Made to Stick – Brilliant

Updated July 23, 2007 with some additional links.

Thanks to a strong recommendation in Bob Sutton’s blog, I picked up the book Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath recently. I have already read it twice. The authors introduce this book as the companion book to the Malcolm Gladwell bestseller – The Tipping Point. While Gladwell covered how ideas spread, the Heath brothers cover how to make ideas sticky enough that they spread. They have analyzed sticky ideas and propound a framework which they call by the acronym SUCCESS – where each letter stands for a characteristic of sticky ideas: 1. Simple – the idea has to be simple at its core. 2. Unexpected – it should have a surprise twist. 3. Concrete – it needs to help people understand it easily and remember it. 4. Credible. – it is believable. 5. Emotional – it makes people care. 6. Stories – it makes people act. It may seem like these characteristics are quite obvious. But I think they have chosen such simple terms to keep the book delightfully simple, and lucid. Each of these concepts are presented using a lot of excellent examples. I liked all of the examples. I particularly liked the simulation that Jane Elliott, a primary school teacher used in her class to teach the concept of prejudice to her students. You can see this in video form at the PBS website. This book raised a few questions in my mind that the framework probably doesn’t answer: 1. How did Harry Potter, to quote a recent example, a series with a complex storyline and lots of intricate details, capture the imagination of the world? 2. In the same vein, how do we explain the stickiness of Star Wars, Star Trek etc. One can argue that a lot of dialogues from Star Trek is incomprehensible mumbo jumbo. Overall it is a brilliant book and the framework should be an essential guide for anyone in management. Like any modern book, the authors maintain a website and a blog called madetostick.


  1. Anonymous said July 23, 2007, 12:57 am:

    Good review, Sukumar. I don’t know if I entirely agree with the notion of simple. If you take one thought that has stuck to almost the entire human poplulation for 1000s of years, it is the idea of god and it is anything but simple.

    As for movies like Star wars and books like Fountain head, their appeal lies in the fact that each one can take away different things from them based on their personality. I think each person who has watched this movie or read the book leaves with a feeling that no one could have understood it the way they did. It makes you feel special.

    Regarding HP, I saw a program on BBC. They were discussing HP and why it seems to have caught the imagination of so many. All of us have a world of fantasy where we are the heroes and the rest of the world are muggles who don’t understand our greatness. In the world of humans, Harry is just another person but within his magical world he is a hero and it is the same for most of people. Their greatness is never recognized by the majority.

  2. Anonymous said July 23, 2007, 4:57 am:

    Interesting comment Archana. Yeah, religion is the ultimate sticky. As i think more about it and your comment corroborates that, we seem to like complex things also – especially when it captures our imagination like HP or Fountainhead or Star etc. Probably because if you are able to connect to the idea at many levels and many areas, it becomes sticky- the authors call this the velcro model of memory but don’t exactly talk about complex ideas/stories becoming sticky.

  3. Anonymous said July 23, 2007, 10:37 am:

    I have been thinking of all the long standing ideas and wondering if there are any common criteria. For example, the following


    Chastity & fidelity

    Inequality of women


    Human beings are special

    They are neither simple nor credible, but they have a strong emotional component. I could not think of any new idea that has stuck like these. Now, I am really curious about the examples in the book.

  4. Anonymous said July 23, 2007, 12:01 pm:

    Another insightful comment Archana. For Simple, one of the examples is the Palm Pilot CEO Hawkins showing a block of wood to say how simple the palm pilot should be. Incidentally Akio Morita used the same technique to convey his vision of a pocket radio to his team.

    I think based on the discussion we’ve been having, we can take issue with Simple but possibly not with Complex.

    All the examples you quote patriotism, racism etc were considered credible at the time they were popularized. Of course, Patriotism is still in vogues. As late as 2 years ago, a Harvard University President made a speech about how women were inferior to men. I definitely think that an idea has to be credible for it to be sticky. Of course, we must adjust for the context because in the original context something could be credible. Human beings are special is similar. Now research is showing that it may not be the case but when the idea was propounded we didn’t have data to show otherwise. – Sukumar

  5. Anonymous said July 23, 2007, 11:41 pm:

    Sorry I meant to say we could take issue with Simple but possibly not with Credible. The authors also give examples of urban legends (hoaxes) that become very sticky eventhough they ultimately turn out to be untrue. The authors reason that it happens because the urban legend has so many pertinent details that it becomes very believable. I had written a post a while ago on this blog on what makes something a classic. Iam planning to dust it up and do a repost tying it to this book’s theory – Sukumar

  6. Anonymous said July 24, 2007, 12:03 am:

    Sukumar, you comment on Urban legends “urban legend has so many pertinent details that it becomes very believable” is very interesting. This is one of the reasons people give for the success of HP; the magical world JKR has built is so detailed.

  7. Anonymous said July 24, 2007, 7:42 am:


    I think there’s a distinction between complex and detailed. In the case of urban legends the details merely add more data and thereby boost credbility. Whereas in the case of HP, the details are needed to explain the complex world that JKR has created. -Sukumar