Made to Stick Notes

(p.205) The chapter opens with the story of a nurse in an infant surgery center observing in horror as an infant turned blackish-blue. She though instinctually it wasn’t the diagnosis that the doctor was calling out as people scrambled around. The EKG was indicating that the heart had stopped but somethign told her that wasn’t the culprit. She threw off the pads and took a stethoscope and determined that the heart was infact beating and it was a case of pneumopericardium (where air trapped around the heart prevents it from pumping). The story serves not only the educational purpose of pointing out this possible situation but also the inspirational purpose of a nurse who stuck to her guns in a situation where the authority was wrong.

(p.206) Xerox technicians and firefighters have something in common- they trade war stories in the lunch room. And it’s not just useless banter to entertain, it actually educates and encapsulates critical wisdom gained through experience that helps others to make a decision when they find themselves in the same sitaution. The Xerox guy in the book tells a winding tale (mystery technique) of how he was led on a goosechase in troubleshooting a problem and foudn out the error code was erroneous and misleading. The firefighter that relays the story of the fireconditions just before a backdraft enables the next guy to know when something doesn’t smell quite right to draw upon the knowledge of the story and trust his instinct.

(p.224) The art of story spotting- we don’t even need to make stuff up, just be attuned to recognize the sticky stories that naturally occur. The authors believe that 80% of stories fall into one of 3 categories and by identifying the ones with these characteristics we can pick winners. Challenge Plot– the classic david and goliath or Rocky story in which the underdog is facing a big opponent. The Connection Plot – Essentially a story of connection. Generally the theme of most "chick flicks" – Titanic, Notebook, Fried Green TomatoesCreative Plot– the MacGyver plot when a hero is faced with adversity and he thinks his way out of the situation. Stories that have these qualities get remembered and passed along.

(p.218) Subway launched an ad campaign for their subs with the title "7 under 6" – meaning seven different sandwiches that had less than six calories. It was completely non-memorable and flopped. Through a chain of unlikely "above and beyond" type interactions, a local franchise identified the story of a student who had lost 100lbs in 3months by eating only Subway sandwiches. They tried the ad campaign locally and as a story it resonated and eventually promoted it to become a national campaign. It appealed on an emotional level- "Subway helped save my life and start over. I can’t ever repay that."

The idea that a message is only as good as its ability to make someone act. The most viral and sticky message is still worthless if it doesn’t alter the behavior of the recipient. Emotion makes people care and caring makes people act.

(p.204) Stories is the last of the six characteristics of sticky messages. If you can convey the message in an anecdotal fashion it has better staying power. Stories get passed down generation to generation, are memorable and contain wisdom packaged in a format that is easily digestible.


(p.174) Jim Thomson of the Positive Coaching Alliance noticed a trend in professional sports where the atheletes were more and more engaging in low-blow conduct. He saw that it was rubbing off on youth sports and wanted to do something to combat the trend. He was fighting semantic stretch in that it had become commonplace to see John McEnroe behavior of professionals acting like idiots on the court. He launched a campaign called "Honor the game" where he was able to appeal to a "sports patriotism" and make the integrity of the game larger than the participants. It worked and he saw a dramatic 90% reduction in the foul conduct from the year before.


(p.188) You’d think that decisions like voting for political candidates are driven by self-interest in wanting a candidate that shares the same viewpoints and will make choices that most closely reflect your own political agenda. Researchers found though that there was a stronger effect related to how people viewed themselves against the backdrop of "who should a person like me vote for?" It’s a strange effect of classifying yourself then reverse engineering your vote to meet your class assumption.

(p.195) Texas was facing a major liter problem on their highways in the early 80’s. They brought in a litter researcher named Dan Syrek. He surveyed the situation and contemplated various messaging campaigns to get people to care- the litter owl (give a hoot) wasn’t it, neither was the weeping Native American. He finally settled on a campaign that was akin to the "Honor the Game" sports patriotism only for the State of Texas. "Don’t Mess with Texas" was the message that lined the highways. He then got famous Texan celebrities to reinforce the message and had huge success in reinforcing this idea the Texans don’t litter. Highway litter declined 29% in one year.

