Made to Stick Book Summary, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

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1-Page Summary of Made to Stick


Great ideas don’t always succeed. In fact, many of them go unnoticed and are never heard of again. While other ideas that aren’t as great spread like wildfire. For example, the rumor about poisoned candy being handed out on Halloween is an urban legend that was completely made up by someone who didn’t want kids to have fun on Halloween. Why do these rumors spread so quickly? And why are they so hard to stop?

In short, they have two qualities: they are memorable and people want to share them with others.

Ideas need to be sticky and popular. Certain health groups wanted to raise awareness of the fact that movie popcorn in America – at the time prepared with coconut oil – contained extraordinarily high amounts of saturated fat, making it extremely unhealthy.

When people were told that a bag of popcorn contained 37 grams of saturated fat, they didn’t care. The number was dry and too academic to stick in their minds.

Since coconut oil was unhealthy, they tried to make people aware of the fact by pointing out that it had more fat than a breakfast consisting of bacon and eggs. The message stuck with people as they spread it around. It eventually led to all major movie theaters using healthier alternatives for their popcorn.

Big Idea #1: The Strength of Simplicity

It’s tempting to explain an idea thoroughly, but that is counterproductive.

The best way to communicate an idea is not by giving a lengthy explanation of it, but rather to distill the key message into one simple statement. This makes the idea easier for people to understand and remember. It also allows you to get your point across without changing its meaning or diluting its power. Although this can be difficult, if done right, it will help make your ideas stickier.

Journalists have to be good at summarizing their articles in the headline so that readers will understand what they’re about. A bad headline can prevent a great article from getting the attention it deserves.

In business, a catchy slogan can be just as effective as an in-depth explanation. For example, Southwest Airlines has the phrase “THE Low Fare Airline.” It’s memorable and persuasive.

Big Idea #2: Unexpected Ideas are Sticky

The brain likes to save energy by running on autopilot whenever possible. When people see something familiar, they subconsciously ignore it.

When we’re not surprised, our brains go into autopilot. When something unexpected happens, however, the brain is forced to wake up and pay attention.

Suppose you’re flying on a plane. The flight attendant goes through the normal safety instructions, but then suddenly adds her own thoughts about love and relationships. “There’s only one way to get out of this relationship!” she says emphatically.

People tend to ignore the routine. Presenting an idea in a novel way can help it get noticed and be more effective.

Big Idea #3: Curiosity Gaps Makes Ideas Stick

The key to spreading ideas is getting attention and holding it. Making use of curiosity gaps can help with these challenges.

People go through their lives on autopilot because they think that they know everything that’s necessary to get by.

The best way to grab someone’s attention is to show them that there are things they don’t know about. This immediately gets people out of their comfort zone because it creates curiosity gaps, which are empty spaces in understanding that people feel a compulsive need to fill even if they were not interested before. For example, detective novels use tantalizing clues and red herrings to keep the reader guessing “whodunit?” The curiosity gap technique is so successful in celebrity gossip magazines that it boosts sales by making readers want more. It works well for any idea pitch or presentation because surprising facts and figures create curiosity gaps and make audiences want more information about the main idea.

Big Idea #4: Concrete Language Is Key to Good Communication.

Most people have a hard time putting themselves in the shoes of others. The more we know about something, the harder it is to communicate in an easy-to-understand way.

This experiment shows that the perception of a song is affected by previous exposure to it.

Although the listeners heard only taps on a table, the tappers also heard music in their heads. Because of this, they believed that the listeners were able to correctly guess songs 50 percent of the time; however, it was actually only 2.5 percent.

One problem with ideas is that people tend to assume others know as much about a subject as they do.

The same thing applies to verbal communication. If you’re going to talk about something, make sure that it’s clear and understandable.

It is important to use examples and descriptive imagery when explaining complex ideas. It makes the idea easier for people to understand, which in turn helps them remember it better. The retail worker didn’t just give a refund on a shirt; they gave one even though it was bought at another branch of the store.

