[Book Summary] Made to Stick

Why messages don’t stick? The main problem is the “Curse of Knowledge”. The person sharing the idea has insider information that others don’t, so they have already framed the problem and understand its relevance.

Six principles of stickiness:

  1. Simple. What’s your point? Say it. And shut up.
  2. Unexpected. Violate people’s expectations. Engage people’s curiosity over a long period of time by systematically ‘opening gaps’ in their knowledge — and then filling those gaps.
  3. Concrete. Explain your ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. Specific people doing specific things. Metaphors, analogies. They invoke concepts people already know
  4. Credible
  5. Emotional. Make people feel something.
  6. Stories. Proverbs and stories are memorable. (rhymes, and stuff)



The hard part isn’t weeding out unimportant aspects, but it is in pruning the important, but not truly essential aspects – i.e., distilling to the most important idea at the core.

Find the core: Determine the single most important thing, being careful not to bury the lead.

“We know that sentences are better than paragraphs. Two bullet points are better than five. Easy words are better than hard words. It’s a bandwidth issue: The more we reduce the amount of information in an idea, the stickier it will be.”

“So, to make a profound idea compact you’ve got to pack a lot of meaning into a little bit of messaging. And how do you do that? You use flags. You tap the existing memory terrain of your audience. You use what’s already there.”

The military uses a “Commander Intent” instead of a plan. For example, rather than details on how to take a bridge, the CI might be “take the bridge.”

The essential part is to make the message compact and to have it imply a sense of worth or priorities about how to implement it. Names names names. Bezos understood this. That Eugene Wei’s essay… compress to impress or sth?

Ask yourself:

  1. If we do nothing else during tomorrow’s mission, we must ______.
  2. The single, most important thing that we must do tomorrow is ______.


Surprise gets our attention. Interest keeps it.


The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: break a pattern.

A good process for doing this is:

  1. Identify the central message you need to communicate (find the core).
  2. Ask: what is counterintuitive about my message? What are the unexpected implications? Why isn’t it already happening naturally?
  3. Communicate your message in a way that breaks your audience’s guessing machines along the crucial, counterintuitive dimension. Then, once their guessing machines have failed, help them refine their machines.


Mysteries are great at keeping our attention. What happens next? How will it turn out? We want to answer these questions, and that desire keeps us interested.

Mysteries are powerful because they create a need for closure. — Robert Cialdini

The trick is convincing people that they need our message is to first highlight some specific knowledge that they’re missing.

Instead of thinking, “What information do I need to convey?”, think, “What questions do I want my audience to ask?”


If you can examine something with your senses, it’s concrete. Specific people doing specific things

Concrete language helps people, especially novices, understand new concepts. Abstraction is the luxury of the expert.

Think abstract, speak concrete. Can?

“World class customer service” is abstract.

“Norstrom ironed their customer’s shirt from another store” is concrete.

The story about The Nature Conservancy. Instead of talking in terms of land area, they talked about landscapes. They set a goal of preserving “fifty landscapes”, which sounds more realistic than “40 million acres”. They also gave regions names… eg. “Mount Hamilton Wilderness” instead of “There’s a really important area to the east of Silicon Valley”. Turns a set of acres into an eco- celebrity.


Who’s behind these messages? Should I trust them? What do I have to gain if I believe them? Expect skepticism.

What makes people believe ideas? We base it on authorities – our parents, traditional, experts, etc.

Several ways to create credibility when you don’t have such authority figures: (1) Use an anti-authority, (2) use concrete details, (3) use statistics, (4) use something called the Sinatra Test and (5) use testable credentials.

Make a claim tangible and concrete. details make claims seem more real, more believable.

Our messages must have “internal credibility.” to vouch for themselves. A person’s knowledge of details is often a good proxy for expertise. Vivid details boost credibility.

