Made To Stick By Cheap and Dan Heath

Updated: November 1, 2022 Reading Time: 4 minutes rating: 9
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Sticky ideas have common traits that we can deconstruct and use to our advantage. The authors build a framework for this: SUCCESs (see highlights for more).

The difficulty in building sticky ideas and narratives is that it is very difficult to evade what they call “the curse of knowledge”. When you know too much you tend to over-complicate things, you lose the ability to simplify and make your stories relatable and understandable by a bigger audience.

Notes and Highlights

Sticky ideas, those ideas that are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact—they change your audience’s opinions or behavior share six common traits: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories.


“If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room they won’t remember any”

The Golden Rules is …: a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.

  • John F. Kennedy’s famous 1961 call to “put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade”


The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern. Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns.

Unexpected ideas are more likely to stick because surprise makes us pay attention and think.

(1) Identify the central message you need to communicate; (2) Figure out what is counterintuitive about the message; (3) Communicate your message in a way that breaks your audience’s guessing machines along the critical

Common is the enemy of sticky messages.

Curiosity happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge.

Our tendency is to tell people the facts. First, though, they must realize that they need these facts. The trick to convincing people that they need our message, according to Loewenstein, is to first highlight some specific knowledge that they’re missing.

Unexpected ideas, by opening a knowledge gap, tease and flirt.

“Education is not filling a bucket, but lightning a fire” — William B. Yeats


Language is often abstract, but life is not abstract

California is one of only five Mediterranean climate regions in the world. (The other are the fynbos of South Africa, the matorral of Chile, the kwongan of Australia, and, of course, the Mediterranean)

Memory is like Velcro. If you look at the two sides of Velcro material, you’ll see that one is covered with thousands o tiny hooks and the other is covered with thousands of tiny loops. When you press the two sides together, a huge number of hooks get snagged inside the loops, and that’s what causes Velcro to seal. Your brain hosts truly a staggering number of loops. The more hooks and idea has, the better it will cling to memory.

It’s easy to lose awareness that we’re talking like an expert. It can feel unnatural to speak concretely about subject matter we’ve known intimately for years.

When Boeing prepared to launch the design of the 727 plane in the 1960s, its managers set a goal that was deliberately concrete: sear 131 passengers, fly nonstop from Miami to New York City, and land on Runway 4-22 at La Guardia. (The 4-22 runway was chosen for its length—less than a mile, which was much too short for any of the existing passenger jets).

Remember the Mother Teresa effect—people care more about individuals than they do about abstractions.


Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials. We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves—a “try before you buy” philosophy for the world of ideas.

Emotions and Stories

When associations to certain terms are drawn repeatedly—sometimes with precision, sometimes with crudeness—the effect is to dilute the power of the terms and their underlying concepts. When everyone paints with lime green, lime green no longer stands out.

The Curse Of knowledge

Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what is was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners' state of mind.

The tactic of the “Three Whys” can be useful in bypassing the Curse Of knowledge. (Toyota actually has a “Five Whys” process for getting to the bottom of problems on its production line. Feel free to use as many “Whys” as you like.)

“All happy families resemble each other, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” — Leo Tolstoy

Almost no correlation emerges between “speaking talent” and the ability to make ideas stick.

One of the worst things about knowing a lot, or having access to a lot of information, is that we’re tempted to share it all.

Customer communication is taken very seriously, and employee communication isn’t. Employees need to understand what your organization stands for, where it’s headed, and what will make it successful.

Costco stands for the relentless pursuit of ever-increasing quality at ever-decreasing prices.

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