Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Made to Stick

Why is it some ideas lodge themselves in our societal memory and others--even good ones--don't? Sometimes, the idea that sticks isn't even true. The Great Wall of China is the only man made structure visible from space; Coca Cola will rot your bones; razor blades in Halloween candy have all been part of our culture for years. True or not almost everyone knows these stories.

What is it that makes these stories memorable? Are there any common themes to ideas that stick? Will these themes help our ideas stick?

Chip and Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick have done exhaustive research on what makes ideas stick and as it turns out there are several common characteristics that may be applied to any idea or course of study.

So what helps an idea stick? The authors identify six concepts that make ideas more stickable: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and in the form of a Story. The book develops each of these concepts. A stickable idea may not use every element, but the more it uses the better.

Most text books and lectures have not been particularly strong in using the Made to Stick principles. As we move into the Information era this will surely change. If you think about it, how information is presented makes all the difference, regardless of the idea or subject matter.

With the Internet virtually everything we know is available or will be available on-line. Unlike the classroom setting the Internet gives people a choice. Information presented in the simplest, most understandable and most attractive form will get top priority. People will learn rather than be taught much of what they know. Today knowledge can be broadly categorized in two forms: that which we know and that which we know where to find. As mankind's knowledge base continues to expand, knowing how to find information we need will become increasingly more important.

Our school system was developed during the Agricultural era and most of the teaching methods are still from that era. Back then most people did not continue on with advanced learning. Only the brightest and highly motivated continued to learn. Information presenters--teachers--had very little incentive to wrap their knowledge in an attractive format. Presenters of today and tomorrow will compete for the minds of the learners. Presenters who employ the principles in Made to Stick will have the advantage.

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