When Gooey is Good−Books for Project People Part 5 of 6

gooey.JPGFor anyone who is might be in the habit of drinking soda near their computer, maybe the word “sticky” strikes terror into your heart, but if you are a project manager wanting to get buy-in for your project or product, Chip and Dan Heath provide you with some powerful tools in Made To Stick
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Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

What is is a sticky idea? It is an idea that is understood and remembered, and an idea that has a lasting impact−it changes your audience’s opinions or behavior.

Aside from the fact that they give lots of examples of “how tos”, what I like about the book is that the examples are not all drawn from the world of advertising or marketing. There are numerous examples of how to powerfully convey complex ideas in science and technology. In technology today, there is more and more emphasis and necessity on working with cross functional teams. So it isn’t enough if engineers, developers and other technical project people “get it” and care; it is critical that executives, financial backers, brand specialists and web artists understand and “get it” too. The Heath brothers, one a Stanford Professor and the other a co-founder of an innovative text book company using new media, have come up with the Six Principles (with the easy to remember acronym of SUCCES) that will help make your idea sticky:

Simplicity: just as if you are trying to pitch a film idea or business idea, your project or product description and benefit needs to be simple. Something like this, “we are building an eBay for Doctors” “We will take the headache out of using a cell phone in the subway.” The basic idea is to find the core of why what your are doing is important.

Unexpectedness: this helps to get people’s attention and gain their interest.

Concreteness: using real-world analogies help people understand complex ideas. This is an extremely useful idea in developing new technologies and luckily the easiest of the to apply. It is an important concept for technical people to master, because typically they are excellent abstract thinker and may not realize the abstraction makes ideas harder to understand remember an idea. So the next time you are tempted to quote someone the spec of the new hard drive you are building you may want to make it concrete and say: “it will allow you to double the amount of photos you can store on your drive today.”

Credibility: helps people believe in you and your ideas

Emotional: information makes people think, but emotion makes them care.

Stories: Get people to act.

The Heath brothers have included a handy little easy reference guide at the end of the book to help remind us of the principles and why they are important. Although it is most likely that it will be marketing and consulting types who gravitate naturally to Made to Stick, I would definitely encourage the technical among you to pick it up. It is an extremely valuable tool in communicating about complex ideas and products with teams and really makes the importance of concepts of “features and benefits” more tangible to folks who don’t necessarily make their living segmenting markets.

The Yawn-o-Meter (a very personal metric meant to reflect only how easy I found it to read based on a Harry Potter book being a 1 and War and Peace being a 10 or, if your prefer, a Guy Kawasaki book compared to an Edward Tufte): This is an easy read but with a lot to chew on, so I would give it a 4 or 5. The true value of the book is in understanding why it is important to you in your daily professional life to make people care about your ideas, and how to integrate the principles laid out in the book into your day-to-day approach to your projects and communication with your stakeholders. I do think it is an important book, and as the authors note, a great follow-up to one of the most well received business books of the past few years, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, a great book to pick up before this one. That is a book whose title has entered our modern business vocabulary and stickiness factor proposes that are specific ways a making a message memorable. The authors of Made To Stick pick up where Gladwell left off, and give you a blueprint for the “how to” of sticky.

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