22 April 2010

Made to Stick

How sticky are your messages? Anyone who has ever tried to communicate a research-generated idea will know that it is not easy.

I'm trying not to take it personally, but a friend of mine gave me a book that can help. It's called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Heath and Heath. Despite being big in the US right now it manages to avoid too much management jargon, and get across its core ideas in simple language (it practices what it preaches).

The core idea is that those of us trying to communicate ideas are too often subject to the "curse of knowledge". This means that the knowledge that we need to generate the ideas can be roadblocks in communicating them. The book illustrates this by describing an experiment.

Several people were asked to think of a tune, and tap it out to someone else who is then asked to guess the tune. Before the game, the tappers are asked to guess what % of the time the listeners will identify the tune. They typically say 50%. In reality the listeners guessed the tune correctly less than 5% of the time.

This demonstrates the "curse of knowledge": as they tapped the tappers had the tune playing in their heads, while the listeners were not privy to that information.

The authors make it clear that they do not advocate dumbing down of messages, just the need to identify the core message.

When I look back at some of my own attempts to communicate ideas (verified by feedback from my Comms team) this rings true.

Watch this space...

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