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Made To Stick Book Summary, Review, Notes

Made To Stick is a book that describes a framework that helps your ideas stick. The framework consists of six principles that your ideas need to have: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and Stories. And to remember it easily, use the acronym SUCCES.


Book Title: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Author: Chip & Dan Heath
Date of Reading: January-February 2018
Rating: 8/10

Table of Contents

What Is Being Said In Detail:

Made To Stick explains how ideas stick with people. The “stickiness” depends on using the six principles of communicating your idea: It needs to be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and it needs to be packed in a story format.

The book has six chapters that correspond to each of the principles:

Chapter 1 talks about the principle of simplicity. To attain simplicity, you need to do two things: find the core message and then share the core message. You can remember it as a formula: Simple= core+compact. A proverb is a perfect example.

Chapter 2 is about the principle of unexpectedness. The two things to remember here are to get attention from people with a surprise and then to hold interest by providing a mystery.

Chapter 3 provides a way to present our ideas in a concrete way. The first thing the chapter describes is to help people understand and remember.  Afterward, it’s about helping people coordinate. This is about finding the universal language that all parties involved understand.

Chapter 4 explains the elements of credibility. Credibility is about making people believe your idea and by providing internal and external elements that prove the idea (experience and statistics).

Chapter 5 helps provide an emotional note to our ideas. Make people care by talking about a single person, instead of a mass of people. Also, use the power of association, appeal to self-interest, and appeal to the person’s identity to imbue your idea with emotions.

Chapter 6 shows us how stories make people act. Stories have two purposes: they serve as simulations (they tell people how to act) and they serve as inspirations (they give people energy and motivation to act).

Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes:


“You’ve just read one of the most successful urban legends of the past fifteen years. The first clue is the classic urban legend opening:”A friend of a friend . . .” Have you ever noticed that our friends’ friends have much more interesting lives than our friends themselves?”

“To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize.”

“Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound. The Golden Rule is the ultimate model of simplicity: a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.”

“We can engage people’s curiosity over a long period of time by systematically “opening gaps” in their knowledge—and then filling those gaps.”

“In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language: “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.”

“The listener’s job in this game is quite difficult. Over the course of Newton’s experiment, 120 songs were tapped out.Listeners guessed only 2.5 percent of the songs: 3 out of 120. 

But here’s what made the result worthy of a dissertation in psychology. Before the listeners guessed the name of the song, Newton asked the tappers to predict the odds that the listeners would guess correctly. 

They predicted that the odds were 50 percent. The tappers got their message across 1 time in 40, but they thought they were getting their message across 1 time in 2. Why?”

“It’s hard to be a tapper. The problem is that tappers have been given knowledge (the song title) that makes it impossible for them to imagine what it’s like to lack that knowledge. 

When they’re tapping, they can’t imagine what it’s like for the listeners to hear isolated taps rather than a song. This is the Curse of Knowledge.”

“It’s a hard problem to avoid—a CEO might have thirty years of daily immersion in the logic and conventions of business. Reversing the process is as impossible as un-ringing a bell.”

“There are, in fact, only two ways to beat the Curse of Knowledge reliably. The first is not to learn anything. The second is to take your ideas and transform them.”

“The surprising lesson of this story: Highly creative ads are more predictable than uncreative ones. It’s like Tolstoy’s quote: “All happy families resemble each other, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” All creative ads resemble one another, but each loser is uncreative in its own way.”

“You want to invent new ideas, not new rules.”


”A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

“Herb Kelleher [the longest-serving CEO of Southwest] once told someone, “I can teach you the secret to running this airline in thirty seconds. 

This is it: We are THE low-fare airline. Once you understand that fact, you can make any decision about this company’s future as well as I can.”

“What do you say?” The person stammered for a moment, so Kelleher responded: “You say, ‘Tracy, will adding that chicken Caesar salad make us THE low-fare airline from Houston to Las Vegas? Because if it doesn’t help us become the unchallenged low-fare airline, we’re not serving any damn chicken salad.”

