Book of the Week 11: Made To Stick

Two superheroes, two teams, fighting each other to the death. Each superhero has firm beliefs in what they are fighting for. There is no true villain. Who do you cheer for?

Captain America: Civil War is such a great movie thanks to not only its great writing and humor, but also to the principles in this book.

Every day I’m constantly thinking about ideation. What makes ideas creative? What makes ideas survive for years? What makes ideas bad? After reading through this book, you’ll see not only how Civil War became such a great hit but also just how easy spotting a great idea really is, once you’re exposed to the concepts in this book. Let’s check it out.

Disclaimer: I’ll be using this superhero blockbuster as my example throughout this post, and while I’ll try to hold back on spoilers, some details may spill just enough to ruin it for you. You’ve been warned!


69242Rating: 5/5

Verdict: Clearly the authors took their own advice into making this book such a success.

SUCCESS – if you could only remember one word from this book, it would be this. Chip and Dan Heath establish the six key qualities of ideas that truly last: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and stories. Add an extra ‘s’ for good luck and you get “success.” Each principle explained below:

Simple

Stop trying to convey a dozen ideas in one presentation. Heck, even three is too many for one sitting. Determine the core value of your idea, and try your best to convey that one and only idea. Nobody’s going to remember anything else. Sticking with the Civil War example, their core message is: fight for what you believe in, even if it means fighting against your friends.

Unexpected

Surprises make us pay attention and think about what’s happening. We all have a mental image of what to expect, a schema, to process thoughts more quickly, but once an idea breaks this schema, the brain will try to decipher what changed. Civil War is not a typical superhero movie fighting against a single villain; it’s about multiple superheroes fighting against each other. It makes you think, “Oh, that’s different!” and it keeps you in your seat since you really don’t know how it’s going to end.

Concrete

Explain your ideas with actions, with visuals, with real-world applications and examples. Abstract ideas are great for people who already have an understanding of the idea, for example in software engineering when you’re talking about multiple layers of technology, or in medical school when you’re talking about a system in the human body instead of each organ making up the whole.

Credibility

Antiauthorities. Relationships. Details. People believe those who they want to be like. Civil War uses the relationship between Captain America and Iron Man to give credibility to their core message, which is much stronger than if Captain America were to simply fight by himself; in this case, the dichotomy makes it real.

Emotions

People will start caring for your idea when you evoke an emotion out of them. Audience members start to cheer for Iron Man and his values once they witness everything he had gone through. Make people feel happy, sad, scared, in suspense; any emotion will do, really.

Stories

People love telling stories as much as they love hearing them; why else do we have these books and movies? Going back to Iron Man, near the end of the movie the audience witnesses a short story of Iron Man’s past; after watching it, you won’t be forgetting why he fights for what he believes in for quite a while.


A few recurring theme that the Heaths continuously bring up:

Curse of Knowledge

Always play devil’s advocate.

This curse is the biggest suspect of making ideas not-so-sticky; it really is the antithesis of the “success” acronym. People love making things complex because they want to share their wealth of knowledge and all the hard work they put into it. They love talking abstractly because their topic may be so complex that explaining every little detail concretely is simply too much effort.

Keep this principle in mind at all times, at all costs. People will love you for it. I most likely will write a detailed post on this within the next week.

Ideaspotting

It’s more important to, after reading this book, be able to spot great ideas rather than coming up with them yourself. Keep an open mind wherever you go, and try keep these principles in mind when you really enjoy a movie, an artpiece, etc. The world has so many ideas to offer that one individual simply cannot keep up. Instead, let the ideas come to you, and you’ll be influenced by them as you spot more and more throughout your everyday life.


This book will undoubtedly help out everyone, as long as they remember “success.” You could be a high school student writing a memorable essay. You could be a teacher trying to make the lesson for the day fun and worthwhile. A creative – artist, writer, anything – trying to get your art to stick out of the crowd. A waiter trying to get more tips by being not just a typical waiter. A CEO trying to figure out what could carry your business for years to come.

Give this book a shot, and after reading every paragraph, think about how it may be applied in your own life. The authors do a fantastic job of giving concrete examples to support their ideas, while keeping the writing fresh through unexpected stories and humor. There’s a reason why this book has about a 4/5 average rating on Goodreads with nearly 40,000 ratings.

PS: I hope this book helped making this blog post a lot more interesting and memorable than my previous reviews!

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Author: Kevin Who

Developer. Designer. Smasher. Reader. Creator.

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