Basically a book about crafting memes.

Same comment on the writing style as on previous books by the same author.

First author works in education. Second studies memetics. Book is based on a Stanford course called “How to make ideas stick”.

Core tenets are SUCCES:

Mostly obvious, but confounded by the curse of knowledge.

Experiment by an ad agency. Noticed that award winning ads could mostly be fitted into one of six templates, but poorly performing ads were more varied. Subjects who were given the templates generated higher scoring ads than subjects who were led through a brainstorming session or subjects who were given no guidance at all. Idea in this book is the same - break down the core template of a sticky idea.


Should have been ‘Core’, but that breaks the SUCCES acronym.

Commanders Intent - top of each military plan carries a single sentence description of the desired outcome of the plan, to ensure that when the plan breaks down and soldiers have to improvise, they all have a clear understanding of the goal. Has to be concrete enough to be understood, but not so detailed that changing events render it meaningless. Conveys intent.

Helpful triggers for CI - “the single most important thing we must do tomorrow is __”.

Finding the core of the idea.

Same goes for eg corporate missions - need to clearly convey intent in a way that helps making decisions eg Southwest Airlines has the statement “We are THE low-fare airline” which clearly conveys that lowering prices takes priority over comfort or features.

Inverted pyramid - structure for news articles. Start with the most important point and successively expand on it. Can stop reading at any point and still have an overview.

“If you say three things, you don’t say anything”

Decision paralysis. Ask college students whether they want to take an expensive vacation after their exams. Many choose to pay a small fee to lock in the price so they can make the decision after finding out their grades. But students who were told their grades mostly opted to go, regardless of what their grades were. Uncertainty makes decisions difficult, even if resolving the uncertainty either way wouldn’t change the decision.

Core intent for a local newspaper - “Names, names and names”. Repetition highlights the idea that quantity is desirable.

Proverbs are a good example of sticky ideas. Tend to be short, dramatic and memorable, with a clear point.

Feature creep in messages.

Chunking. Size of a message is a function not of letters/words/sentences but of concepts.

Piggyback on existing ideas to compress your message - “like Uber but for …”. Much like inverted pyramid - start with a familiar and similar concept, then point out differences in order of importance.

Accuracy vs simplicity. “Maximise shareholder value” is more accurate than “we are THE low fare airline” but is too divorced from the experience of the people on the front lines to be useful for making decisions. Has to be in a language they speak.

Generative analogies - metaphors that produce clear direction. Eg Disney calls it’s employees “cast members” - the metaphor to performance makes it clear that eg whenever they are in public they should be in character. Vs Subway calling it’s employees “sandwich artists” - a useless analogy because Subway clearly expects them to behave more like sandwich assembly-line machines.


Surprise gets attention. Interest keeps it.

Create expectations, and then violate them.

Not the same as gimmickery. The surprise has to tie in to the message, otherwise only the surprise will be remembered.

Especially useful if you know that the listener has the wrong expectations - can dramatically violate them to make the point. Eg “names, names, names” was followed up with “If I could, I’d publish pages from the phone book to get names. If fact, if I could gather up enough names I’d hire more typesetters to lay out more pages so they would fit.” Similarly, Nordstrom broke it’s employees expectations of boundaries of customer support by publishing stories of employees doing things like gift wrapping items bought from a different store, or making refunds for a product they don’t even sell.

Mysteries create interest. People have a deep need to resolve them. Hence the success of ‘…and you won’t believe what happened next’.

Create a gap in the readers knowledge, and then promise to fill it.

One way to create a gap is to have people commit to a prediction and then reveal that it is wrong.

Ambitious goals eg Sony’s “pocketable radio”. Simple and concrete. Audacious, but just about plausible. “Man on the moon”, not “man on mercury”.


Abstraction is a useful tool, but it takes effort and application to grasp. Ideas stick better if they are immediately concrete.

Good names are a way of making abstract things concrete.

Concrete ideas are easier to remember than abstract ideas. No citation :S

The more hooks the mind has for a given concept, the easier it is to recall it. I’ve noticed this learning German words, which are often composed out of smaller words. Knowing the meaning of the components is rarely enough to guess the meaning of the whole word, but after learning the meaning it makes a certain twisted kind of sense in hindsight (eg ausstellen -> out-place -> exhibit). Once the meaning is known, the components help trigger it’s recall - the story of how the meaning comes from the components is an extra hook to remember.

