Insights on Effective Communication from that Book I’m Actually Reading

Were you to take a gander at my profile page and read my title, you may be surprised to learn I don’t actually read that much. Books, that is. I spend practically all day, every day reading, but what I’m consuming is fleetingly important information—emails, news blurbs, tweets… not the classic novels and hot bestsellers that one might expect a lover of literature to gobble up.

Yet, my job at AKHIA is to be a wielder of words, demystifying difficult concepts and making the “technical” digestible. So why don’t I read more? I could say that reading emails all day and writing articles makes me too weary to read or write more than I have to. Or I could argue that I’m simply too busy to sit down and read a novel. But the fact of the matter is this: I simply don’t make time for it. And much like exercising, if you don’t make time for reading, it isn’t going to magically happen.

With this in mind, I closed out 2013 by putting several books on my Christmas list—books that I had heard wonderful things about. Books I swore I would read, though perhaps not ones that will change my “reading is work” mentality completely, given that they are all business-oriented. Maybe next year I’ll ask for a book on “how to actually relax”.

Psychoanalysis aside, I have been making my way through an enlightening book called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. And I’m finding the core tenets of the book are already affecting the way I generate and expound upon ideas. The premise is this: The romantic notion we have of “creativity” as being far from formulaic and possessed by few people is not entirely accurate. There are actually many common traits of ideas that stick in people’s minds, and accounting for these traits when crafting a message can substantially increase the likelihood that people will retain your idea.

The authors’ findings can be distilled into the following advice:

Promote ideas that are…

• Simple: Find an uncomplicated, yet profound core message and make sure it comes across directly and memorably

• Unexpected: Your message should be counterintuitive, violating expectations to capture and hold attention

• Concrete: A compelling level of detail is necessary to ensure your idea is deemed realistic and relatable

• Credible: Rely on trustworthy, expert sources that back up your idea and make it believable

• Emotional: An emotional connection can be more powerful than a logical one, so include emotional triggers

• Story-formatted: Humans are wired to think and communicate in stories, so use this to your advantage

As I progress through Made to Stick, I have begun asking myself, “Am I getting straight to my point when I write instead of becoming mired in verbose, meandering introductions?” Looking at this post, you can probably answer that one for yourself. “Also,” I wonder, “Am I always applying these six ingredients for sticky ideas?”

The answer is decidedly “No”.

The idea that you don’t have to be a creative genius to create ingenious content is heartening. As we reside in an age where everyone is a “content producer” and companies devote progressively larger sums to content marketing efforts, we hear over and over again that an emphasis on quality is the only way to stand out. For example, see Seth Godin’s recent post regarding our “TL;DR” (too long; didn’t read) culture, in which he posits that we should really pass “NW;DR” (not worthwhile; didn’t read) judgments instead.

“Create quality content” is great advice (and snappy alliteration, at that), but seldom are we given specific insight on how to create memorable content. This is where Made to Stick stands out, and I would definitely recommend giving it a look if you’re at all tasked with communicating messages on behalf of a brand. It’s changing the way I read, write and perceive messages—and I suspect it may have a similar effect on you. I’d love to hear your thoughts.