The fox hasn’t changed his tastes to fit his means. He’s convinced himself that the grapes he can’t reach are too sour for him to enjoy.

The more clearly you can describe an idea, the more likely it will stick with people.

Big Idea #5: A sticky idea must be believable.

Ideas spread through credibility. One way to gain credibility is by using experts, such as doctors and scientists, who can back up your ideas. An example of this was the anti-smoking campaign that used a woman in her late twenties who had smoked since she was 10 years old. She looked frail because she had just received a second lung transplant due to smoking related illness.

People are more likely to believe a story if it’s told by someone they trust. Also, statistics can help add credibility to the story. However, people need concrete facts and figures that illustrate the point of your story in order for the statistics to be effective.

Statistics are effective when they give a common reference point. For example, the anti-war campaign claimed that the world’s current nuclear arsenal has five thousand times more power than the Hiroshima bomb. This gave people something to visualize and made them realize how far we’ve come in terms of nuclear weapons.

People are more likely to trust their own judgment than an expert’s, so it’s important to give them a statistic that they can use themselves. This will help the audience pass along your message. For example, Ronald Reagan asked people if they were better off now than four years ago when he was elected president. He gave people something concrete and easy for them to remember and share with others.

Big Idea #6: Emotionally charged words incite people to action

There are two ways to get people to donate money for African aid. Either show them how many millions of kids there are and how many die every day, or show a picture of just one kid who will be saved with the donation.

When it comes to presenting ideas, there are two approaches. The first is an analytical approach that appeals to the brain; this method uses statistics and facts. The second is a more emotional approach that appeals directly to the audience’s feelings by showing pictures of people who have been hurt in some way because they smoked cigarettes or ate too much food. This type of appeal has a stronger effect on the audience than using only numbers and facts does.

Big Idea #7: The most effective appeals to action are the ones that have something in it for the audience.

People are more interested in other people than they are facts and figures. But, when it comes to the topic of interest, most people are most interested in themselves.

People always ask themselves, “What’s in it for me?” before doing something. So, if you want to get people to do something for you, make sure that there is a benefit for them.

In order to take advantage of this, businesses shouldn’t just list the features of their products; they should show how those features can help customers.

The customer needs to be able to envision themselves using the product at home.

In the state of Texas, a campaign was launched to discourage people from littering. It used famous Texans and athletes that young people could identify with to read out “Don’t mess with Texas.”

In this case, the “What’s in it for me?” was being connected with their role models. The campaign made them think that real Texans don’t leave litter on the sidewalk.

Big Idea #8: Stories most effectively drive the point home.

Stories are like flight simulators for the brain. They allow us to get inside an idea and anticipate how we might react in that situation. Often, people make the mistake of getting rid of the story behind their ideas in favor of empty slogans. While these can be useful at spreading an idea, they’re not very useful at inspiring action on it. Stories and examples are most effective at doing this because they help you understand a concept from different perspectives so that you can better internalize it yourself as well as share it with others.

An example of this is the story of Jared Fogle, who lost a lot of weight by eating at Subway.

No slogan can match a story. Stories are more powerful than slogans and they’re used to inspire people into action. A lot of stories follow the same pattern, such as David vs Goliath. These stories usually end with a victory for David because he’s fighting for something greater than himself.

There are many stories about how a creative idea came to someone, such as when Newton saw an apple fall from a tree and thought of gravity. These stories can inspire people by showing them that new ideas can come from anywhere.

Full Summary of Made to Stick


“Made to Stick” is a book about communicating ideas in simple ways. The authors stress the importance of simplifying messages by focusing on core issues and conveying those issues clearly. This will help individuals understand your message immediately, which is important for success.

Southwest Airlines’ core issue is its low fare. Everyone in the company knows that and works to improve it. The message is simple, clear, and effective. James Carville was a campaign manager for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential run. He wanted to make sure that everyone knew what the campaign’s fundamental message was so he wrote on a white board “It’s the economy stupid.” It said much more than those few words because it directed staff away from any distractions caused by Clinton and toward one thing: improving the economy.

