The Reason Your Ideas Aren't Going Anywhere

Made to Stick ReviewIf people aren't acting on your good ideas, it's probably because you are cursed. At least that's what the authors of Made to Stick think. Authors and brothers Chip and Dan Heath assert that your good ideas aren't gaining enough traction because of something called the Curse of Knowledge. If you've ever had a great idea and wondered why everyone didn't accept it immediately, you'll certainly want to check out this 2007 examination into what makes ideas stick.

What is The Curse of Knowledge?

As you learn more about a topic (e.g., your job), it becomes harder and harder for you to imagine what it is like to know nothing at all about the subject. This is the Curse of Knowledge at work. For example, how would you describe blue to someone who has never been able to see? The Curse of Knowledge is the near-reflex tendency to compare blue to oceans, the sky, or a Smurf. Without your knowledge, your audience doesn't have the context to fully understand you.

Turns out, the Heaths have developed a way to overcome the pesky curse and make your ideas easier for people to understand, which is the first step in making them stick.

SUCCES with Ideas

Chip, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, and his brother Dan, a former researcher at Harvard, put their heads together and came up with a six step plan to combat the Curse of Knowledge - SUCCES:

  • S - Simple - What is the core message of your new idea? It's easy to lose your audience if you try to say too much. Give your audience one very important thing to remember and put all your effort behind getting that point across.
  • U - Unexpected - Our attention spans our minuscule. If you want people to spend time thinking about your idea, it needs to catch them off guard. We think we've heard it all before until we're suddenly very wrong. If you can surprise your audience with a story or counter-intuitive statistic, they'll be more likely to pay attention your idea.
  • C - Concrete - Our minds don't understand abstract concepts as well as they do specific or concrete examples. Take the example from above. Was it the explanation of the Curse of Knowledge itself or the analogy involving blue Smurfs that helped you understand the phenomenon? Express your ideas into concrete terms to maximize comprehension amongst your audience.
  • C - Credible - In order for us to believe in new ideas, we have to think the source is credible. This is why you see "experts" endorse products on TV and why we trust the opinions of our friends and family over complete strangers.
  • E - Emotion - We have analytical and emotional parts of our brain, and our emotional part makes most of our decisions (whether we like to think so or not). To get someone to act requires appealing to their emotions, not their sense of logic.
  • S - Story - Stories help us remember a large amount of information at once because everything becomes related. For example, most people couldn't remember a series of 13 random letters, but it's somewhat easier to recall 13 letters if you arrange them like this: comprehension. Stories help us weave together large amounts of information. They also help us remember complex ideas.

I enjoyed every last insightful morsel of Made to Stick because my line of work (SEO, conversion optimization and web analytics) can be complex, technical and/or difficult to explain. In fact, reading Made to Stick (published in 2007) convinced me to read the Heaths' newest book, Switch, next.

Have you read any good books lately? I'm always looking for suggestions if you've got them. I'm partial to books about the interwebs, as is evidenced by my Internet marketing book review page.