Saturday, May 19, 2007

Made to Stick: Chip and Dan Heath

The Sticking Point is a title the authors of Made to Stick would have surely toyed with, considering they acknowledge that the genesis of this book is The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

This book is a complement to The Tipping Point in the sense that we will identify the traits that make ideas sticky, a subject that was beyond the scope of Gladwell’s book. Gladwell was interested in what makes social epidemics epidemic. Our interest is in how effective ideas are constructed—what makes some ideas stick and others disappear.

However, Chip and Dan Heath make a significant departure from Malcolm Gladwell, in terms of their writing style—Made to Stick has a text bookish tone to it. May be it is because Chip is a professor—the didactic tone is very prevalent in the book, and that to me is one of the drawbacks. May be this book is meant for students and not corporate executives. (The Easy Reference Guide at the end suggests the same thing as well.)

And it is not just in the tone that this book is didactic. It is also in the construct—to form an acronym like SUCCESs, with the hope that we will remember it better and thus use it (and make it a household name?) smacks of academia. I shivered because it had shades of John Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity, another book that flattered to deceive. My review of that book here.

As for the core premise of the book, ideas stick because they are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and are in the form of stories, is pretty much old hat. Getting ideas to stick is at the core of the advertising and communication industry—so there is nothing new Chip and Dan unearth here. At times, it is tragic (and disappointing) that they seem to be trying so hard to make an argument that no one is likely to disagree with. And to talk about how proverbs stick, well…

As you would expect with ideas, most of the examples in the book are to do with communication; however, Chip and Dan manage to bring in concepts of stickiness in product design as well. But you are bound to have heard of most of the examples, more than once.

Sure, some of the concepts like the Curse of Knowledge and the Velcro theory of memory are interesting, but if you have to dredge through 252 pages of platitudes to get them, you wonder whether it’s worth the time.

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