The authors discuss how to use elements of surprise or the unexpected in messages. They explain that a professor started his lectures with a mystery and noticed that students stayed in class longer and were more engaged because they wanted to find out the answer to the mystery.

It is important to provide concrete examples when trying to sell a concept. This helps the audience understand what you’re talking about and gives them something they can relate to. It also makes it more likely that people will trust your information because other experts in the field agree with you.

If you want to get your message across, appeal to a person’s emotions and use anecdotal stories that everyone can relate to. For example, when a nurse is certain that a newborn has heart problems in the neonatal intensive care unit of a hospital, she doesn’t trust the heart monitor because it indicates his heart is fine. She listens for his heartbeat with her stethoscope but there isn’t one. The baby was treated for its heart problem and lived.

Chapter 1: Simple

All operations in the Army originate from orders from the President of the United States. The orders filter down through the ranks to individual soldiers who then act on them. A lot of time and effort go into planning, but sometimes plans are useless because combat is unpredictable.

Plans are important, but they don’t work in real life. The Army has a planning process called Commanders Intent (CI) that is used to make the plan more flexible based on the situation.

The Combat Maneuver Training Center simulations unit teaches soldiers to ask what the top priority of their job is and the most important thing they must do tomorrow. This helps them focus on the core of their mission. The two steps in making an idea stick are finding the core and translating it using a success checklist.

Southwest Airlines has been successful due to its emphasis on reducing costs. Its CEO, Herb Kelleher, says that the key is being a low-fare airline—everything else will fall into place after realizing this. The mantra of “the low-fare airline” is Southwest’s core idea because it helps reporters find the lead for their stories. It also serves as an analogy for how we should present our ideas and be mindful not to bury them in unnecessary details or too much information that could confuse people.

Building a political campaign is hard because many of the people involved are inexperienced volunteers. The 1992 Bill Clinton campaign was complicated by rumors about his affairs and policy details that were too complex for voters to understand. James Carville, the manager of the campaign, simplified things when he wrote on a white board “It’s the economy, stupid.” He told his team not to stray from this message. They also urged Clinton not to talk about too many things at once in public speeches because it would be confusing for listeners.

Too much information can be overwhelming and confusing. It’s best to focus on the most important issues, so people don’t make mistakes. The Daily Record in Dunn, North Carolina had a subscription rate that was higher than its population because founder Hoover Adams recognized his core issue – local news rather than national news covered by other outlets. He focused on it so much that he didn’t have to remind his staff about it anymore because they were all very familiar with the concept.

The best messages are clear and to the point. The author’s mantra was “names, names, names.” He knew exactly what he wanted to say. To make a profound concept easier to remember, it needs to be compact. Proverbs like “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” are easy-to-remember because they’re short and concise.

The Palm Pilot was designed in a very simple way. It had great success because it didn’t have many features that weren’t necessary for the core value of the product. The engineers avoided adding any unnecessary bells and whistles to their design, so they enjoyed great success with their innovative device.

It is possible to create complexity from simplicity. By layering simple ideas, you can make your idea more complex. If the first thing you say about a pomelo (a citrus fruit) is that it looks like a grapefruit but has thicker skin, people will start to imagine what it might look like. The grapefruit has certain characteristics that are familiar and expected in many people’s minds; these characteristics can be used as the starting point for understanding the pomelo.

The first layer of the schema might not be completely accurate, but it gives a general idea. Overloading this layer with too much information will render it useless, which is similar to the Curse of Knowledge that makes it hard for people to create ideas that stick.

Analogies are used to explain new ideas. This is a great way to convey information, because people can relate it to something they already know. Hollywood studios use analogies all the time when pitching movies. For example, “Speed” was pitched as “Die Hard on a Bus,” and “Aliens” was pitched as “Jaws on a spaceship.”

Good metaphors can be called generative analogies. Disney refers to its employees as cast members, because they’re expected to perform while on duty—just like an actor would not take a break in costume. Proverbs and other types of analogy are effective because they make things easier for people to understand by substituting something simple with something more difficult.

Made to Stick Book Summary, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

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