How to narrate a memorable story

Saturday March 10 2018

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

Brothers Chip (left) and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. PHOTOS | FILE 

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What is it that makes urban myths so persistent but many everyday truths so forgettable? How do newspapers ensure that the headlines make you want to read on? And why do we remember complicated stories but not complicated facts?

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die establishes what it is that determines whether ideas stay in our minds or not. Authors of the book, brothers Chip and Dan Heath, use thought-provoking anecdotes and case histories to show how some ideas are inherently interesting and others are uninteresting, and how to nurture our ideas so that they are memorable.

You have probably heard the kidney heist tale before. A guy goes to the local bar for a drink, meets an attractive woman, buys her a drink and that is the last thing he remembers. Or rather, that was the last thing he remembered until he woke up the next day lying in a hotel bathtub, submerged in ice, with one of his kidneys missing.

These “sticky” stories are the basis of Chip and Dan Heath’s books, both acclaimed researchers who, over 10 years of study, sought to find out how urban legends like the kidney heist tale stick.

They narrate one anecdote about how Disney uses simple analogies to make their ideas stick by referring to employees as “cast members”. The message is communicated consistently throughout the organisation. Cast members don’t interview for a job, they audition for a role. When they are walking around the park, they are on stage. People visiting Disney are guests not customers. Jobs are performances; uniforms are costumes.

Chip , a professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford University and Dan, a consultant and former researcher at Harvard Business School, use the idea of “stickiness” popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point.

Chip and Dan centre the book on the acronym “SUCCES” with the last s omitted. Each letter refers to a characteristic that can help make an idea sticky.

Their main argument is that by making an idea simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and through the use of stories we can communicate effectively.

They mention many case studies of successful teachers and professionals around the world like Diana Virgo of Loudoun Academy of Science, a mathematics teacher who uses concrete language to help students understand new concepts.

The quote “less is more” is a theme throughout the book. The authors explain what it is that makes you take note of ideas, understand, care, remember and act on them.

The authors refer to the main problem as the “Curse of Knowledge”, where the person sharing the idea has insider information that others do not. The narrator has already framed the problem and understand its relevance.

This explains why businessmen, doctors, teachers and marketers have their own abstract buzzwords. These abstractions make it harder to understand ideas and to remember them.

The authors emphasise an Aesop approach to telling stories and explain why fables like The Boy who Cried Wolf, The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, and The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing have stood the test of time.

They conclude by outlining a communication framework for an idea to be memorable.

Made to Stick has risen to the ranks of bestseller. It was also named Best Business Book of the Year for 2007, and was on the BusinessWeek bestseller list for 24 months. It has been translated into 25 languages.