(p.187) A marketer in charge of pushing new safety technology for firefighters wanted to put self-interest to work and throw in an offer for a free popcorn popper for any firefighters that accepted the marketing literature and just LOOKED at it. This completely backfired though and firefighters said, "Do you think we’d use a fire safety apparatus for a f’ing popcorn popper" Moral: sometimes self-interest makes people care but it can backfire.

(p.182) Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a Psych theory that categorizes our most basic needs in a "ladder" of importance saying that you must first fulfill the most basal needs (food, shelter, etc) before seeking a higher rung. The specific hierarchy:
Physical: hunger, thirst, bodily comfort
Security: protection, safety, stability
Belonging: love, family, friends, affection
Esteem: achieve, be competent, gain approval, independence, status
Learning: know, understand, mentally conect
Aesthetic: symmetry, order, beauty, balance
Transcendence: help others realize their potential

(p.186) Flloyd Lee came out of retirement to take the job as head chef at the Pegasus mess hall just outside of Baghdad. He saw his job as not simply providing sustenance for the troops but instead providing morale for the troops. He took his job very seriously and every decision was made in the context of "i’m supplying the morale for these guys." They had insane eye to detail and produced desserts that were described as "sensual." People would drive a trecherous road for hours to have the food at the Pegasus mess hall. Flloyd was delivering on a higher rung of Maslow’s ladder of needs.

(p.180) A simple experiment conducted by a cable company in Tempe in which the literature was divided into two groups- one that spoke in 3rd person and one that spoke in 2nd person to the potential customer and used direct language and asked the potential customer to visualize themselves after having subscribed and how their lives had changed. They saw a 20% higher success rate amongst the people that had visualized.

(p.166) They use the example of soliciting donations for the poor. When you use a nebulous population it’s easy for people to dismiss it. But when you give the name of a little girl and describe her it’s much harder to dismiss. Putting a face with the name is even more powerful. You describe exactly what the donation will do and it further improves the odds of success.

On a sidenote- this is why is so powerful. You can read about the individual which you’re helping and see their story. Plus it’s not a donation but rather a loan. They treat it differently when it’s not a handout since they’re on the hook to pay it back and there’s accountability and dignity.

(p.165) Emotion is the 5th of the six characteristics of sticky ideas. Basically anytime you can appeal to the heart as opposed to the head, you stand a better chance of sticking the message.

(p.148) Shark hysteria was a hard problem to combat. The concrete imagery from movies like Jaws or the young surfer girl that got her arm bitten off produces the "movieplot threat" which is hard to dispell. The Florida Museum of Natural History was able to launch a successful campaign based on the message: "Which of these animals is more likely to kill you? A shark or a deer." They were able to use unexpectedness and emotion to fight one ridiculous idea with another- the idea that bambi was 300x more dangerous than jaws. Took real statistics and made them much more concrete and credible.

(p.151) The "Sinatra Test" like the lyrics in Frank Sinatra’s song ("If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere) takes the notion that you pick the most extreme example to make a point and the listener can infer that if your product can do X, then certainly it can do anything less than X. Example of this is FedEx focusing on messaging "overnight guaranteed" – clearly if they can get your package there overnight they can handle 2 and 3-day delivery as well. In our situation it’s the idea that "JumpBox turns a 2-day installation process into a 2-minute task." Clearly if we can do that for a 2-day task we can do the same for a 4-hr task as well…

(p.143) "The right scale changes everything." The idea that used an analogy in describing the accuracy of their product saying that it had about the same accuracy of what it would take to throw a rock from the Sun and hitting within 1/3rd of a mile of the target. This is good in that it uses concrete imagery rather than pure statistics but the scale is still unfathomable for most people and therefore less-effective. A more effective choice of analogy would be to say throwing a rock from New York to LA and coming within 2/3rds of an inch. That scale is much easier for people to visualize.

The "see for yourself" aspect reminds me a lot of the CUTCO demo we used to do. We’d cut rope, leather and a penny in the course of this demo and the tangibleness of what we were doing made the assertions more credible. Also, we’d ask to cut some fruit from the fridge of the demo’ee and inevitably if you started cutting up their stuff, you had them.

(p.141) "When we see a child running with scissors, we wince. We shout at her to stop. Yet when we read newspaper articles about nuclear weapons- which have the power to destroy millions of children – it provokes, at best, only a moment of dismay."

