October 5, 2007, 10:38 am

Stories and Sticky Ideas

By Lisa Agustin

I’ve been reading Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, in which authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath explore the commonality behind memorable ideas of all kinds including famous advertisements, political campaigns, and even urban legends. Why do certain ideas thrive while others languish? According to the authors, one reason is that “sticky” ideas have a Story behind them. (The other characteristics of a sticky idea include: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, and Emotions.) If an idea has a story behind it, people can interpret it in the context of their experience, recall it more easily, and thus use it as a reference point for making decisions in the future. For example:

Firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire, and by doing so they multiply their experience; after years of hearing stories, they have a richer, more complete mental catalog of critical situations they might confront during a fire and the appropriate responses to those situations. Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.

From our perspective, the stories don’t always have to be words on a page, either. A visual story can make an idea (especially a complicated one) both more engaging and easier to understand, increasing the odds that it will be remembered and referred to later on.

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