When Made to Stick Will

~ Originally published on Say “Alaka‘i” April 2009 ~
When Made to Stick Will

Gooey to the Nth Power
on Flickr by adwriter

Chip & Dan Heath wrote a best selling book called Made to Stick in which they wrote about “why some ideas survive and others die.”

Their book set forth the theory that a person with a great idea could get it to stick in others’ minds ”“ with stickiness defined as transforming the way people think and act ”“ if the idea had six key qualities:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotion
  6. Story

Here is a shorthand explanation of the Made to Stick checklist done by Brand Autopsy (thus from a marketer’s perspective) if you would like to know a bit more about each one of those six qualities: Sticking with Made to Stick

You can read a book excerpt at the authors’ website. They have a great blog too.

Good stuff, and Made to Stick is an enjoyable read, a book I highly recommend as great ‘language of intention’ learning in your Say “Alaka‘i” library. Yet here’s the thing:

You can have ideas which fit the bill in all six ways and they can still die, buried in the land of “it was fascinating, but it never really gained a foothold here. We didn’t use it.”

The book the Heath brothers wrote is about how you communicate a great idea in a very compelling way, but an ultra sticky idea communicated exceptionally well takes you only halfway there ”“ if even that far. You still have to implement it in a manner which will get you to claim that idea as your own, making it completely practical and useful to you.

To go the distance with great ideas, it’s not about the idea or even about the person communicating it. It’s about the people who need or want to do the transforming.

Let’s use training as an example, training on some new process that will help you say, increase productivity in your business. The idea can be wildly exciting, and it can be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and with a compelling story you can’t wait to build on. Better yet, it can be dirt cheap or completely free, and you can have all the resources you need to get it done immediately at your fingertips. You can already have the skill and the knowledge you need to implement it, and do it immediately. There are two more things you will need as mission critical to your successful adoption of the idea:

  1. Individuals ready, able, and willing to groom a new habit for themselves which brings the idea into their lives every single day.
  2. An organizational culture which creates the atmosphere of positive expectancy when change is introduced, and in which grooming that new habit is much easier than not grooming it. In fact, there are definite consequences when follow-up doesn’t happen.

If those two things are not in place, don’t bother with the training until they are.

When business owners hire me to give a workshop or deliver a keynote, the bold ones will ask, “What is it you do differently so that this is not another flavor of the month training for my people?”

My response is always the same, and often they don’t like it very much, but it’s one of those situations where the truth can hurt. I will respond saying, “It’s not about me, or about Managing with Aloha. I’m a pretty energetic speaker, and I can sell it in a way that might knock your socks off, but do you have the ‘purchasing power’ to buy it? Will your people immediately follow-up, and will you take final responsibility for helping them do so?”

The good news is that this has become one of my silver linings in our current recession. When people can still invest in training delivered by someone outside their firm for the advantages that will deliver, they are willing to work harder at being my partner and making change happen. They are more impatient for results, and they are no longer willing to sit back with arms folded, waiting for me to dazzle them, and expecting me to ‘fix’ their people.

This is a silver lining which is making my work much more enjoyable and rewarding. ‘Made to stick’ will stick when you go the distance as an Alaka‘i manager and leader. Stickiness is not about me or any other hired gun or mesmerizing guru. It’s about you and your organizational culture, and everyone else within it.

Let’s talk story:

  • What simple practices can help you make something stick in your habit-building?
  • What was the most recent training you attended? Did it stick with you or not, and do you know why?
  • If your manager offered to give you some help in grooming a new
    within your organizational culture, would you know what to ask

Comment here, or via the tweet-conversation we have on Twitter @sayalakai.

More reading from the Say “Alaka‘i” archives: These links are all contained within Talking Story.

For more articles similar to this one, subscribe to Talking Story, and join the discussions held by the Ho‘ohana Community of the Managing with Aloha ‘Ohana in Business.
Read more at this page About the Site.

Talking Story with Say Leadership Coaching

Subscribe to Talking Story with Say Leadership Coaching by Email


  1. says

    Hi Rosa,
    I think your approach here is absolutely the right one: culture comes first!
    In a way you are teaching self-leadership to organisations. If they want people to behave in a certain way they have to create an environment that supports, enables & encourages the desired attitudes & behaviours.
    When the old ways carry on uncontested, much of the budget spent on training and show-piece launches doesn’t survive its first big cultural test!
    BCG, Bain & McKinsey could learn a thing or two from you Rosa :)
    Best Regards

  2. says

    Thank you Paul, I so appreciate your enthusiasm! When people ask me what I do, I answer a bit differently now. I used to say, “I am the author of Managing with Aloha, a sensibility for worthwhile and meaningful work. I teach the philosophy, and coach those who wish to bring it into their practice.” I came to realize that was too much about me and not enough about them, and while it may be true, it isn’t a good enough “elevator speech” and is quite incomplete.
    So now I say, “I help managers and leaders learn how value alignment in their work makes their work culture stronger, and as healthy as it can possibly be.” Then I ask, “How can I help you?” and “May I?” Managing with Aloha is my toolbox, and our values the tools within it we will choose to use, but the result has to be a greatly improved workplace culture.

  3. says

    Again and again in the training I offer, I opt for an “applied learning” piece, a commitment to some simple action coming out of the event. Training to me isn’t about transferring knowledge from one head to another, as if information is bricks. Training for me is about giving people shovels and asking them to dig and then share what they have found from doing so.
    But even this is not enough.
    Context is what’s really important. Why are we learning to use shovels? That’s the question. There must be a strategic goal behind it. “The village is out of water — we need a well.” Ah, so that’s what this is about! The motive for training needs to be linked to the most important goals the “village” has. If the goal isn’t meaningful, and there’s no immediate application for the learning – you’ll find a lot of rusting shovels somewhere out back!

  4. says

    Oh Dan, I so, so hear you on this! I visibly cringe when I will ask someone calling me for a workshop, “What are you hoping this will achieve for you?” and they respond with, “Oh, we offer our staff different kinds of training sessions once every quarter, and someone suggested you.” It can take some careful probing to completely understand that all-important context which is at play.
    Like you, I now offer and very strongly recommend those ‘applied learning’ pieces; I am eager to return for follow-ups, and I offer greatly reduced pricing when it is part of the package purchased. In my case second sessions are often with the managers or leaders of groups I have presented a training to, and the applied learning has to do with specific pilot projects ”“ great fun!
    Love your shovel metaphor Dan, and I may use that. Come to think of it, I have an old garden trowel, a small and rusting one, that will make a great workshop prop!

  5. says

    You are Your Habits, so Make ‘em Good!

    ~ Originally published on Say “Alaka‘i” April 2009 ~ You are Your Habits, so Make ‘em Good! Cryptic Graffiti by Rosa Say We last spoke about when training sessions work and when they don’t. I ended “When Made to Stick…