeners can test for themselves.
  • Emotional – Individualize “mass” problems with specific examples. Appeal to self-interest, including The Person I Want To Be.
  • Stories – Stories are “flight simulators” that both rehearse and can inspire action. Look for good stories, and tell them.

Our Assignment

SUCCESs is our stickiness checklist. Here’s what Democratic leaders have given us:

For more than 200 years, Democrats have fought for the interests of working families and equal opportunities for all Americas. We believe in an America where we don’t just look out for ourselves. We’re proud of our individualism, but we also know that we rise and fall as one nation. Throughout history, Democrats have worked from the ground up to bring about the change that matters.

The history of our country is a history of change. America’s genius throughout has been its ability to renew our promise to provide citizens the opportunity for a better life—and though our own history isn’t perfect, the mission of the Democrats has been to make that promise a reality.

How would you make that stickier for Fred, our archetypal median voter?

And lest you think this example is hypothetical, President Obama has put you in charge of messaging to ordinary voters:

That’s what’s being tested right now, whether we’ve got the courage to keep going forward in the face of difficulty, in the face of uncertainty. And if you are willing to work hard, and knock on doors and make phone calls, and call up your friends and neighbors and coworkers and family, I promise you, we will not stop until we have finally made the American Dream true for every American out here.

We have 16 days. Make it sticky!


Happy Saturday!