Made To Stick: why some ideas take hold

Back in the summer, my role switched to Policy and Communications Director here at the School for Social Entrepreneurs, which has meant a) that this blog is now officially part of my role and b) I've been reading about communications….in the form, most recently, of Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. It's a book all about what makes some ideas 'stick' (i.e. memorable) and, ultimately, about how to communicate ideas effectively. Inevitably they have an idea to help make their ideas about ideas memorable…if you see what I mean:



You'll note the (near) SUCCES(S) acronym. And it is successful, because I finished the book a couple of weeks ago and have just done that from memory. That boiling down into 6 words gives you the essence of the essence, but there's much more in the book to enjoy, and there's much that lies behind those six words. Particularly relevant to me, given that I head up our evaluation and impact work, was the aspects of how you can use statistics to create credibility…and keep it interesting. For, as the Heaths put it, "Statistics tend to be eye-glazing. How can we use them while still managing to engage our audience?"

No set answer, but different ways of expressing them, through analogies and stories, seems one method (which is presumably why journalists measure things in numbers of double-decker buses and multiplications of the size of Wales).

In the Emotional chapter, there's some interesting research for those seeking direct donations on why people give. And how stories are better than statistics (and better, in many cases, than a combination of stories and statistics) for making an emotional connection that engages. It's interesting to consider, in the context of the rise of philanthropy brokerage, how people who are primed to feel are much more likely to give than people who are primed to calculate. Of course, it's about tailoring to your audience (the geek donors love those metrics, presumably), but the fact that being analytical "hinders our ability to feel" stayed with me.

Most of all, though, I will take away much from the chapter about Stories. Particularly, stories as a means of making people act (while a credible idea makes people believe, and an emotional idea makes them care, stories can inspire and simulate…and lead to action), which is really at the heart of SSE's practitioner- and peer-led methodology. At times, I felt the Heath brothers were writing our material about why we use expert witnesses: "The story's power, then, is twofold: it provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act). Note that both benefits, simulation and inspiration, are geared to generating action". Which is something to quote when we get asked why we don't use teachers and modules, and why the students have to have a project they are working on (so they can act!).

There's much here to ponder, and to push you towards action in your own communication…  "Stories are like flight simulators for the brain", "Avoid the curse of knowledge", "If all the stars in the Milky Way were grains of salt they would fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool" and so on. Some might seem obvious, but the book frames this stuff really well and, as you'd hope, communicates it effectively. It's been on my shelf for a while, but will now be transferring to the office shelf, which is high praise….

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