Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update




« Dubious notions | Main | Say, this is fun! »

Are Your Ideas Sticky?

41Y3EAGJE9L._AA240_.jpgI'll admit that it was the duct tape on the cover that drew my attention to this book. Like all good Minnesotans, I use this silver miracle to fix almost everything. (If it moves and shouldn't...) Happily, the content lived up to the  cover of book...

All of us are marketers. Of ideas, of philosophies, of products, of ourselves. Like it or not, we are in the business of getting people to listen to us, believe what we say and remember to act in ways we'd like them to act. Some of us are better at it than others. Why?

Chip and Dan Heath in Made to Stick; Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Random House, 2007) suggest that "sticky ideas" have some common characteristics and that all of us can make our own ideas stickier. Sticky ideas:

  • are simple
  • have elements of the unexpected
  • are concrete
  • come from a credible source
  • contain an emotional appeal.
  • use stories to make an impact.

OK, so the acronym SUCCESs is a little cheesy. But, the book is filled with great examples of each of these qualities. Here are a few of my take-aways:

1. Being simple means getting to the core of your message. Not burying the lead. (It's about improved learning, stupid. Not the operating system or size of the print collection or the latest 2.0 application)

2. The Heaths introduce (at least to me) a great concept they call the Curse of Knowledge. Being an "expert" with tons of data and support can easily get in the way of your message when you try to tell everything. They write "You know things that others don't know, and you can't remember what it was like not to know those things...[you] tend to communicate as if the your audience were you." Might this be why the "true believers" in technology and libraries have a tough time getting other educators to accept their message?

3. They quote Stephen Covey who reports on a poll of 23,000 employees:


  • Only 37 percent said they have a clear understanding of what their origination is trying to achieve and why.
  • Only one in five was enthusiastic about their team's and their organization's goals.
  • Only one in five said they had a clear "line of sight" between their tasks and their team's and organization's goals
  • Only 15 percent felt that their organization fully enables them to execute key goals
  • Only 20 percent fully trusted the organization they work for. ...
Then Covey superimposes a very human metaphor over the statistics. He says, "If a soccer team had these same scores, only 4 of the 11 players on the field would know which goal is theirs. Only 2 of the 11 would care. Only 2 of the 11 would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do. And all but 2 players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponent."


Do we help others get the meaning from our statistics in such a compelling fashion? 

4. The authors quote copywriter John Caples: "The most frequent reason for unsuccessful advertising is advertisers who are so full of their own accomplishments (the worlds best seed!) they forget to tell us why we should buy (the world's best lawn!)."  Is it: We have a 1:1 laptop project! or is it Students in our school are successful!?

5. When asked "when are ever going to need this?" by his students about an algebra procedure, high school teacher Dan Sherman says:

Never. You will never use this.

It then go on to remind them that people don't lift weights so that one day they will be prepared should one day, someone knock them over on the street and lay a barbell across their chests. You lift weights so that you can knock over a defensive lineman, or carry your groceries or lift your grandchildren without being sore the next day. You do math exercises so that you can improve your ability to think logically . so that you can be a better lawyer, doctor, architect, prison warden or parent.

MATH IS MENTAL WEIGHT TRAINING. It is a means to and end (for most people) and not an end in itself. 

Librarians, do we have as good a reason why kids should be reading quality children's literature?

6. How quickly and convincingly can you answer the question 'Why would the world be a less rich place if ___________ disappeared completely?" Fill in the blank with your area of passion/expertise (libraries, Web 2.0, public schools).

7. Motivational stories have three main plots: The Challenge Plot (overcoming obstacles; The Connection Plot (how a relationship bridged a gap); and The Creativity Plot (how innovation solves a problem). We don't need to be able to create stories, but we must be able to recognize a good story when we hear one. When I talk about how a lack of keyboarding skills prevents some teachers from becoming computer users, I always tell the story told to me by one of our librarians: "I remember when Jim first saw the computer keyboard. He said, "How in the hell do you expect me to learn to use a computer when the keys ain't in alphabetical order!")

Made to Stick is worth a read. Put it on your bookcase beside Cialdini's classic Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

You'll be unstoppable.


Blue Skunk readers know that I try to practice The Lazy Person's Reading Plan - alternating one non-fiction book with one fun read. But I'm breaking my pattern - and not for the reason I usually do by sneaking in a couple extra fun reads. I picked up Keen's Cult of the Amateur and find myself drawn to it like I would a car wreck. It is obviously a book meant to generate heat, not light, and such books I don't comment on. It's like being baited into an argument with an ideologue - there is no possible positive outcome since an angry reaction is all that is expected. If I change my mind by the end of the book, I will let you and my fellow monkeys know.


EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (11)

It's interesting how many points of intersection there are between your Made to Stick comments and the ideas in Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind.

July 21, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMary J. Johnson


Points well taken. I think that the "curse of knowledge" is an especially apt one that techie people trip over.

Everything in the literature points to us creating a BHAG or sticky note of points so that people understand our big ideas.

I'm working on a theme this week on my blog on some things libraries can do specifically to bring web 2.0 into their schools, but I think the underlying question should be, as you mention, what is the learning involved and how will it help our students?
I'm still working on my "sticky note" and what it will say, concisely!

I love the quote on Mabry MS's website--Making Learning Irresistable for 25 Years. When I read that, I have a sense of the excitement for learning going on at that school.

Thanks for sharing. Sounds like a book we all need to read.

July 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Foote

I originally picked up "Made to Stick" because I thought it would give me creative ideas for reaching my students. It did that. But, it also gave me ideas about changing education...a much wider perspective. Great read!

July 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterWendy DG

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. It is always great pleasure to read your posts.

July 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSean

I am new to blogs and just found yours because of David Warlick's link to you and his strong recommendation to read your thoughts on this book.

This sounds like an exciting book which I will be picking up as soon as I finish Wikinomics by Don Tapscott.

As a high school math teacher, I do always need new ways to make my ideas "stick" especially in the world of high stakes assessments. Thanks for giving us your thoughts about this book.

July 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPamela

This was a great book whose simple message focus on succinctly. It has led me to great new insights, such as a grandparent's day message I helped my head of school create (
that was inspired by the message. Something simple, with a story, that they would remember. It was also interesting to attend NECC and trying to determine what ideas from each presentation would "stick". It was interesting to see that many presentations were not built around a sticky message. Interesting.

July 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterVinnie Vrotny

Hi Vinnie,

I noticed the same thing about the presentations at NECC. I've trying to state the main idea/purpose of my presentations right up front - the one BIG thing I want people to take away. I think that is part of getting to the core that creates stickiness.

I admire anyone who takes an idea and applies it to a class. That's genius!

All the best and thanks for writing!


July 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

"Made to Stick" is now on my to-read list. Thanks for the recommendation! With that quote about math... Wow. I should find all the math teachers I know and tell them to get that book so that they can learn how to motivate their students. I wish I could write that clearly!

Looking forward to the rest of your book notes!

July 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSacha Chua

Thanks, Sacha. I guess I am just one of those weird people who LIKE writing book reports!

Thanks for leaving the comment,


July 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson


The images were released to celebrate the arrival on Monday of Emma Tallulah, the couple's third daughter.

October 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKitShessgisse

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>