The simple truth

I have decided to share something that I love. I am a great fan of the thinking of Chip and Dan Heath and their seminal work on why some ideas survive and others die. If you read their book Made to Stick (which I have many times) it seems all too simple. I came across this interview with Chip Heath that I heard in a podcast from whence I know not where. So my apologies to whover did the interview.  Anyway, here is the transcipt.  I hope you find it helpful. 

What’s the hardest thing for leaders to learn about making their messages stick?

Chip Heath: I think simplicity is the hardest. Leaders know lots of things about their organization and business and want to share them all. But effective leaders are masters of simplicity. I’m not talking about dumbing down a message or turning it into a sound bite; I’m talking about identifying the most central, core elements of strategies and highlighting them…

What does Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase “the medium is the message” mean today? How important is the medium in all this?

Chip Heath: I admire McLuhan for coming up with a sticky slogan, but with all due respect his slogan is wrong. In truth, the message is the message. People who think too much about the medium—opt-in newsletters, the Internet, Web 2.0—are making the same mistake that people have made for years in education. Remember how the 8-millimeter film was going to revolutionize education? Then the VCR? Then the personal computer? The medium can certainly help, but an 8-millimeter film didn’t salvage a bad math lesson.

There are the six basic traits that sticky ideas share, based on Heath’s research.

  1. Simplicity. Messages are most memorable if they are short and deep. Glib sound bites are short, but they don’t last. Proverbs such as the golden rule are short but also deep enough to guide the behavior of people over generations.
  2. Unexpectedness. Something that sounds like common sense won’t stick. Look for the parts of your message that are uncommon sense. Such messages generate interest and curiosity.
  3. Concreteness. Abstract language and ideas don’t leave sensory impressions; concrete images do. Compare “get an American on the moon in this decade” with “seize leadership in the space race through targeted technology initiatives and enhanced team-based routines.”
  4. Credibility. Will the audience buy the message? Can a case be made for the message or is it a confabulation of spin? Very often, a person trying to convey a message cites outside experts when the most credible source is the person listening to the message. Questions—“Have you experienced this?”—are often more credible than outside experts.
  5. Emotions. Case studies that involve people also move them. “We are wired,” Heath writes, “to feel things for people, not abstractions.”
  6. Stories. We all tell stories every day. Why? “Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation,” Heath writes. “Stories act as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.” 

How simple is that?  Now, try putting it into practice.  Mmmmm.  No-one said it was easy.