I have been getting requests from the readers of my blog and from my network on how they can practice storytelling at work. The basics of business storytelling series will cover this aspect. This series will cover ideas from what I read, observed and learned from practice. This post is about a book that I read which is helping me in my practice.
Prof. Chip Heath and Dan Heath are the authors of the book, “Made to Stick”. In it, they explain why some ideas stick and others die. For an idea to stick, it must have certain elements which help in connecting people and to carry the message forward. The authors have studied several ideas from the field of advertising, leadership communication, social cause messaging, people & company stories before arriving at this framework.
From their studies, they propose six principles that make an idea stick.
Principle 1: Simplicity
There is a simple reason why proverbs have lasted generations across cultures. The Heaths state that, any idea needs to be stripped to its core to make it memorable and easy to pass it on. The Golden Rule is to have a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.
Google’s mission statement, “Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” is powerful but also simple.
And a company that is built on that mission is generating revenues upwards of $ 120 billion.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s speech, “I have a dream” galvanized an entire community and nation towards freedom from slavery. Imagine a speech filled with jargons, complex information, and superfluous language. It wouldn’t have got this reach.
When you have many message or ideas, use the principle of exclusion to reduce all that into one.
Principle 2: Unexpectedness
“For an idea to endure, it must generate interest and curiosity,” says the Heath brothers. But it has to be done in a balanced manner. Master communicators will expose the gaps in the audience mind and then fill those gaps with their idea.
This approach allows you to hold the audience even though they have got gaps in knowledge. It is done by tapping into their existing knowledge, then exposing the gaps by curiosity and raising interest levels, and by filling that gap with your ideas.
George Loewenstein proposed this gap theory. He says that, as we gain information, we are more and more likely to focus on what we do not know. Someone who knows capitals of 50 countries would be proud of their knowledge, but someone who knows the capitals of 170 countries will more likely want to know the capitals of the rest 20+ countries.
Principle 3: Concreteness
Life is not abstract, but more often, the language we speak is abstract, and it gets worse as we move up the ladder. Terms such as liquidity, metacognitive skills, thematic learning are a put-off when it comes to spreading a message and when you want people to act.
“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” is a concrete message. Ideas need to be expressed in human action and sensory information, staying clear of business-speak.
John F Kennedy’s famous moon-shot speech of 1961 can also be expressed as, “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centred innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives”. Or it can be, “Put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.”
JFK being a visionary leader, chose the latter. The message is simple and concrete. By speaking in concrete terms, one doesn’t allow a chance for anyone to interpret it differently, the above message means the same thing to everyone, be it the NASA scientists or the US Congress representatives or to the people of the US.
Principle 4: Credibility
Why should people believe in your ideas? Should be the question one needs to answer first. Not everyone has the same level of authority in all the subjects. We associate authority to individuals based on their past actions, their experience.
Some people build credibility by showing numbers, but even numbers do not have credibility when shared by a person who does not have authority in that field. For example, while we believe a physician’s take on health disorders, we do not give the same credibility, when he talks about the fiscal deficit of the economy.
Dan and Chip say, “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.”
One way of doing this is by adding vivid details that are truthful and meaningful to humans, which symbolize and support the core idea. Including statistics that are in the context of the idea also can help build credibility.
The other famous method is the Sinatra test. If an example passes the Sinatra test, then that one example alone is enough to establish credibility. It traces its origins to Frank Sinatra’s classic “New York New York”, about the life in New York and the chorus sings, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” For it to be successful, one needs to find the Sinatra test relative to the idea.
Principle 5: Emotions
Why should people care about your ideas? By making them feel something. Humans are wired to feel for people, and abstractions do not help in this regard.
Research shows that people are more likely to donate to a single needy individual than to an impoverished region. That is the reason why when funding agencies reach out; they say a specific story of an orphaned kid or someone with health problems in need of money for treatment.
Same emotions do not elicit similar responses across a different set of people. Teenagers may react to one set of emotions differently than adults, so the hard part is figuring out the right feeling to harness for a specific campaign and audience.
Principle 6: Stories
And finally, stories get people to act on ideas. Hearing stories preps us to respond more quickly and effectivity to a situation that is the reason, stories are powerful.
Companies are moving from being case study centric to client story-centric; it is not just a change of title. A story walks through the situation that persisted earlier, the pain points prompting the client to look for solutions, and when the solution provider sensing the business challenges, provides a solution that promises a new normal.
Often master storytellers like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk have used this technique to position their products that promise a new normal and relieves the consumers from unpleasant experiences.
To make an idea stick, it should be a Simple, Unexpected Concrete Credentialed Emotional Story!
Now one can observe that it can also be remembered as SUCCESs.
For an idea to last, it should make the audience,
1. Pay attention
2. Understand and remember
5. Be able to act
Are you preparing your next leadership communication or brand message? Read more about the strategic narrative. Read the next post in the Basics of Business Storytelling here.
Need assistance? Happy to help.
5 thoughts on “The Basics of Business Storytelling – 1 Storytelling Principles from Made to Stick”
Well said with six principles…🤗
Great piece of read. Good techniques of story telling.
An article that has capsuled on how story telling should be constructed. Interesting to read!
Good way of describing, and nice piece of writing to
obtain information on the topic of my presentation topic, which i am going to deliver in university.
Thanks for your feedback. What are you talking about and in which university? Do let me know if you need any support.