Making It Stick
Your PowerPoint is a snooze. Your ideas are lame. But all is not lost. Use these tips to glue your ideas (and products) to the public
PALO ALTO, CALIF.It seems to happen every day. A meeting is called to outline a new strategy or sales plan. Down go the lights and up goes the PowerPoint. Strange phrases appear"unlocking shareholder value," "technology-focused innovation," "maximizing utility." (What does that mean?) Lists of numbers come and go. Bullet point by bullet point, the company's goals float across the screen. Eyes glaze over.
Some ideas have longer shelf lives than others. Nike said "Just do it," and people did. James Carville insisted the 1992 presidential election was about the economy, stupid, and politicians still talk about it. John F. Kennedy announced that the country would put a man on the moon in under 10 yearsand it happened. Most managers can't get their employees to remember the salient points of their last presentation.
In Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, published this month, brothers Chip and Dan Heath aim to change that. Chip, a professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Dan, a consultant at Duke Corporate Education, argue that great ideas are made, not bornand that businesses can drastically improve their messages. Drawing on the work of psychologists, education researchers, and political scientists, the Heaths identify six traits they think all great ideasfrom urban legends to public policy to product designhave in common. Call it The Tipping Point for the How to Win Friends and Influence People set. The Heaths' own big idea is already generating business school buzz. U.S. News spoke with the authors about the six things managers can do to tap into their inner JFKand keep employees awake.
First things first, the Heaths insist: Drop the PowerPoint. "PowerPoint is like kryptonite for stickiness," says Dan. It may seem like a simple way to get information out into a big room, but for too many people, PowerPoint has become a crutch: Clicking away at their keyboards, speakers don't have to do the essential work of tailoring their message to their audience. "Business managers seem to believe that, once they've clicked through a PowerPoint ... they've successfully communicated their ideas," write the authors. "What they've done is share data."
The Heaths call this the "Curse of Knowledge." The more executives understand a concept, the harder it can be to explain. Execs who use the phrase "maximizing shareholder value" may know what they mean when they say it, but employees have no idea how it applies to their everyday work.
The Heaths' solution: Managers need to spend more time simplifying their messages. "This is the hardest step," says Chip, "taking your idea and distilling it down, whittling away everything that's not essential." One reason Southwest Airlines has enjoyed over 30 years of profitability, the authors contend, is its founders'willingness to winnow the company's mission down to a meaningful mantra: Southwest is "THE low-fare airline." When tempted to expand the business over the yearsmarketing once suggested the airline should offer chicken salads on some flightsHerb Kelleher, the cofounder and onetime CEO, responded with a question: Would chicken salads help Southwest be "THE low-fare airline?" The answer, of course, was no.