3 Tips to Make your Ideas Sticky

3 tips (from the book Made to Stick) to make your ideas sticky so that people remember them and take action:
1. Make your ideas simple.
2. Make your ideas concrete.
3. Make your ideas into a story.

Good evening everyone. I hope you all had a great Christmas holiday. Do you know what I did this holiday?

While you might have been relaxing — putting your feet up, sipping eggnog mixed with brandy and bourbon — I was hunched over my computer, slogging away. I was taking 20 pages of notes about an intriguing book that I was reading.

It’s called Made to Stick and it’s written by two brothers, Chip and Dan Heath. Has anyone read it?

Great, that’s less than half of us.

My last speech was about 3 ways that watching TED Talks can improve our speaking.

And after I read Made to Stick, I noticed something about one of my favorite TED presenters, Seth Godin.

So tonight I’d like to share these 3 tips with you:

  1. Make your ideas simple.
  2. Make your ideas concrete.
  3. Make your ideas into a story.

Have you ever listened to a Toastmasters speech and wondered,

What was that about?

Well, people can’t remember all of the details of your speeches. But these tips can help you make a few of your key ideas stick.

I tried to use these tips to create this presentation. And after I shared this talk with my girlfriend, she was able to easily tell me the gist of it in her own words. So I think these tips are helping me and I hope they’ll help you, too.

1. Make Your Ideas Simple

The first tip is to make your ideas simple.

Have you ever heard a CEO say that her company’s goal is to:

“Maximize shareholder value”?

But what does that mean? It’s abstract. It’s hard to understand. It can mean different things to different people.

Compare that to the strategy of the the former CEO of Southwest Airlines. He said:

We are THE low-fare airline.

Tracy from Marketing walks into his office and says,

Our surveys show that our passengers might enjoy a light entree on the Houston to Las Vegas flight. All we offer is peanuts. I think a chicken Caesar salad would be popular.

The CEO retorts,

Tracy, will adding that chicken Caesar salad help make us the THE low-fare airline from Houston to Las Vegas? Because if it doesn’t, we’re not serving any damn chicken salad.

“We are THE low-fare airline” is a simple but profound idea. And it’s guided the actions of Southwest employees for over 30 years.

2. Make Your Ideas Concrete

The second tip is to make your ideas concrete.

A new software company sets a goal to create:

The next great search engine.

Within the start-up are 2 programmers. They have nearly identical knowledge and they sit in neighbouring cubicles.

To one programmer, “the next great search engine” means completeness – your search should return everything relevant.

But to the second programmer it means speed – you search should get pretty good results very fast.

Imagine these 2 programmers are soccer teammates: the first progammer is aiming for the goal on the left side of the field and the second programmer is aiming for the goal on the right side.

Their efforts aren’t aligned because their goal isn’t concrete.

Compare their abstract goal with Boeing’s concrete goal for creating the 727 airplane in the 1960s.

Boeing’s goal was not to build:

The best passenger plane in the world.

Their goal was to build a plane that met 3 specific requirements:

  1. Seat 131 passengers.
  2. Fly nonstop from Miami to New York City.
  3. Land on Runway 4-22 at La Guardia.

Is there anything in those 3 points that you could misinterpret? They’re totally concrete, aren’t they?

And that concrete goal coordinated the actions of thousands of experts from engineering to manufacturing to create the 727.

3. Make Your Ideas into a Story

The third tip is to make your ideas into a story.

Stories are usually the only thing that inspire people to take action.

I’m in the gym the other day and I’m listening to an audio book about the Dell computer company. And the book says that a key to Dell’s success is it’s great customer service.

But the book doesn’t give me any examples or stories.

So I didn’t learn anything. Telling me “good customer service is important” is useless. It’s not like I thought that bad customer service was the way to go.

Compare that to the stories at FedEx.

In one story during a winter storm in Vancouver, a tractor trailer is blocking the road going to the airport. A FedEX driver and a ramp agent try every possible alternate route to the airport. But they’re surrounded by traffic jams.

So they step out of the truck, load the last packages into their arms, and they personally carry every package the last mile to the airport for an on-time departure.

In another story in New York, a delivery truck breaks down and the replacement van is running late. The FedEx driver delivers a few packages on foot, but then she fears that she’ll never finish her deliveries on time.

So she persuades a driver from a competitor to drive her to the last few deliveries.

When Dell says that they have great service, it’s too abstract. We don’t know what they actually do for customers.

But when FedEx tells these stories, we know that their drivers don’t see their jobs as merely driving a truck from 9 to 5 and then going home. They see their jobs as doing whatever it takes to ensure that you get your package on time.

3 Tips to Make Your Ideas Stick

Let’s recap the 3 tips to make your ideas stick:

  1. Simple: “We are THE low cost airline.” It’s a short but profound idea that guides behavior.
  2. Concrete: The 3 concrete requirements for the Boeing 727. The goal was understood by everybody.
  3. Story: During a storm, a FedEx driver walking a mile to personally carry your package to the airport. This story inspires other drivers to do the same.

I’ve only shared 3 of the 6 tips from Made to Stick. If you’d like to hear the other 3, just come talk to me. And I definitely encourage you to get the book.

It’s helped Seth Godin, it’s helped me, and I think it’s a must-read for anyone interested in communication.

Thank you.