Beyond War was an anti-war groundswell of citizens seeking to educate people on the destructive power of nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Geoff Ainscow was the organizer and was seeking a way to make his abstract statistics more compelling and visceral for people. He would have dinner with folks and bring a bucket with BB’ss. Each beebee represented one nuke. He would drop one in the metalic bucket as he was talking and equate it to the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb. He dropped 10 and equated it to the firepower of one US submarine. He then dropped 5000 into the bucket saying representing the destructive power of the world’s arsenal of nukes. Powerful and tangible.

(p.138) Experimenters held a mock case on child neglect and wanted to test how the vividness of details affected the vote. The details in quesiton were inconsequential (it was a description of the child’s darth vader toothbrush) – ie. this detail didn’t actually convey any info that should have swayed the case but the mere ability to recall the story lent credibility to the witness that used the vivid imagery. The experimenters tried it both with the defendant and plaintiff and the same effect was present indicating that we can boost our credibility merely by using more concrete imagery.

(p.155) The "testable credential" – the "see for yourself" quality of some ads. Exemplified by the Wendy’s "Where’s the beef?" campaign where people would see the commercial and be able to go to a restaurant and see for themselves that the claim made in the commercial about the size of the beef patty was accurate. Same thing on the Pepsi Challenge taste test- the ability to backup your assertion with a "try it yourself" claim is powerful.

(p.123) Oral rehydration therapy is a simple technique that can save millions of lives each year for children that die of dehydration when they get diarrhea. James Grant of UNICEF travels with a packet filled with one teaspoon of salt and 8 teaspoons of sugar. He would say when meeting with ministers of foreign 3rd world countries "do you know that this costs less than a cup of tea and it can save hundreds of thoughsands of children’s live in your country?" By keeping this very concrete and simple he was able to have a powerful impact on getting this education pushed down to the local levels in the countries he visited.

(p.104) East Asian children out perform American school children in almost every subject but especially in math. When researchers studied the differences in the material being taught they noticed that consistently math was taught in concrete terms in Japan with a math problem on the board supplemented by a visual that was relevant to children. Three kids playing ball, joined by two more and eventually another one (3+2+1). These visuals make the material more concrete and consequently the lessons stick better.

(p.130) The fourth of the six characteristics of sticky messages. Basically the idea that the more credible the sources are perceived, the higher the stickiness.

(p.100) "Results you can walk on." When trying to raise money for a cause, you’d like to speak in grand visions and abstractions but it’s more effective to zero in on a tangible results. The Nature Conservancy in 2002 was trying to protect a huge amount of land in California for environmental conservation but given the size of the acreage involved, it was too abstract. They were able to break things down in to sub-units called landscapes and make a more concrete goal of protecting 50 landscapes each year. They began assigning names to the landscapes (Mount Hamilton Wilderness Preserve) to make things less abstract and more real for people.

(p.120) Jerry Kaplan was CEO of Go Computing and faced an ominous meeting of venture capitalists in presenting the Go Pen Computing technology. Rather than presenting abstract facts and figures he sailed his leather binder across the desk and landed it in the center of this ring of VC’s using it as a visual representation of the "future of personal computing." By making it concrete and drawing in the participants, the leather binder took on a magical quality and people in the room passed it around gazing at it and engaging in asking/answering questions about how it could work. The net result was that he raised his $4.5MM.

(p.126) Sales for Hamburger Helper were lagging in 2004. Their CEO Melissa Studzinski vowed to fix sales in 2005 and sent representatives into the kitchens of customers to observe how they prepared meals in the home. This concrete experience shaped the way they positioned the product- their focus on massive variety (like 30 flavors) was misdirected. They observed that most moms just wanted a few flavors and a consistent reaction from their kids liking the ones they were used to. The huge variety was actually problematic in the store because it created confusion for the Moms. Having met the women in the home and learned their situation juggling an infant in one hand, a soup spoon in the other and answering the phone while making dinner, the reps were able to "live in their shoes" and make different decisions based on their new ability to relate better to the customer.

(p.80) The idea that Aha! experiences are more powerful when they’re preceeded by a Huh? experience. We don’t like to be left hanging. An effective way to lure people in is to phrase the material in the format of a mini-mystery that builds suspense and begs closure. The example used in the book was the science professor that gave the lesson plan on the controversial make up of the rings of Saturn.

