Made To Stick by Chip & Dan Heath: Summary and Notes

made to stick summary

“When you say three things, you say nothing.”

Rating: 9/10

Related:  Decisive, Switch, Contagious, The Psychology of Persuasion, The Tipping Point

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Made To Stick Short Summary

Made To Stick explores why some ideas survive and others die. Chip and Dan Heath lay down the 6 principles behind why some ideas live centuries. A great book on how to write compelling stories.

Why Some Ideas Stick?

Most of the ideas you interact with are interesting, but not sensational. Truthful, but not mind-blowing. Important, but not ‘life or death’. As a result, you forget about them in seconds.

For example:

Can you remember the last ad you’ve seen and what was it about? Probably not.

But why do some ideas stick and others don’t?

There are 6 factors of SUCCESs for stickiness:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories


The goal is to strip an idea to its core without “dumbing down” the message.

“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.”

Finding the Core

The military uses simple phrases called Commander’s Intentions to communicate the objective of a mission.

“I could spend a lot of time enumerating every specific task, but as soon as people know what the intent is they begin generating their own solutions.”

No plan survives the contact with the enemy. The specifics don’t really matter. What matters is the core message.

Two questions to strip an idea to its core:

  • If we tell nothing else, we must ______.
  • The single, most important thing that we must tell is ______.

Once you found the core message, you need to translate the core using the SUCCESs checklist.

Use Analogies To Simplify Your Idea

We learn much better when a new concept is tied to another one we already know.

For example:

You probably don’t know what is a pomelo. Which explanation resonates with you the most?

  • Pomelos are the largest citrus fruit. Very thick rind but easy to peel away. Their taste can vary from spicy-sweet to tangy and tart
  • Pomelos are basically supersized grapefruits

The second one wins easily.

The grapefruit reference feels like planting a flag in your brain. You use all you know about grapefruits to deduct what is a pomelo.

The key is to use analogies your audience recognizes.

If you don’t know what a grapefruit is, you got no value from the comparison.

Analogies can also guide behavior even when they are not specific.

For example:

Disney theme park employees are called “cast members”. They don’t interview for a job, they audition for a role. When they are walking around the park they are onstage.

Disney doesn’t need to detail how employees should act in the park. They can make their own judgment knowing they are performing onstage.


The first step of effective communication is getting attention, the second is keeping it.

To do this you need to lean into the Unexpected.

Break a Pattern

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

Your brain is designed to tune out consistent patterns. That’s why don’t notice the noise of an air conditioner, the smell of a candle, or a sight of a bookshelf.

You only notice things when they change.

Humans like to think in patterns. The key to grabbing their attention is to break these patterns.

How to break a pattern:

  1. Find the core message
  2. Figure out what is counterintuitive about the message
  3. Communicate your message in a way that breaks your audience’s guessing machines

For example:

For Southwest, their core message is “THE low-fare airline”. What’s counterintuitive about this message is they would cut on costs even at the expense of customer experience. Southwest would not serve meals customers want because it won’t help them be “THE low-fare airline”.

Keep Attention

Surprising your audience isn’t enough to keep them engaged. You need to lean into their interests.

Mystery is the best way to arouse interest.

“Mysteries are powerful, Cialdini says, because they create a need for closure. “You’ve heard of the famous Aha! experience, right?” he says. “Well, the Aha! experience is much more satisfying when it is preceded by the Huh? experience.””

Open up gaps in your audience’s understanding of the world and they will stick until the end to know what you have to say.

For example:

The headline “There is a new drug sweeping teenagers, and it may be in your own medicine cabinet!” grabs your attention by pointing out something you don’t know. Now that you know about a drug that is sweeping teenagers, you cannot tune out until you know which one it is.

Curiosity is the intellectual need to answer questions and close patterns. The need to know the answers is what keeps your audience engaged.

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


We have an easier time remembering objects compared to concepts.

That is one of the reasons why proverbs like “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” are so sticky.

Using concrete language is also important to help your audience understand new concepts.

As you have seen before, a “supersized grapefruit” is a much better explanation of what is a pomelo than a more abstract alternative.

Being concrete isn’t difficult. But as you gain knowledge on a topic and you get more familiar with the abstract ideas, you start to experience the Curse of Knowledge.

You don’t remember what it feels like to know little about the topic. As a result, you start using abstract terms without even noticing.

“But being concrete isn’t hard, and it doesn’t require a lot of effort. The barrier is simply forgetfulness— we forget that we’re slipping into abstractspeak. We forget that other people don’t know what we know. We’re the engineers who keep flipping back to our drawings, not noticing that the assemblers just want us to follow them down to the factory floor.”

Fight your instincts to speak in the abstract and base your ideas in the concrete.


To persuade people into believing an idea, you and your idea should feel credible.

The easiest way to achieve credibility is to associate your idea with an authority figure like an expert. But this is not the only way.

You have 5 alternatives to build credibility:

  • Anti-authority. For example, smokers dying from smoke-related diseases make the point that smoking isn’t good for you
  • Concrete details. Research shows that irrelevant details in a story can convince jury members in a trial. “He used a 1965 Parker pen” makes your story more believable than when you use “He used a pen”
  • Statistics. Use statistics to illustrate a relationship. It’s more important for people to remember the relationship than the number. For example, “this year’s budget deficit is enough to buy every adult a Rolex”
  • Sinatra Test. Based on the verse “if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere” of the song New York, New York. For example, if you are the band manager of the Roling Stones, you can manage any other band in the world
  • Testable credentials. Challenge the consumer to test the idea for themselves. Money-back guarantees are based on this principle


The goal of making a message “emotional” is to make people care.

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

For example:

A charity will raise more money when they connect a donation with a specific person.

“On average, the people who read the statistics contributed $ 1.14. The people who read about Rokia contributed $ 2.38— more than twice as much. It seems that most people have something in common with Mother Teresa: When it comes to our hearts, one individual trumps the masses.”

You don’t give to ‘African poverty”, you help a specific child.

Similarly, your customers don’t want to know about the features of a product. They want to know what problem are you solving.

You should focus on how will your customers feel once they buy a product from you. Benefits over features.

Finally, you can appeal to self-identity.

For example:

If you are productivity geeks, you need to subscribe to my 5-Bullet Monday newsletter. ?


Stories are so sticky because they encourage you to relive them in your mind.

When used correctly, stories have the potential to unite all the SUCCESs factors into one consumable piece of information.

The best way to use a story is to always be on the lookout for them. Most good stories are collected and discovered, rather than invented.

For example:

Subway’s story of Jared, a man who lost 245 pounds by eating at the restaurant was discovered. The marketing campaign built around this story was a success.

There are 3 basic types of plots your story can take:

  • Challenge Plot. The protagonist overcomes a formidable challenge and succeeds
  • Connection Plot. A story about building bridges between distinct communities
  • Creativity Plot. Involves making a mental breakthrough, solving a long-standing puzzle, or attacking a problem in an innovative way