Saturday, May 16, 2009

Chip Heath & Dan Heath - Made to Stick

Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Random House, 2007.

This book teaches the reader to communicate ideas. Several components of successful ideas are examined in the various chapters, with vivid case studies to exemplify each component.

Ideas must be: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional stories (from this the authors form the acronym SUCCESs, which made me wonder if they couldn't find anything to do with the final S of the word...).

This is a clear and practical guide book for anyone trying to communicate ideas, especially in writing. It is written in the standard style of popular non-academic non-fiction books, with all references to source material put in endnotes at the back of the book, without even endnote numbers, on the assumption (probably correct) that most readers won't bother to look at this section at all. For me as a seasoned reader of academic material, this style seems somewhat overprotective of readers. It wouldn't hurt for the general public to learn to use footnotes and see bibliographic references now and then. However, this may have been the preference of the publisher rather than the authors.

The examples brought are illuminating, and are obviously the best among several examples considered for each chapter. Sometimes these examples lead to a discussion of the psychology of the reader. It is not enough to observe that people react in certain ways to certain types of idea presentation, and sometimes it helps to understand why they do this.

One of the best phrases, in my mind, is "the curse of knowledge". This means that the writer of the idea has complete knowledge of the subject and so finds it difficult to express the idea in a way that assumes the reader has no knowledge of it. This is one of many examples of the things people take for granted. It's easiest to think that everyone is like us, and much more difficult to acquire empathy for different people. To convey an idea successfully, the writer must be able to think from the reader's point of view.

Another interesting discussion, in Chapter Five, concerns Maslow's theory of motivation. This is commonly known as "Maslow's pyramid (or hierarchy) of needs", and assumes that our basic biological survival needs have to be satisfied before the higher needs, such as self-actualization, can be addressed. The authors explain convincingly that in fact people are interested in fulfilling the so-called higher needs even while their basic needs are being addressed. For example, the common image of the starving artist.

This book offers a good balance of practical advice, inspiring stories and some deeper discussions. It will be of use to communicators of all sorts.

1 comment:

Steve (My Dog Ate Art) said...

I may get myself a copy of that - obviously - you ought to have an on-line competition to find the missing 's' . One book I enjoyed which dealt with management and business techniques (when I was interested in that sort of thing ) is "Maverick" by Ricardo Semler - the approach in the book makes it more like a page-turning thriller and the message is almost contrary to most received business wisdom in terms of accountability and hierarchy and his company actually do it. A good example of communicating ideas