(p.111) April 4, 1968 MLK is assasinated. The next day an elementary school teacher undertakes a powerful experiment to hammer home the feelings of discrimination for her students. She divided the class into brown eyes and blue eyes telling one segment that they were smarter. The inferior kids had to sit at the back of the room and wear special collars. She watched the kids become nasty berating the inferior segment. She then announced she had made a mistake and switched the status of the groups. Students described how they felt and the inferior groups in both cases became a self-fulfilling prophecy performing worse on exams. The simulation made a vivid memory for all the students that participated and they reported carrying this experience many years on in life because they LIVED the feelings prejudice rather than just study it.


(p.98) Fables are arguably the stickiest stories of all time surviving hundreds of generations. Were these stories made from abstractions they would never be passed along and survive. However fables all draw on concrete imagery.

(p.98) The 3rd of 6 characteristics of sticky messages. The more a message can incorporate tangible objects and visuals, the stickier it becomes. Abstractions are easily forgotten but visceral feelings powerful imagery grab us and can be recalled with more ease.

(p.73) Nordstrom’s wanted to convey the value it places on relentless customer service to their employees. They could have had a lame mission statement and employee handbook but instead they perpetuated stories of unexpected customer service. In one an employee accepted a return from an angry customer that was a product that Nordstrom’s didn’t even sell – tire chains. In another story an employee goes outside to start up the car of a customer and warm it during the freezing holiday season while the customer waited inside. These are powerful because they catch people off guard and embody the underlying message of impeccable customer service.

(p.80) Example used in the book to illustrate the power of mystery in conveying boring information. The science professor was teaching students about the rings of Saturn and unfolded the lesson like the plot of a mystery with debate from the scientists of the time that argued over whether the rings were composed of gas, dust or ice. As boring of a subject as it was, the lesson was hugely effective. Normally students would start fidgeting and packing up minutes before the bell but on this particular lesson the bell rang and nobody moved because they were all so riveted by the mystery.

(p.84) The gap theory of cusiosity says basically we don’t like the pain of little gaps in our understanding. If it’s an abyss and we’re missing a bunch of information it’s easy for us to dismiss it entirely, but when it’s just a small gap in knowledge we’re irritated over the absence of that little piece and are compelled to seek resolution. Effective teachers will open gaps and then close them. Sometimes that involves an educational step of bulldozing enough knowledge into the abyss to turn it into gap and then playing to that innate desire to satiate our curiousity to hold attention. Challenging readers/listeners to make a prediction before filling in the gap involves them further because it raises the "what will happen?" question as well as "was I right?"

(p.66) The scene is a traditional minivan commercial with kids sliding open the doors and piling in after soccer practice but the commercial takes an abrupt turn when the minivan enters an intersection and is broadsided by another vehicle. The commercial was for using seatbelts and closes with the words "Didn’t see that coming? No one ever does." Making a powerful statement that all accidents are unexpected.

Car alarm manufacturers recognize humans have an innate ability to habituate out repetitive noise. They make alarms that change the alarm sound frequently so as to not be succeptible to our habituating defense.


(p. 63)
The second of the six characteristics of sticky messages. Basically the notion that there’s so much noise and distraction level now that in order to grab the target’s attention you need to do something unexpected. It doesn’t need to be a loud stunt either, making a minor divergence from the usual is effective at drawing people in. The example used is of a Southwest Airlines flight attendant altering the boring spiel on safety procedures at the beginning of a flight. She peppered her talk with humor by changing the expected words and gradually earned the attention of all the passengers and received applause at the end.

(p.60) Disney calls its employees "cast members" and apparently this analogy actually causes them to behave differently by thinking about their role in a different light. For example, an actor would never break character and light up a smoke in the middle of an acting job. Likewise, employees at Disneyland are "on stage" and behave like actors rather than employees.

(p.60) The Disney "employees as cast members" is an example of a generative analogy- a good metaphor that generates new perceptions, explanations and inventions. The key is in the usefulness and the power of the metaphor to alter behavior as opposed to just labeling something that occurs.

This concept isn’t in the book but the Pomelo example reminds me of Piaget’s theory of learning from Psych. It’s the idea that there are only two possible ways in which we expand our knowledge- either by digesting/assimilating the new thing into our body of existing knowledge or altering our current schemas to accomodate the new info so it fits.