“A new employee can easily put these ideas together to realize how to act in unscripted situations. For instance, is it all right to joke about a flight attendant’s birthday over the P.A.? Sure. 

Is it equally okay to throw confetti in her honor? Probably not— the confetti would create extra work for cleanup crews, and extra clean-up time means higher fares.”

“After the lead, information is presented in decreasing order of importance. Journalists call this the “inverted pyramid”structure—the most important info (the widest part of the pyramid) is at the top.”

In other words, finding the core isn’t synonymous with communicating the core. Top management can know what the priorities are but be completely ineffective in sharing and achieving those priorities.”

“Cervantes defined proverbs as “short sentences drawn from long experience.” Take the English-language proverb: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” What’s the core? 

The core is a warning against giving up a sure thing for something speculative. The proverb is short and simple, yet it packs a big nugget of wisdom that is useful in many situations.”

“Our messages have to be compact, because we can learn and remember only so much information at once.”

“J FKFB INAT OUP SNA SAI RS If you’re like most people, you probably remembered about seven to ten letters. That’s not much information. Compactness is essential, because there’s a limit to the amount of information we can juggle at once. 

Now turn the page and try the exercise again. There’s a twist this time. We haven’t changed the letters or the sequence. All we’ve done is change the way the letters are grouped. 

Once again, study the letters for ten to fifteen seconds, then close the book and test your recall. JFK FBI NATO UPS NASA IRS”

Chip Heath Quote: “There are, in fact, only two ways to beat the Curse of Knowledge reliably. The first is not to learn anything. The second is to take your ideas and transform them.”

“In Round 1, you were trying to remember raw data. In Round 2, you were remembering concepts: John F. Kennedy, the FBI, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, UPS, NASA, the IRS.”

“So, to make a profound idea compact you’ve got to pack a lot of meaning into a little bit of messaging. And how do you do that? You use flags. You tap the existing memory terrain of your audience. You use what’s already there.”

“The use of schemas can sometimes involve a somewhat slower route to the “real truth.” For instance, physicists now know that electrons don’t orbit the nucleus the way that planets do. 

In reality, electrons move in “probability clouds.” So what do you tell a sixth grader? Do you talk about the motion of planets, which is easy to understand and nudges you closer to the truth? Or do you talk about “probability clouds,” which are impossible to understand but accurate?”

“Herb Kelleher could tell a flight attendant that her goal is to “maximize shareholder value.” In some sense, this statement is more accurate and complete than that the goal is to be “THE low-fare airline.” After all, the proverb “THE low-fare airline” is clearly incomplete—Southwest could offer lower fares by eliminating aircraft maintenance, or by asking passengers to share napkins. 

Clearly, there are additional values (customer comfort, safety ratings) that refine. Southwest’s core value of economy. The problem with “maximize shareholder value,” despite its accuracy, is that it doesn’t help the flight attendant decide whether to serve chicken salad. An accurate but useless idea is still useless.”

Accuracy to the point of uselessness is a symptom of the Curse of Knowledge. To a CEO, “maximizing shareholder value” may be an immensely useful rule of behavior. To a flight attendant, it’s not. To a physicist, probability clouds are fascinating phenomena. To a child, they are incomprehensible.”

“In Hollywood, people use core ideas called “high-concept pitches.” You’ve probably heard some of them. Speed was “Die Hard on a bus.” 13 Going on 30 was “Big for girls.” Alien was “Jaws on a spaceship.”

“As another example, imagine that you were just hired to be the production designer on the new film Alien. It will be your job to design the spaceship where most of the movie takes place. 

What does it look like? If you knew nothing at all about the movie, you might sensibly start by looking at old spaceship designs. For instance, think of the cool, immaculate interior of the Enterprise Star Trek. Then your boss tells you that the vision for the movie is “Jaws on a spaceship.” That changes everything. Jaws was not cool or immaculate. 

Richard Dreyfus navigated around on a rickety old boat. Decisions were rushed, slapdash, claustrophobic, anxiety ridden. The environment was sweaty. As you think about what made Jaws tick, your ideas start to take shape: The ship will be underdeveloped, dingy, and oppressive. 

