Made to Stick by Chip & Dan Heath

We begin with a quiz:made2stk In the 1992 presidential campaign, a memorable proverb coined by James Carville entered the national consciousness. It was:

A. It’s the economy, stupid.

B. Change vs. more of the same.

C. Don’t forget healthcare.

The truth is, all three of these ideas were written by Mr. Carville on that famous white board as reminders to the Clinton campaign staff that these were important ideas to be communicated to the American voters. While the political process may not be of interest to many, what is instructive is to discover what makes one idea lodge in our memory while others refuse to stick? This is the question explored by Chip and Dan Heath in Made to Stick.

One of the greatest challenges that we face as agents of social change is that we must transfer our passion for the good of others into ideas that can resonate with people that we want to engage in the process. The Heaths analyze the process of communicating ideas and discover that those that cut through the avalanche of information that we encounter each day and wedge themselves permanently in our minds share six principles: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, and Stories. A memorable acronym emerges from these words – SUCCESs.

Made to Stick offers change agents a toolbox for analyzing and improving the way in which we convey our passionate call to action to others so that they become equally engaged and moved to action. For example, we may have attempted in the past to draw others to labor with us in the area of serving the homeless. We offer statistics to demonstrate that toiling in this field is not without a harvest as the cynical culture leads many to believe. The Heaths point out that the standard message is lacking in any of the adhesive qualities that would make our plea sticky and thus remain in the recipient’s consciousness, standing a better chance of catching fire.

They offer a story (S in the acronym) that cements the credibility (C as well) of our desire to engage others. Rather than telling others that a homeless rehabilitation program can be successful, followed by a graph and slide show, the Doe Fund in New York City sent a driver to pick up representatives of a grant organization. Rather than listening to the Doe executives on the ride from the airport, the grant representatives were enthralled by the story of their driver Dennis, a formerly homeless man who was a successful graduate of the work of the Doe program. The power of Unexpectedness, Credibility, Emotion, and Story combine to make the effectiveness of the Doe program stick in the mind far better than a presentation of the statistics can. The Heaths demonstrate that we can analyze all of our ideas in this way and find ways to integrate these principles in such a way as to make our ideas unforgettable.

Many primers on preaching and ministry leadership have attempted to convey this same idea but very few are as successful as Made to Stick. The brothers Heath have given us a book that succeeds at what it recommends; the illustrations and applications make each of the principles immediately memorable even apart from the easy to remember SUCCESs. Those of us involved in the work of social justice and change are often personally impassioned but can be frustrated when others that we hope to engage in our crusade fail to equally catch the fire. Using the SUCCESs principles to analyze the way in which we promote our passion can serve the kingdom well as we find those things that can cement the idea in the minds of fellow believers and move them action. After all, isn’t that what Jesus does in all the red words?

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