Six Principles of Sticky Ideas


How do you make an idea stick?  Mark Twain noted, "A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on."  Meanwhile, people with important ideas, struggle to make their ideas stick. In Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath and Dan Heath write about six principles to make your ideas stick and help you get your point across.

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Be a master of exclusion.   Less is more.  Ruthlessly prioritize and focus on the vital few.
  • Boil it down to simple + profound. Create messages that are both simple and profound.
  • Create engagement.  Use surprise, emotions, concrete images, and curiosity.
  • Surprise people.  Surprise people’s expectations.
  • Have testable ideas.  Have a ‘”try it yourself” approach and help people test out your ideas for themselves

I can definitely say that the six principles of sticky ideas resonate.  I see them in action at work.  I also remember how Ward Cunningham used stories, as a form of mental judo, to share ideas.  He also was good at getting people to tell their stories by asking them either "What did you learn that you didn’t expect?"  … or "What did you learn that surprised you?"


To help you remember the principles, Chip and Dan provide the acronym “SUCCESs”

Simple … Unexpected … Concrete … Credentialed … Emotional … Story

Six Principles of Sticky Ideas

According to Chip and Dan, there’s six principles that help you craft a sticky message:

  1. Principle 1. Simplicity
  2. Principle 2. Unexpectedness
  3. Principle 3. Concreteness
  4. Principle 4. Credibility
  5. Principle 5. Emotions
  6. Principle 6. Stories

Principle 1. Simplicity

Keep it simple and profound.  Chip and Dan write:

“We must relentlessly prioritize.  Saying something short is not the mission — sound bites are not the ideal.  Proverbs are the ideal.  We must create ideas that are both simple and profound.  The Golden Rule is the ultimate model of simplicity: a one-sentence statement so profound that the individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.”

Principle 2. Unexpectedness

Surprise your audience.  Chip and Dan write:

“We need to violate people’s expectations.  We need to be counterintuitive.  … But surprise doesn’t last.  For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity.  … We can engage people’s curiosity over a long period of time by systematically "opening gaps" in their knowledge — and then filling those gaps.”

Principle 3. Concreteness

Use concrete images.  Chip and Dan write:

“How do we make our ideas clear?  We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory informational.  … In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language: "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush." Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience.”

Principle 4. Credibility

Help people test your ideas for themselves.  Chip and Dan write:

“How do we make people believe our ideas?  … 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.”

Principle 5. Emotions

Tap into emotions to convey your point.  We’re wired to feel things for people, not abstractions.  Chip and Dan write:

“How do we get people to care about our ideas?  We make them feel something.  In the case of movie popcorn, we make them feel disgusted by its unhealthiness.  The statistics "37 grams" doesn’t elicit any emotions.  Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region.  We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.”

Principle 6. Stories

Tell stories to get people to act on your ideas.  Chip and Dan write:

“How do we get people to act on our ideas?  We tell stories. … Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps up perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment.  Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.”

Get the Book

Made to Stick is available on Amazon:

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  1. I love it!
    This is fantastic recipe to the sticky message part of the tipping point. There are three factors to the tipping point to occur:
    • The law of a few
    • The stickiness factor
    • The power of context

    Now i have a recipe for the second one – the stickiness

  2. […] this article from design agency Mat Dolphin sometime last year, and it’s proved to be quite a ‘sticky’ idea as far as my general stream of consciousness is concerned. The crux of the article is around […]

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