The crew members will not wear bright Lycra uniforms. The rooms will not be well lit and lintless.”

“Proverbs are the Holy Grail of simplicity. Coming up with a short, compact phrase is easy. Anybody can do it. On the other hand, coming up with a profound compact phrase is incredibly difficult. 

What we’ve tried to show in this chapter is that the effort is worth it—that “finding the core,” and expressing it in the form of a compact idea, can be enduringly powerful.”


“A flight attendant named Karen Wood faced exactly this situation and solved it with creativity. On a flight from Dallas to San Diego, she made the following announcement:”

“If I could have your attention for a few moments, we sure would love to point out these safety features. If you haven’t been in an automobile since 1965, the proper way to fasten your seat belt is to slide the flat end into the buckle. 

To unfasten, lift up on the buckle and it will release. And as the song goes, there might be fifty ways to leave your lover, but there are only six ways to leave this aircraft: two forward exit doors, two over-wing removable window exits, and two aft exit doors. 

The location of each exit is clearly marked with signs overhead,as well as red and white disco lights along the floor of the aisle. Made ya look!”

“(And if a well-designed message can make people applaud for a safety announcement there’s hope for all of us.)”

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

“Surprise makes us want to find an answer—to resolve the question of why we were surprised—and big surprises call for big answers. If we want to motivate people to pay attention, we should seize the power of big surprises.”

“But, to be satisfying, surprise must be “post dictable.” The twist makes sense after you think about it, but it’s not something you would have seen coming.”

“(1) Identify the central message you need to communicate—find the core; (2) Figure out what is counterintuitive about the message—i.e., What are the unexpected implications of your core message? Why isn’t it already happening naturally? 

(3) Communicate your message in a way that breaks your audience’s guessing machines along the critical, counterintuitive dimension. Then, once their guessing machines have failed, help them refine their machines”

”Well, the Aha! experience is much more satisfying when it is preceded by the Huh?experience.”

“One important implication of the gap theory is that we need to open gaps before we close them. Our tendency is to tell people the facts. First, though, they must realize that they need these facts.”

“These are sensationalist examples of the gap theory. They work because they tease you with something that you don’t know—in fact, something that you didn’t care about at all, until you found out that you didn’t know it.”

“To make our communications more effective, we need to shift our thinking from “What information do I need to convey?” to “What questions do I want my audience to ask?

“Innovation: “Sony will create the most advanced radios in the world.” Here’s the idea Ibuka proposed to his team: a “pocketable radio.”


“One suspects that the life span of Aesop’s ideas would have been shorter if they’d been encoded as Aesop’s Helpful Suggestions—”Don’t be such a bitter jerk when you fail.”

“Here’s what TNC did: Instead of talking in terms of land area, it talked about a “landscape.” A landscape is a contiguous plot of land with unique, environmentally precious features. 

The TNC set a goal of preserving fifty landscapes—of which twenty-five were an immediate priority—over a ten-year period. Five landscapes per year sounds more realistic than 2 million acres per year, and it’s much more concrete.”

“…avoided the trap of abstraction—saving 2 million acres per year—by converting abstract blobs on a map into tangible landscapes. 

TNC realized, wisely, that the context had grown more ambiguous, and the solutions had grown more ambiguous, but that their messages could not be allowed to grow more ambiguous. Concreteness is an indispensable component of sticky ideas.”

“Using concreteness as a foundation for abstraction is not just good for mathematical instruction; it is a basic principle of understanding. Novices crave concreteness.

“Or maybe you’ve experienced the frustration of cooking from a recipe that was too abstract: “Cook until the mixture reaches a hearty consistency.” Huh? Just tell me how many minutes to stir! 

Show me a picture of what it looks like! After we’ve cooked the dish a few times, then the phrase “hearty consistency” might start to make sense.”

“The reason is simple: because the difference between an expert and a novice is the ability to think abstractly. New jurors are struck by lawyers’ personalities and factual details and courtroom rituals. 

Meanwhile, judges weigh the current case against the abstract lessons of past cases and legal precedent. Biology students try to remember whether reptiles lay eggs or not. Biology teachers think in terms of the grand system of animal taxonomy.”

