Gustavo Arizpe – your book Made to Stick is getting a huge success. Hopefully it will be translated into Spanish soon.
Dan Heath – yes, there’s a Spanish edition coming soon from LID Editorial — it’s available now. The title is “Pegar y pegar”
Gustavo – When I read your book I was absolutely wowed. So many valuable information and examples. How did you organize the material? I’m sure you have dozens of outtake notes. Will you release those in a follow up?
Dan – There were lots of examples we couldn’t fit into Made to Stick. That was one of the toughest parts of writing it — knowing what to include and what to leave out. We actually made up “symbolic readers” to help us make those choices…
One was a high-school teacher who volunteers for a nonprofit on the side. The other was an entrepreneur trying to get people to pay attention to a new innovation.
Gustavo – Yes, the stories are amazing.
Dan – We’d ask ourselves: Would this story (or anecdote or concept) resonate with the teacher? The entrepreneur?
Gustavo – About the Gap Theory of Curiosity, can you give me something additional you’ve noticed about it after you published the book?
Dan – Yes. I think that the gap theory of curiosity is one of the more useful, and one of the easiest, tips from the book. For those who haven’t read the book, it says that curiosity comes from a gap between what we know and what we WANT to know. And that gap causes us a kind of pain, or an itch, if you will. We want to fill the gap so if you want to get attention with your idea, you’ve got to open a gap before you fill it.
For instance, in the book Freakonomics, they do this brilliantly. They’ll ask a question like: Why do so many drug dealers live with their moms? And you find yourself wondering, “Hmm, I have no idea.” And you want to find out the answer! Great teachers do this, too. I had a physics teacher who asked us, “Why is it that the tires on cars seem flatter in the winter? Where does the air go?”
Gustavo – Tell me about the concept of the Curse of knowledge. How does it affect us? How can we more aware of it?
Dan – The Curse of Knowledge is the villain in our book. It’s probably the #1 reason that people have a hard time making ideas stick. It says that the more you know about something, the harder it is for you to imagine what it’s like to LACK that knowledge. It’s hard for you to put yourself in the mindset of your audience.
So, for instance, if you have a computer problem at work and you ask the IT person for help, chances are they will speak in a language that may be completely incomprehensible to you. You just want to know what button to click! But they understand computer systems so well that they don’t think at that level. And note the paradox — this is exactly the right person to help you! And yet their knowledge, in a sense, becomes a handicap in their ability to communicate with you…
The Curse of Knowledge affects anyone who has expertise in an area — i.e., most of us. And the solution is to get in the habit of “translating” your ideas. When you talk about your area of expertise, you’ll tend to use jargon and abstract words. You’ll make assumptions about what the audience knows that aren’t valid. You’ve got to translate those ideas, using the principles of stickiness. Make your idea simpler. Make it concrete. Tell a story instead of describing it. That’s the essence of our book — how to get people with brains that aren’t like yours to appreciate your ideas.
Gustavo – I’ve noticed that Simple and Concrete tend to be confused. Sometimes we try to create something simple, but we are only making it concrete, tangible, but the core idea may be still missing.
Dan – I see what you mean. Yes, they are definitely interrelated. Concreteness aids understanding, just like simplicity does. In my mind, here’s the difference:
Simplicity is about prioritizing. It’s about *choosing*. What is your core idea? You can’t have 8 core ideas. Chip [my brother/co-author] and I worked for a large hospital chain that had 11 core values. Well, 11 core values is exactly the same as 0 core values. You can’t have 11 “most important” things…
Gustavo – That’s a great example.
Dan – Simplicity forces you to leave some things out so that the essence of your idea shines through. Concreteness is about how you express that core idea. It’s about putting ideas into sensory terms. For instance, we start our book with the tale of the kidney thieves. A business traveler wakes up in a bathtub full of ice with their kidneys missing.
And look at how *sensory* that detail is: You wake up in a BATHTUB FULL OF ICE. You can’t forget that detail! I defy your readers to forget it! …
Fables, folktales, proverbs, great lessons in school — they all share this quality of being sensory. They use details or characters or concepts that you can visualize in your head. But so much of business language is the opposite — it’s too abstract, too conceptual; you can’t visualize anything.
Gustavo – About credibility, I’ve found that this is the hardest part to integrate into a message. Let me give you an example. I’m a direct marketing advocate and I cannot understand why someone would run an advertising that is not selling (generating a direct response). Not seeing any ROI from advertising doesn’t seem to matter to many executives. So credibility here, from hard facts, doesn’t seem to matter.
How would you handle that credibility problem?
Dan – This is a hard one, because marketers convince themselves that their advertising IS having an impact, it’s just not one that is leading directly to a sale…
Gustavo – Exactly. They even use the term “impacts” or hits
Dan – So Coca-Cola might think, well, this Santa Claus ad may not cause people to rush out and buy a case of Coke, but it will help the perception of our brand as a warm and caring company. And someday, that will pay off in higher sales. I think this is true in many cases, but more often, it’s probably just marketers deluding themselves.
I think marketers are crazy not to measure *something*. If you are running a campaign intended to change the associations with your brand, that’s still measurable. I.e., before the Santa Claus campaign 18% of people described Coke as “warm,” and afterwards, 24% said we were “warm.” So maybe that’s a victory.Maybe your first step, as a direct marketer, is to encourage them to measure *anything*. Because if they find out that their ads aren’t moving sales, and they aren’t changing perceptions, then they should be ready for your help.
Gustavo – Doug Hall says that that it’s true about that one image is worth a thousand words, except for the fact that everyone has a different set of 1000 words.
I’ve noticed many people who don’t write when they attend creative meetings. I’m absolutely convinced that in order to create a sticky concept you have to write many, many drafts. What do you think about the importance of the written word in the creative process?
Dan – I’m torn on this question, because I think people work in different ways. I know creative people who thrive on multiple iterations — they love to create a draft, and then tweak it, and then tweak it again, and so on. I know others who can have a brilliant idea pop out of their head seemingly out of nowhere….
So I don’t know if there’s a certain workstyle that’s better than another. But I think there’s something crucial: In creative situations, it can’t just be my opinion versus yours. That makes the creative process political. It’s useful to define, up front: What’s the “scorecard” for our brainstorming session? How will we know a great idea when it hits us? And that’s a role that the 6 traits of a sticky idea can play: They can help people “judge” ideas. Is the idea concrete enough? Will it make people care? Etc….
Gustavo – OK dan, it’s been great having you.
Can you give us any exclusive? It can be anything, like an announcement of a new caption submitted to the New Yorker
Dan – Haha! My life isn’t interesting enough to have anything “exclusive.” But maybe this will qualify: We’re starting work on a new book, yes!
Gustavo – cool!
Dan – It’s going to be about creating change…
We’re interested in how people change things when change is hard — when they don’t have lots of money or power. So if you have any great change stories (whether family or society or business), let me know!
Gustavo – I’ll sure do, I have some.
Dan – Congrats on having the longest-running blog in Mexico — that is a phenomenal achievement!