Statistics are rarely meaningful in and of themselves. Statistics will, and should, almost always be used to illustrate a relationship. It’s more important for people to remember the relationship than to remember the number. Statistics aren’t inherently helpful: scale and context make them so. The right scale changes everything.

External validation and statistics aren’t always the best. A few vivid details might be more persuasive than a barrage of statistics. An anti-authority might work better than an authority. A single story that passes the Sinatra Test might overcome a mountain of skepticism.

Ronald Reagan’s query in the 1980 presidential debate “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”


Thinking about statistics shifts people into a more analytical frame of mind. Once we put on our analytical hat, we react to emotional appeals differently. We hinder out ability to feel. You don’t give to ‘African poverty”, you sponsor a specific child.

Managers have to make people care enough to work long and hard on complex tasks. Teachers have to make students care about literature, etc.

Feelings inspire people to act. For people to take action, they have to care.

The most basic way to make people care is to form an association between something they don’t yet care about and something they do care about.

What matters to people? People matter to themselves. Get self-interest into every headline you write. Make your headline suggest to readers that here is something they want.

Companies emphasize features when they should be emphasizing benefits. WIIFY — “what’s in it for you?” — should be a central aspect of every speech or sales pitch.

Three strategies for making people care:

  1. get people to take off their analytical hats by creating empathy for specific individuals
  2. using associations (or avoiding associations, as the case may be). show how our ideas are related to things people already care about
  3. appealing to self-interest. here is something they want
  4. appealing to identity. what do people like me do in this type of situation? not only to the people they are right now, but to the people they want to be


“The only two things that can satisfy the soul are a person and a story; and even a story must be about a person.” — G.K. Chesterton // this explains why I’m drawn to those parenting books, filled with stories about people (and I thought it’s just me. haha. ternyata human nature….)

A credible idea makes people believe. An emotional idea makes people care. The right stories make people act.

Stories illustrate causal relationships that people hadn’t recognized before and highlight unexpected, resourceful ways in which people have solved problems.

Simulating past events is much more helpful than simulating future outcomes. Stories are like flight simulators for the brain.

For example, Subway’s powerful story of Jared, a man who lost 245 pounds by eating at the restaurant was discovered. Compare the resonance of his story with the tagline they originally wanted to use: “6 under 7”, i.e., six sandwiches with less than seven grams of fat.

Three basic plots to most stories:

  1. The Challenge Plot. A protagonist overcomes a formidable challenge and succeeds. Variations: the underdog story, the rags-to-riches story, the triumph of sheer willpower over adversity story. They inspire us by appealing to our perseverance and courage.
  2. The Connection Plot. About people who develop a relationship that bridges a gap — racial, class, ethnic, religious, demographic, etc. Connection plots inspire us in social ways. E.g. Mean Joe Greene
  3. The Creativity Plot. Someone making a mental breakthrough, solving a long-standing puzzle, or attacking a problem in an innovative way. It’s the MacGuyver plot.

Stories are almost always Concrete. Most of them have Emotional and Unexpected elements. The hardest part of using stories effectively is making sure they’re Simple — that they reflect your core message.


  • The Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like to not know that thing.
  • The Tendency to Bury The Lead. TMI. TMD. One of the worst things about knowing a lot, or having access to a lot of information, is that we’re tempted to share it all. Stripping out information, in order to focus on the core, is not instinctual.
  • Focusing on Presentation, Not The Message.
  • Decision Paralysis. Excessive choice or ambiguous situations. Find the core, the north star, the goal.


For an idea to stick, for it to be useful and lasting, it’s got to make the audience:

  • Pay attention (unexpected)
  • Understand and remember it (concrete)
  • Agree/ Believe (credibility)
  • Care (emotion)
  • Be able to act on it (simplicity / story)



The STEPPs framework in Jonah Berger’s book: “Contagious: Why Things Catch On”

The same principles, phrased differently.

View at Medium.com

  • Social currency
  • Triggers
  • Emotions
  • Public
  • Practical value
  • Story

Also published on Medium.

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