“The moral of this story is not to “dumb things down.” The manufacturing people faced complex problems and they needed smart answers. Rather, the moral of the story is to find a “universal language,” one that everyone speaks fluently. Inevitably, that universal language will be concrete.

“When Boeing prepared to launch the design of the 727 passenger plane in the 1960s, its managers set a goal that was deliberately concrete: The 727 must seat 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.) 

With a goal this concrete, Boeing effectively coordinated the actions of thousands of experts in various aspects of engineering or manufacturing. Imagine how much harder it would have been to build a 727 whose goal was to be “the best passenger plane in the world.”

“Grant’s message does sacrifice the statistics and the scientific description that add credibility to the PSI message. But, as the director of UNICEF, he had enough credibility to keep people from questioning his facts.”

“Studzinski visited three homes, and the experience stuck with her. “I had read and I could recite all the data about our customers,” she says. “I knew their demographics by heart. 

But it was a very different experience to walk into a customer’s home and experience a little bit of her life. I’ll never forget one woman, who had a toddler on her hip while she was mixing up dinner on the stove. 

We know that ‘convenience’ is an important attribute of our product, but it’s a different thing to see the need for convenience firsthand.”


“In the fall of 2005, Marshall and Warren received the Nobel Prize in medicine for their work. These two men had a brilliant, Nobelworthy, world-changing insight. So why did Marshall have to poison himself to get people to believe him?”

“The use of vivid details is one way to create internal credibility—to weave sources of credibility into the idea itself. 

Another way is to use statistics. Since grade school, we’ve been taught to support our arguments with statistical evidence. But statistics tend to be eye-glazing. How can we use them while still managing to engage our audience?”

It’s more important for people to remember the relationship than the number.”

“These possibilities are examples of why writing about statistics filled us with anxiety. 

Particularly in the realm of politics, tinkering with statistics provides lucrative employment for untold numbers of issue advocates. Ethically challenged people with lots of analytical smarts can, with enough contortions, make almost any case from a given set of statistics.”

“All of us do it. “I scored sixteen points for the church basketball team tonight!” (Not mentioned: twenty-two missed shots and the loss of the game.) “I’m five feet six.” (Not mentioned: The three-inch heels.) “Revenue was up 10 percent this year, so I think I deserve a bonus.” (Not mentioned: Profits tanked.)”

“When it comes to statistics, our best advice is to use them as input, not output. Use them to make up your mind on an issue. Don’t make up your mind and then go looking for the numbers to support yourself—that’s asking for temptation and trouble.”

“Get ready to make a few predictions. Which of the following events kill more people: Homicide or suicide? Floods or tuberculosis? Tornadoes or asthma? Take a second to think about your answers.”


“Mother Teresa once said, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” In 2004, some researchers at Carnegie Mellon University decided to see whether most people act like Mother Teresa.”

“Everyone believes there is tremendous human suffering in Africa; there’s no doubt about the facts. But belief does not necessarily make people care enough to act. 

Everyone believes that eating lots of fatty food leads to health problems; there’s no doubt about the facts. But the belief does not make people care enough to act.”

“Rather, the goal of making messages “emotional” is to make people care. Feelings inspire people to act.”

“He sat at his typewriter and pecked out the most famous headline in print-advertising history: “They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano . . . But When I Started to Play!”

“He says, “First and foremost, try to get self-interest into every headline you write. Make your headline suggest to readers that here is something they want. This rule is so fundamental that it would seem obvious. Yet the rule is violated every day by scores of writers.”

”The most frequent reason for unsuccessful advertising is advertisers who are so full of their own accomplishments (the world’s best seed!) that they forget to tell us why we should buy (the world’s best lawn!).”

“spell out the benefit of the benefit. In other words, people don’t buy quarter-inch drill bits. They buy quarter-inch holes so they can hang their children’s pictures.”

“You couldn’t fill your Aesthetic needs until your Physical needs were taken care of. (In Maslow’s world, there were no starving artists.)”

