Monday, May 24, 2010

Six Principles for Sticky Ideas that You Should Know

By Derek Howard

Great ideas are golden. This is especially true in the business world. A great idea can save money, rake in new business and ultimately really plump the bottom-line. Big or small, a great idea is a great idea. Unfortunately, sometimes, no matter how great the idea is, it just never seems to catch on. Why is this?

The good news is that it’s rarely the fault of the idea itself. The problem usually lies with the communication and/or instructional design: how the idea is presented (or with the environment, but that's another story). If an idea never manages to reach and grab hold of its listeners, then its brilliance becomes beside the point. Look at it this way; if great ideas are the currency that drive a business, then you’d better make sure it’s one your intended audience uses. This is true whether you are pitching marketing ideas or introducing new concepts in a training program. As we know from instructional design, the exchange process becomes almost as important as the message itself.

So the question becomes how do you go about making an idea more effective and less likely to fade? Part of this is knowing your audience. That’s easier in the training world than in marketing (such as random visitors to your website); but whatever your purpose, there are techniques to improve your chances of staying on people’s minds.

Two experts in this field are Chip and Dan Heath. In their book Made to Stick, the Heath brothers discuss and dissect what makes an idea stick (see an earlier post on this blog, Does Your eLearning Stick?, for a quick look at how the book relates to learning theory.) In fact, the term “stickiness” defines this work. As they put it, an idea that is sticky is one that is easy to grasp, memorable and stands a good chance of changing people’s minds. That’s definitely a good learning or marketing outcome.

Though the book is filled with tons of great advice and ideas, there are six key principles that the Heath brothers suggest to make any idea sticky: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and stories- what they refer to as the SUCCESs.

Simple means just that- your idea should be explained in the most simple and straight-forward manner. The brothers advise everyone to first find the core idea of your message and build your training program or presentation around it. Sharing this core idea can be tricky. You want to reduce your idea to its base form without turning it into some trite phrase devoid of any real meaning. One suggestion they give is to use existing designs and ideas to compare/promote your own. Being able to say something is “like” something that an audience may already be familiar with can really help them grasp the concept.

Unexpected is getting your audience’s attention through surprise and interest. As the Heath brothers suggest, things that stand out as different or unique tend hold our attention and stick around in our head a lot longer. If you can break people out of their normal pattern of thinking, you can cause them to pause and hear your message.

Concrete represents making sure people not only understand your idea but remember it as well. This can be especially important when your ideas are being shared between different groups of people; the Heath brothers give the example of engineers vs. manufacturers. Know your audience. The more solid your idea is seen by your audience, the better they are able to hang onto and use it.

Credible is the principle that helps people believe. In order for people to accept an idea, they have to have faith in the source. The Heath brothers break down credibility into two sources: internal and external. Internal is the message itself - the data, which should always be made accessible to your audience (simple and understandable, not dense and convoluted). External authorities are either experts or celebrities that will promote and lend weight to your idea.

Emotional is the concept of making people care about your idea. People have a tendency to think with their hearts and guts more than their heads. It won’t matter how great an idea you have if you can’t get people to have an emotional attachment. The brothers recommend such techniques as appealing to your audience’s self-interest and sense of self to create this connection. This is the "what's in it for me?"

Stories are what make people act. Stories involving your idea can act as a catalyst to get your ideas into action. We’re all suckers for a good story. A well placed and thought-out narrative can act to both inspire people and show your audience how to follow the suggested course of action your idea represents.

Great ideas are valuable to everyone; they're at the center of our training program or presentation. However, sometimes they need a little help to be easy to grasp, memorable and stand a good chance of changing people’s minds. Made to Stick is an excellent resource for those looking for just such help. I highly recommend giving it a look. The ideas in this book are sure to stick with you.

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