(p. 53) The idea of chunking and working from a known schema rather than starting from scratch. A pomelo is basically a giant grapefruit. You could describe it with no references from scratch "A pomelo is the largest citrus fruit. The rind is very thick but soft and easy to peel away. The resulting fruit has a light yello to coral pink flesh and can vary from juicy to slightly dry and from seductively spicy-sweet to tangy and tart." Or you could just say "A pomelo is basically a supersized grapefruit with a very thick and soft rind.

(p.119) Try this experiment – in 10sec name as many white objects as you can think of. Now try the same experiment by constraining your selection to objects that are found in a refridgerator. In having an unbounded selection you’d think that you could come up with limitless number of objects but in reality when we focus on a more concrete situation it becomes easier to visualize the items that are in our fridge. The power of concrete over abstract.

(p. 34) The idea that purely having more choices even if they aren’t realistic contenders can kill one’s ability to make a decision. The example used was with the "sure thing" decision of whether to take a Hawaii vacation for students after completing finals. Whether the students flubbed their finals or did extremely well, there was good reason to do the vacation (either a recuperation or a celebration). But the experiementer offered them the ability to buy the right to make the decision once they received their finals results and most people went for it, even though the answer shouldn’t affect their decision.

Also uses the example of students facing the prospect of studying or engaging in a distracting activity. A good portion did the distracting activity when there were only two options but when there were multiple distracting activites offered, they often chose to study instead. This is completely counterintuitive but shows evidence of this idea of being overwhelmed with decisions and opting for the simple path.

(p.28) Herb Kelleher – "I can teach you the secret to running this airline in 30sec. This is it: We are THE low-fare airline. Once you understand that fact, you can make any decision about this company’s future as well as I can." The scenario in the book was a flight attendant that suggested they offer to serve chicken salad on a longer flight out of Dallas. And when Kelleher asked the flight attendant to evaluate the request against the mantra "We are THE low fare airline" – he asked "does this help us achieve this goal?" The answer was no.

There are 1000 things a company can do to improve its offering but when you evaluate company decisions against the backdrop of the core message in the context of "does this help us achieve this goal?" It makes it clear which are distractions and which genuinely contribute to that goal.

(p. 30) Newspaper reporters only get a few seconds of reader attention. They need to follow an inverted pyramid style of presenting the most critical information first and supporting it with tangential info later on in the article leaving the least-core info for the end.

(p. 19) The idea that "once you know something, it’s impossible to un-know it." The example used in the book is about an experiment in which there are two groups of participants who are trying to communicate songs by tapping the melodies. The listeners don’t have the song in their heads and end up getting a very small percentage correct. The tappers are incredulous as to why because they have the song in their heads.

We hit this all the time with JumpBox because it’s impossible to step back from concepts like virtualization and open source once you use them everyday and they become ingrained in your vocabulary. The challenge is to "see it for the first time" when crafting the message for people that don’t have the same level of familiarity.

(p. 38) Jeff Hawkins, creator of the Palm Pilot, defined the device more in terms of what it was not rather than what it was. He wanted his PDA to avoid the fate of the Apple Newton and remain intensely focused on only tackling a few functions (calendar, notes, todos, contacts). Hawkins made his people carry around a wooden block the exact size of the Palm to drill home this concept of stripped down & simple with the block serving as a physical reminder of the simplicity.

(p. 28) Famous words from the French aviator – "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Speaks to the goal of stripping an idea down to its core essence. The Army has years of perfecting its hierarchical system of transmitting orders and they have evolved from sending explicit instructions from the higher-ups to sending what’s called "Army Commander’s Intent." There’s a phrase in the Army "No plan survives contact with the enemy" meanning "nothing ever happens according to plan." To cope with this reality they don’t transmit explicit instructions but rather the intent of what they want to achieve so that when the landscape changes the people in the field can still use their judgement to do whatever is within their power to achieve the intent. This akin to talking functional goals without specifying implementation details in a software project.

(p. 25) The first of the six characteristics of sticky messages. Simple not in the sense of simplistic but in the sense of core message. This is foundational to the entire premise of the book that in order for a message to stick it must be stripped down to the most core essence. Failing to do this means the message will will get resculpted anyways via the telephone game that occurrs when people pass it on.

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