“Even if a second-rate copywriter had been hired, and the slogan had been “Don’t Disrespect Texas,” the campaign would still have decreased cans on Texas highways.”

“So far we’ve looked at three strategies for making people care: using associations (or avoiding associations, as the case may be), appealing to self-interest, and appealing to identity.”

“This realization—that empathy emerges from the particular rather than the pattern—brings us back full circle to the Mother Teresa quote at the beginning of the chapter: “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”


“The story’s power, then, is twofold: It provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act).”

“In the last few chapters, we’ve seen that a credible idea makes people believe. An emotional idea makes people care. And in this chapter we’ll see that the right stories make people act.”

“When children say “Tell me a story,” they’re begging for entertainment, not instruction.”

“But “passive” may be overstating the case. When we read books, we have the sensation of being drawn into the author’s world. When friends tell us stories, we instinctively empathize. When we watch movies, we identify with the protagonists.”

“When we hear a story, our minds move from room to room. When we hear a story, we simulate it. But what good is simulation?”

“When people drink water but imagine that it’s lemon juice, they salivate more. Even more surprisingly, when people drink lemon juice but imagine that it’s water, they salivate less.”

“Aristotle believed there were four primary dramatic plots: Simple Tragic, Simple Fortunate, Complex Tragic, and Complex Fortunate. Robert McKee, the screenwriting guru, lists twenty five types of stories in his book: the modern epic, the disillusionment plot, and so on. 

When we finished sorting through a big pile of inspirational stories—a much narrower domain—we came to the conclusion that there are three basic plots: the Challenge plot, the Connection plot, and the Creativity plot.”

Chip Heath Quote: “Our messages have to be compact, because we can learn and remember only so much information at once.”

“the underdog story, the rags-to riches story, the triumph of sheer willpower over adversity.”

“The key element of a Challenge plot is that the obstacles seem daunting to the protagonist.”

“The American hockey team beating the heavily favored Russians in the 1980 Olympics. The Alamo. Horatio Alger tales. The American Revolution. Seabiscuit. The Star Warsmovies. Lance Armstrong. Rosa Parks.”

“This is what a Connection plot is all about. It’s a story about people who develop a relationship that bridges a gap—racial, class, ethnic, religious, demographic, or otherwise.”

“If you’re telling a story at the company Christmas party, it’s probably best to use the Connection plot. If you’re telling a story at the kickoff party for a new project, go with the Challenge plot.”

“The Creativity plot involves someone making a mental breakthrough, solving a long-standing puzzle, or attacking a problem in an innovative way. It’s the MacGyver plot.”

“One employee, frustrated by the average four-year product life cycle, said, “It was taking us longer to introduce a new product than it took our nation to fight World War II.”

Shackleton came up with a creative solution for dealing with the whiny, complaining types. He assigned them to sleep in his own tent. When people separated into groups to work on chores, he grouped the complainers with him. 

Through his constant presence, he minimized their negative influence. Creativity plots make us want to do something different, to be creative, to experiment with new approaches.”

“Guy faces huge obstacles and overcomes them— it’s a Challenge plot. Challenge plots inspire people to take on challenges and work harder.”

“Stories can almost single-handedly defeat the Curse of Knowledge. In fact, they naturally embody most of the SUCCESs framework. Stories are almost always Concrete. 

Most of them have Emotional and Unexpected elements. The hardest part of using stories effectively is making sure that they’re Simple—that they reflect your core message. 

It’s not enough to tell a great story; the story has to reflect your agenda. You don’t want a general lining up his troops before battle to tell a Connection plot story.”


“As recounted by Ralph Keyes in his book on misquotations, Nice Guys Finish Seventh, the metamorphosis of Durocher’s quote began a year later. The Baseball Digest quoted Durocher as saying, “Nice guys finish in last place in the second division.” 

Before long, as his quip was passed along from one person to another, it evolved, becoming simpler and more universal, until it emerged as a cynical comment on life: “Nice guys finish last.”

