Six Tips to Make Ideas Succeed

One part of a CIO’s job is making a convincing business case for complex ideas. How can you break through the acronyms and tech talk, and make those ideas understandable and memorable? In their book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Random House, January 2007), the Heath brothers—Chip Heath, a professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, and Dan Heath, a consultant at Duke Corporate Education—isolate and elaborate on six principles for helping ideas succeed. An excerpt from the book follows.


Many of us struggle with how to communicate ideas effectively, how to get our ideas to make a difference. The broad question, then, is how do you design an idea that sticks? By “stick,” we mean that your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact—they change your audience’s opinions or behavior.

There is no “formula” for a sticky idea—we don’t want to overstate the case. But sticky ideas do draw from a common set of traits.

Principle 1: Simplicity. How do we find the essential core of our ideas? A successful defense lawyer says, “If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room they won’t remember any.” We must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize. Sound bites are not the ideal. Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound.

Principle 2: Unexpectedness. How do we get our audience to pay attention to our ideas, and how do we maintain their interest when we need time to get the ideas across? We need to violate people’s expectations. We need to be counterintuitive. A bag of popcorn is as unhealthy as a whole day’s worth of fatty foods! We can use surprise to grab people’s attention. But surprise doesn’t last. For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity. Going for a big surprise, though, can cause a big problem. It’s easy to step over the line into gimmickry.

Principle 3: Concreteness. How do we make our ideas clear? We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. This is where so much business communication goes awry. Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions—they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless. Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images. Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience.

Principle 4: Credibility. How do we make people believe our ideas? Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials. We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves. Most of us instinctively grasp for hard numbers. But in many cases this is exactly the wrong approach. In the presidential debate in 1980 between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, Reagan could have cited innumerable statistics demonstrating the sluggishness of the economy. Instead, he asked a simple question: “Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago.”

Principle 5: Emotions. How do we get people to care about our ideas? We make them feel something. In the case of movie popcorn, we make them feel disgusted by unhealthiness. The statistic “37 grams” doesn’t elicit any emotions. Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region. We are wired to feel things for people, not abstractions.

Principle 6: Stories. How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories. Hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.

Excerpted from MADE TO STICK by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Copyright © 2007 by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Reprinted by arrangement with The Random House Publishing Group.

CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight offers thought leadership and best practices in the IT security and management industry while providing expert recommendations on software solutions for IT leaders. It is the trusted resource for security professionals who need network monitoring technology and solutions to maintain regulatory compliance for their teams and organizations.

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