Curse of knowledge. Abstractions become concrete through use. The expert has a hard time remembering that their brain has different hooks to non-experts.

Concrete goals lead to better coordination because there is no confusion over exactly what is meant. “Put a man on the moon within the decade” did not lead to any confused discussions about exactly what was meant by man or moon.

Eg “best passenger plane in the world” vs “must seat 131 passengers, fly nonstop from Miami to New York City and land on runway 4-22 at La Guardia” - the latter is a much more concrete goal, and makes it much easier to make decisions/tradeoffs.

Concreteness also makes it easier to generate ideas eg “think of as many white things as you can” vs “think of as many white things in your fridge as you can”.

Making several user/customer profiles, real or fictional, is a good way to indirectly specify goals when the correct goal is not clear.


Credibility from authority.

Credibility from anti-authority - “someone like me” is easy to trust.

Irrelevant details often add credibility to stories. Adding details should lower the probability of a given event, but people judge more detailed events as more probable.

Concreteness also helps credibility. Putting facts into a frame that is intuitively comprehended makes them more impactful. If you want to convince someone on an emotional level, you need to frame the conversation in a way that is emotionally accessible.

Sinatra Test - “if I can make if there I can make it anywhere” - establish credibility with a single peak-difficulty example eg if you can cater for the White House it’s convincing proof that you can cater for any event.

Can outsource credibility to your audience - give them something they can test themselves.


Often a single, concrete example compels more action than a wall of statistics eg charity ads which talk about a single child rather than the hundreds of thousands who are starving.

“Drop in the bucket” effect - people want to feel like their individual action has an impact.

Everyone knows abstractly that eating poorly or smoking will damage their health, but analytic knowledge alone isn’t enough to change their behavior.

Appeal to self-interest - explicitly spell out what’s in it for the audience. “People will enjoy a sense of security when they use Goodyear tires” -> “You will enjoy a sense of security when you use Goodyear tires”.

Explcitly invite the audience to imagine themselves in the bright new future you are offering. “Take a moment and imagine how CATV will provide you with…”. Does imagining make it so. The linked paper suggests that some variant of the availability heuristic is at play here.

This finding suggests that it may be the tangibility, rather than the magnitude, of the benefits that makes people care. You don’t have to promise riches and sex appeal and magnetic personalities. It may be enough to promise reasonable benefits that people can easily imagine themselves enjoying.

Don’t just focus on obvious needs, look at whole of Maslows hierarchy. Subjects asked about different pitches predict that they are more driven by self-esteem and self-actualization but others are more driven by money, security and status - ‘Maslows basement’. You may have a skewed view of what needs drive your audience.

Self-interest can backfire if it runs counter to the audiences self-image - “do you think I’m the kind of person who needs a reward to do this work?”

Appeal to identity eg “Don’t mess with Texas” campaign convinced the audience that “people like me don’t litter”.

Simulations to create empathy and immediacy. Put decision-makers in the shoes of the people they serve eg IDEO filmed a video of a hospital visit from the perspective of the patient.


Stories passed between professionals act as an entertaining way to convey important information about eg an unfamliar error or a surprising diagnosis. The listener acts out the story in the head as they listen, making them more likely to be able to react correctly in a similar situation than if the same information was presented without narrative. No citation.

Students asked to mentally simulate the chain of events leading to some problem were better at solving it than students who were asked to mentally simulate a positive outcome or students who were simply told to think about the problem. The authors takes the opportunity to ding vizualization techniques, but these are certainly well supported in sports psychology at least. It’s not clear in which circumstances rehearsing past events is more useful that imagining succesful future events. I notice that the students here were not asked to imagine the steps towards the positive outcome, only the end result.

Mental rehearsal is useful for in-the-moment decisions eg a recovering alcholic might rehearse how to respond when a friend offers to buy a round. Even mental rehearsal of physical routines can have large benefits on performance.

Keep an eye out for good stories eg Subway ad about a customer who lost massive amounts of weight eating only Subway sandwiches.

Stories are useful for defeating the curse of knowledge - the narrative pulls in all the detail that is missing in the chunked message.


For an idea to stick and effect long-term changes, it must make the audience:

SUCCES checklist captures common mistakes in this process.


I dunno. Like their other books, it’s interesting and seems sensible but is supported more by anecdotes than experiments, and probably deliberately so, given their advice. It summarises itself pretty well, so I don’t have much to add. I guess I just need to apply it to see if it works.