Made to Stick

William B. Mesa (School of Business and Leadership, Colorado Christian University, Lakewood, Colorado, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 21 March 2008




Mesa, W.B. (2008), "Made to Stick", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 133-134.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

A bright orange color – generally used for construction signs or road cones that arrest one's attention while driving – typically is not a common color for a book jacket. Yet, for the book, Made to Stick, the color not only achieves an objective (arresting the book browser's attention in a bookstore) but practices what the book teaches – how to make ideas stick in organizations.

In their book, Made to Stick, the authors provide the reader a lucid and substantive explanation towards making ideas stick, work, and produce results in organizations. Using the acronym of SUCCESs, the authors provide several descriptions on how some ideas live and thrive, while others struggle and fade away. SUCCESs stands for six essential characteristics of creating, sustaining, and growing ideas that contribute to the well being of organizations. Using the cover of the book, we'll be able to see how the cover, wording title, and other characteristics of the book cover are a direct reflection of what the book teaches – the process of generating sustainable ideas that stick thereby producing results for organizations. SUCCESs is translated accordingly: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotion, and Stories. While I will not judge the book by its cover, I will, however, review the book  … . using its cover.

“Simple” is the first characteristic of ideas that stick. The authors make it clear that simple does not mean “dumbed” down ideas or catchy slogans. Rather, the key characteristic of a simple idea is that it contains a message in proverb form –cogent and with substantive depth. The book's title makes the point simply, but with substance – “Made to Stick”. Following the title is a “proverb” about the title: “why some ideas survive and why some die”. Questions that emerge are: What's made to stick? How does one make ideas stick? How are ideas sticky? Can ideas be made and can they be made to be sticky? The title requires reflection and provides a broad array of questions on making ideas sticky. The golden rule, which the authors use as an example, is a proverb which is simple, but requires a lifetime of reflection and practice! As such, ideas need to be simple and in proverb form, allowing for reflection and further development.

Unexpected” is the second characteristic of ideas that stick. The color of the book jacket – bright hunters orange – is arresting and unexpected as a book color. Additionally, a strip of duct tape is splattered across the front behind the title. We all know duct tape is sticky, and we have experienced the frustration of using the tape because it does not lay flat on a surface – hence the section that sticks up is also found on the cover. For ideas to stick –they not only carry freight given their proverbial quality – but the ideas are associated with elements that are unexpected making them not only memorable, but contributing to the sticky qualities of the ideas. By being unexpected, the idea also prompts curiosity, and with curiosity, a knowledge gap. An orange book jacket and duct tape coupled with the subtitle about ideas that either survive or die prompts a curiosity gap – what types of ideas are essential such that they continue to survive? Urban legends survive, the authors post, because they have unexpected details in them that make them memorable.

Concrete” is the third characteristic of ideas that stick. Ideas need to have the pithy substantive qualities of proverbs and the unexpectedness that makes them memorable. Yet, the message of the idea needs to be concrete. While proverbs are essentially based on premises, they are also concrete, requiring the person that practices what the proverb instructs to understand what the proverb means. Concreteness is essential in communicating the idea – the idea with proverbial qualities that can conceivably be inexhaustible in finding how, when, and why it is practiced and applied in life. Key to making an idea concrete is to understand the nature of memory. Our memory works more like Velcro than a filling cabinet. The more hooks available to an idea, the better the chance it sticks to our memory, which represents the loops in Velcro. Note how the book title, duct tape, subtitle, and color all provide hooks so that our loop memory attaches and remembers.

“Credibility” is the fourth characteristic of ideas that stick. Though ideas need to have the wisdom of proverbs, have unexpected qualities that are memorable, and be concrete such that the stick in our memory, ideas need to also be credible and have credible sources. Indeed, the credibility of an idea is inextricably linked to its source. While the cover of the book does not have instant credibility, a thoughtful browser or reader will open the book and read about the authors. A brief reading of the authors' background gives sufficient information that their credentials and background provide credibility to writing about the subject of how ideas are generated, made sustainable, and made productive for organizations given their research and practice in the area in organizations. The list of concrete examples on the back of the book cover provides the reader an immediate glimpse that they authors have ample research examples to substantiate their claim about ideas that stick.

“Emotion” is the fifth characteristic of ideas that stick. Knowing something is not merely an objective action where individuals take in information and gain understanding. Ideas that stick are memorable, unexpected, and concrete because they appeal to the recipient's self‐interest and identity. A proverb does more than merely inform; it deeply motivates and challenges the recipient. In other words, it gets the recipient emotionally involved in what the idea is, what it represents, and ultimately how the idea is to be worked out in practice or life. The book cover accomplishes this in two ways. First, the subtitle, “why some ideas survive and why some do not”, gets us emotionally involved because all of us at one time have attempted to communicate our ideas only to see them brushed aside. Indeed, the subtitle whets the potential reader's appetite by implanting a type of wonder: “what types of ideas survive…what types do not … ..I think I can use this … .how would my idea have been taken differently if … ” In the end, if people don't care about your ideas, your ideas won't survive.

“Stories” is the sixth characteristic of ideas that stick. Stories get people to act on ideas that are simple, unexpected, concrete, and credible because they care about the ideas. But the process of using stories with ideas is not necessary creating a story. Rather, it is the ability to spot the story. The authors provide three basic types of story plots which help in spotting the stories that can be part of great ideas. The plots are: the “Challenge plot”, the “Connection plot”, and the “Creative plot”. Challenge plots inspire individuals to work harder, to face seemingly insurmountable challenges. Creativity plots work to generate creative solutions, approaches, and goals that further generate creativity in acting out on ideas. Connection plots are about people, their relationships, and how people can help others and work with others. Stories serve to provide people knowledge of how to act and the motivation to act on ideas.

Each characteristic of sticky ideas forms a chapter in the book filled with examples that clearly illustrate the sticky nature of good ideas. Additionally, each chapter has “Clinics” where readers can work towards honing in on how to develop the characteristics that make ideas stick. Each clinic is a great point of reference for readers working on ideas for the office, school, or even at home. Reading the book is not only inspiring, but motivating. The reader leaves each chapter reader with a fresh approach to developing ideas that stick, and, to accomplish what the authors say as an overarching goal: to transform the way people think and act.

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