Monday, January 14, 2008
Take Your Ideas to the Spa: Made to Stick
Ever had that sinking “duh, no kidding” feeling when you get into a business book you thought looked interesting and find it just endlessly repeats things you already know? We have, lots of times, which is why we’re making a point to single out a title that is really helping us in our work: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip and Dan Heath.
As you might guess, the book is about communicating in a way that makes people care about and remember what you’re saying. Appropriately, its jacket cover is neon orange, with an embossed image of silver, crinkled electrical tape smack-dab in the middle of the title.
We aren’t attesting that everything between the covers of Made to Stick is novel and practice-changing; much of it is very commonsensical and second nature among the best journalists and communicators. But the lessons and tips in the book are exceedingly well delivered and entertaining. They resonate and challenge you the next time you’re hit with a stack of boring statistics or seemingly mundane information and charged with making things interesting. They’re made to stick.
The So What Test
For example, when we’re faced with a press release assignment these days, we can’t help but recall the following excerpt on the importance of conveying a piece of information people will give two hoots about. Sounds simple, but often press releases are bogged down in information the issuing organization insists be prioritized. In our experience, these are not always the same thing.
The excerpt relates screenwriter and former journalist Nora Ephron’s experience of the impact her high school journalism teacher had on her decision to pursue that field.
Ephron’s teacher announced the first assignment. [The students] would write the lead of a newspaper story. The teacher reeled off the facts: ‘Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium on new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown.’
The budding journalists sat at their typewriters and pecked away at the first lead of their careers. According to Ephron, she and most of the other students produced leads that reordered the facts and condensed them down into a single sentence: ‘Governor Pat Brown, Margaret Mead, and Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the Beverly Hills High School Faculty Thursday in Sacramento ... blah, blah, blah.’
The teacher collected the leads and scanned them rapidly. Then he laid them aside and paused for a moment.
Finally, he said, the lead to the story is ‘There will be no school next Thursday.’
‘It was a breathtaking moment,’ Ephron recalls. ‘In that instant I realized that journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the point. It wasn’t enough to know the who, what, when, and where; you had to understand what it meant. And why it mattered.’
There are so many stories out there competing for attention. The only way to rise above them is to connect your information with the real concerns and fascinations of your target audience. For a little inspiration, try Made to Stick.