“In the “Simple” chapter, we told the story of the 1992 Clinton campaign and Carville’s famous proverb, “It’s the economy, stupid.” We mentioned that this proverb was one of three phrases that Carville wrote on a whiteboard. 

Here’s a trivia question: What were the other two? The other two phrases were “Change vs. more of the same” and “Don’t forget health care.” Those phrases didn’t stick.”

“pose or clarity. Stripping out information, in order to focus on the core, is not instinctual.”

“tendency to focus on the presentation rather than on the message. Public speakers naturally want to appear composed, charismatic, and motivational. 

And, certainly, charisma will help a properly designed message stick better. But all the charisma in the world won’t save a dense, unfocused speech, as some Stanford students learn the hard way.”

“Here’s the rub: The same factors that worked to your advantage in the Answer stage will backfire on you during the Telling Others stage. To get the Answer, you need expertise, but you can’t dissociate expertise from the Curse of Knowledge. 

You know things that others don’t know, and you can’t remember what it was like not to know those things. So when you get around to sharing the Answer, you’ll tend to communicate as if your audience were you.”

“There is a curious disconnect between the amount of time we invest in training people how to arrive at the Answer and the amount of time we invest in training them how to Tell Others. 

It’s easy to graduate from medical school or an MBA program without ever taking a class in communication. College professors take dozens of courses in their areas of expertise but none on how to teach. A lot of engineers would scoff at a training program about Telling Others.”

“Business managers seem to believe that, once they’ve clicked through a PowerPoint presentation showcasing their conclusions, they’ve successfully communicated their ideas. 

What they’ve done is share data. If they’re good speakers, they may even have created an enhanced sense, among their employees and peers, that they are “decisive” or “managerial” or “motivational.” 

But, like the Stanford students, the surprise will come when they realize that nothing they’ve said had impact. They’ve shared data, but they haven’t created ideas that are useful and lasting. Nothing stuck.”

“For an idea to stick, for it to be useful and lasting, it’s got to make the audience: 1. Pay attention 2. Understand and remember it 3. Agree/Believe 4. Care 5. Be able to act on it”

“The SUCCESs checklist is intended to be a deeply practical tool. It’s no accident that it’s a checklist and not an equation. It’s not hard, and it’s not rocket science. But neither is it natural or instinctive. It requires diligence and it requires awareness.”

“There was Nora Ephron’s journalism teacher. Poor guy, we didn’t even mention his name. He told his class, “The lead is ‘There will be no school next Thursday.’” 

And in that one sentence he rewrote his students’ image of journalism. He inspired Ephron—and doubtless many others—to become journalists. A normal person with a normal job who made a difference.”

Book Review (Personal Opinion):

Made To Stick is another remarkable book written by the Heath brothers. What I love about Made To Stick is its simple presentation and a lot of examples/research that provides credibility but also makes the book easy and fun to read. 

Also, their humor really got me laughing! The only reason why this book isn’t a 9/10 is that I read Contagious by Jonah Berger before and didn’t get that much from this book.

Rating: 8/10

This Book Is For (Recommend):

  • A sales or marketing professional working in a small or medium-sized business
  • A blogger or writer looking to scale up their website
  • A teacher who wants to create an amazing course (offline/online) for their audience

If You Want To Learn More

Here’s Dan Heath talking about Made To Stick at PBS.
PBS NC Bookwatch

How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book

The first sentence you read in any of the book summaries on Growthabit is adhering to the principle of simplicity. It’s a one-paragraph summary of the entire book. 

Also, I’ve created the Growthabit book summary framework to be as skimmable as possible (headlines, spaced out paragraphs, 9 categories that encompass everything the book is about, etc.) so you can choose to skim in 30 seconds or invest 10 minutes to read everything.

One Small Actionable Step You Can Do

When you create something, try to encompass the idea of it using a “high-concept pitch.” A high-concept pitch explains the idea behind your creation in a single sentence:

  • Lion King: Hamlet with lions
  • Alien: Jaws on a spaceship
  • Growthabit:
    • Everything you need to know about a book in 15 minutes
    • Free Blinkist
    • FourMinuteBooks on steroids
Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath - Book Summary Infographic