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From Being Truthful To Being Mind-blowing: Making Your Ideas Stick



Ideas Stick

From Being Truthful To Being Mind-blowing: Making Your Ideas Stick  – You can make people hear you by speaking loud within their hearing. They can also choose to listen to you by paying attention to your talk. Of course, you can also communicate with others by putting down your thoughts to be read. But beyond listening to you or reading what you have authored, how well does the message stick?

Chip Health and Dan Health, in their book, “Made to Stick,” explained that a message or an idea sticks when it is clearly understood and remembered and has a lasting impact. An idea sticks when it is capable of changing some persons’ opinions or behaviours.

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Frankly, it is not all ideas that are deserving of stickness: random pub discussions, chit-chat with friends and siblings, and gossip with colleagues at lunchtime are communicative engagements that may not require stickness. However, for the teacher who hopes to impart beneficial knowledge and make an impact, the columnist who hopes to challenge a social construct and the preacher who hopes to rescue a soul, there is a great need to not only make the message clear but also ensure it sticks to achieve the needed attitudinal transformation.


Like the nature-nurture controversy, one could wonder if ideas are bound to be naturally interesting or are made interesting. Certainly, some ideas are more interesting than others. A chat about your friend’s date with her boyfriend on a Friday evening is likely going to be more naturally intriguing than an instruction from your boss on how to operate a machine. Surprisingly, needed information does not stick naturally.

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So, like the nature-nurture argument, there is a need to understand how to nurture important ideas to make them stick. The rest of this piece will discuss principles that make an idea stick in the minds of listeners or readers.

There are general guidelines on how to make one’s idea stick, and I will quickly mention some of them before discussing the major principles that this essay hopes to share. In oral communication, one major thing that makes a message stick is the need to stand right. When you stand up straight, it connotes firmness and helps you command attention from your listeners. Also, making eye contact and gesticulating are essential to getting one’s audience glued; and they help retention.

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Moreover, the knowledge of one’s audience is important for good delivery, as that informs your careful choice of language. Then, repetition, especially in the classroom context, helps consolidate information. Beyond these general guidelines, Chip Health and Dan Health, in their book titled “Made to Stick,” proposed six principles that can be adapted to make an idea stick. These principles are encoded in the acronym SUCCES and will be discussed below. Note that these principles are the focus of a 291-page book, thus this essay can at best be an insight into these principles.

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The first principle is Simplicity. Ideas stick when they are made simple for those who are to adopt or implement them. Being simple in this context is not about using monosyllabic words or constructing simple sentences. Being simple means finding the core of an idea, which involves getting the crux of the idea. You are simple with an idea when you avoid wordiness. This is achieved by refraining from redundant and superfluous information in the communication of your idea. The second principle is Unexpectedness. We make ideas stick when we violate people’s expectedness. This can be achieved by the “woah” factor which involves the use of surprise in one’s communication.


Unexpectedness is also achieved by generating interest and curiosity. A communicator must be deliberate about raising the interest and curiosity of the readers or listeners. Gaps should be opened in their knowledge, and such gaps should be clearly filled. The third principle is Concreteness. This mainly involves the use of human actions and sensory information to get information to stick. Human brains are wired to remember concrete data, and speaking concretely makes ideas communicate the same thing to everyone in the target audience. Next to this is Credibility. It is important for sticky ideas to present their credentials.

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This means your ideas should be what your audience can verify for themselves. Health and Health (2007) described this as a “try before you buy” philosophy for the world of ideas. For instance, rather than quote statistics to your audience on the state of poverty in Nigeria, you may ask how many members of their households enjoy the basic things of life. This helps them resonate with your presentation which, in turn, makes it stick.

The next principle is Emotion. It is important that you make people feel something towards your idea. Since it is also a word that begins with “e,” I wish to say empathy is another way of expressing emotion, as Health and Health presented it. It is easier to make your ideas stick when you make it clear that you understand what your audience feels, and you see issues from their perspective(s).


People feel comfortable seeing things from your angle when they are certain you also see things from their angles, and that makes your ideas stick in their heads. The last principle is Story. Stories have been reported to serve as a mental flight simulator that prepares listeners or readers to respond more quickly and effectively to information.

In conclusion, getting ideas to stick is a mentally challenging exercise for communicators. However, the principles shared in this essay can make taxing engagement somewhat easy to achieve. You can make your idea successful by deploying the SUCCES principle.

(c) 2022 Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose
Department of English,
Lagos State University

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