Made To Stick

MTS the book Last night's long flight from Florida's Sanibel Harbor seemed to go fast as I finished "Made To Stick" - that great new book by Chip and Dan Heath on how to make your messages sticky. I liked it so much I turned to my wife Dru Scott, (who had started reading it on the flight out until I snatched it back,) and said I was going to stick a bunch of copies up on the walls of our training room - that will use their 'Unexpected' principle' and stimulate our participants to be 'sticky' in creating their messages. Knowing my sense of exaggeration she said, "How about sticking just one copy - that will use their 'Simple' principle."

Problem solved, but then I mused how do I make a post that is not too long on the book, and she came up with the answer "Tell a quick story and use your 10 Key Points format."

Made To Stick uses the acronym SUCCES which happens to be very similar in the results to our SHARP process in making ideas memorable. Chip and Dan's ideas are great, and every communicator who wants to be interesting and influential should read this book. Here are what I think are the top three of the SUCCES principles, with three of the best keepers for each. (And a bonus to make the 10.)


Perhaps too simple a concept, but so important - focus on the core idea.

  • Forced prioritization is really painful, but essential as the first step to a sticky idea.
  • Proverbs are simple yet profound. It's difficult to come up with a simple proverb-like phrase or concept ("A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,") but when you do, people get your message quickly, sometimes profoundly. "It's the economy, stupid," was one of three ideas James Carville presented in the Clinton campaign, and it stuck. Try to describe a Pomelo and it will be difficult, unless you say it's like a large grapefruit.
  • "Commander's Intent" means what is the primary objective, in simplest terms. What do we want to do. It's a military term that cuts through the myriad detail of logistical planning and process so people can get the simple picture to make decisions. Great concept. Sticky.


The second in SUCCES, and so vital in creating your communication experience is coming up with the unexpected. Simply put, be interesting and make your ideas interesting. The easiest way...

  • Get attention with surprise. It's not that hard, and great examples are in the book, but...
  • There is the "Gap Theory" of curiosity. Keep attention by setting up and then filling the 'gap of knowledge.' An "Aha" experience is much more effective when preceded by the "Huh?" experience.
  • Make your ideas a mystery that you unravel in front of your audience. Make them part of the unveiling. Fill your information with gaps and unexpected turns. Contrasts and solutions. Capture the unexpected in a phrase and be visionary - like the classic "We will put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade"    John F. Kennedy.


The last S of SUCCES is Stories. Actually in "Made To Stick,"  Stories, Analogies and References (three of the SHARPs) are sprinkled throughout (it is a sticky book.) And Stories are the primary glue.

  • When we hear stories, we are actually IN the story. There is a new and fascinating study that shows how "there is no such thing as a passive audience. When we hear a story, our minds move from room to room" and event to event.
  • Stories are ultimately a visualization in the minds of the audience - and in a very comprehensive study it was proven that "mental practice alone produced about two thirds of the benefits of actual physical practice."
  • Stories provide simulation and inspiration. Both drive people to action.
  • Have the mindset of a storyteller, incorporate stories into your everyday conversations, and use these three great templates (which are 80% of most good stories) as you look for stories in your life and the lives happening around you:

1. The Challenge Plot - David and Goliath, someone overcoming adversity or challenges.

2. The Connection Plot - Stories of relationships like The Good Samaritan.

3. The Creativity Plot - These are stories of someone making a mental breakthrough or attacking a problem in an innovative way.


S = Simple

U = Unexpected

C = Concrete

C = Credible

E = Emotion

S = Stories

So that's 10 subsets of what I think are the three most important of the Made To Stick acronym, but there's so much more. This is an important book and one you should read and make part of your mindset if you want to be a great communicator. Or even a sticky one.


The Curse Of Knowledge is a theme that runs throughout the book as the villain to sticky ideas, and a very high barrier to messages that cause action, influence and change. And it is so true - detail, facts and figures, and the TIME we put into researching and preparation of our messages tends to blot out the principles that make ideas and communications effective and powerful.

As we say in our seminars, people buy on emotion and justify with fact. We are selling our ideas to other people a dozen times a day. Make them sticky.

"Stories can almost single-handedly defeat the Curse of Knowledge. In fact, they naturally embody most of the SUCCESs framework." Chip and Dan Heath

3 thoughts on “Made To Stick
  1. Great book! And thanks, Bert, for turning me on to it. I’m still only half-way through, but my copy has been marked-up on every page. I plan to use it in my day job at HP re-writing the company overview slides to be simpler, more concrete and with a few unexpected twists to keep the audiences attention.
    I also want to find the core idea for my wife’s new college counseling internet business that is set to launch this Fall — developing sticky ideas to help parents get their kids into the college of their choice.

  2. Enjoyed your review. We just put together an overview of Made to Stick as well. Thanks for the great post. -The Dimano Marketing Team

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