Saturday, April 16, 2011

Resources for Stickiness: Packaging Ideas for Success

How do we present ideas to help other people hear them? That's a challenge, and not just for folks whose day job is teaching.  Fortunately there have been a couple nifty books in this zone, that if you're interested in creating a message that not only will be heard, but might inspire change, these are for you and me.

Sticky Substances in Stories
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
The first book is "made to stick" (amazon uk || amazon us) by Dan and Chip Heath

This text goes WAY into detail about how different ways of presenting information work, and why the hooks in those presentations work. These researchers really want to get at the simple but intriguing question "what sticks?"

They look at the question from a variety of angles - why are urban legends so sticky, for instance? What are the properties of the story of the guy in the bar who gets asked to a girl's room for a drink, wakes up in a tub filled with ice with tubes coming out of his back and a cell phone beside him telling him to call 911 because of what's happened to him while he was unconscious (do you know the rest of the story?).

Components of the Stick. From this page turning beginning, the authors check out stickiness from a variety of angles:
don't mess with texas
what is the power of simplicity to stickiness? the unexpected? the concrete? what about credibility and emotion? and especially, stories?

Indeed, a key focus in each section is that most of the layers of stickiness are delivered via some kind of narrative. What kind of narrative is most sticky? And so we discover how each of these attributes previously explored comes into play for an excellent sticky story.

The discussion of the successful strategy to reduce littering in texas alone is worth the price of admission. It stresses that especially when going for behaviour change, the goal of many trainers, is the importance of connecting with the values of the culture involved is key, as per the Don't Mess with Texas campaign that's been running for 20 years now.

the original Don't Mess with Texas ad that the Heath Bros discuss

Cultural Values to Motivation to Simple Behaviours I can testify to this cultural values aproach for motivation: i have myself been struggling to find a way to motivate the 20something researchers i work with to give various health ideas a go. Fun last summer at the end of a work day was an initial motivator to go out and play frisbee. The winter rains of the UK were not so kind to encouraging this activity. So what could be done indoors to convey the value of movement?

Finally got the first inkling of a hook for this group since there's little perceived need to work out: we're too robust at this age to feel driven by health. The clue is a kind of  competition that professional research geeks have. There are only so many opportunities in my field to get a paper accepted in one's area in a year. And papers in the right place are part of one's CV. Without them, jobs in the same field are much harder to come by. So every opportunity is precious. If one wants to be as sharp as possible and be able to endure the rigours of the run up to submission without crash and burning, one needs a base. Being faster of thought, as well as being able to push back on fatigue to work longer/harder were motivators to bring folks out to give a few ideas in movement and visual/vestibular skills work a go. Some of these approaches are overviewed in this "commercial" for the approach, in the vid below:

Cultural Values Connection, take one: improved visual, vestibular, proprioceptive and cognitive performance with s-phase combo drills for geeks(from z-health s-phase/essentials) to get to the photocopier faster (transfer effect - to printer).
After getting the motivation right (one's paper has to be better, sharper than the competition's), it's having the tools packaged in a simple way that is acceptable to that crowd. With the Don't Mess with Texas campaign, it's put the trash in the can. Simple. For the research geek of academia, it has been short, fast, doable drills as close to one's work area as possible and where performance improvements are perceivable immediately.

If one's looking to develop motivation for behaviour change, cluing into the cultural context seems an effective first step to get to the big second step: actions that are doable.

 The book Made to Stick offers some tasty insights into how to tune content for such effectiveness.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big DifferenceThe title Made to Stick, the authors say, is inspired by the concept of "stickiness" proposed in (Canadian) Malcolm Gladwell's  "Tipping Point"(amazon uk || amazon us). Another recommended book/audio book.

Tipping Point to go Epidemic
Gladwell's book looks more at what the factors are in having something catch fire - to move from, in market speak, a vertical to a horizontal. Gladwell's term is more amazing: he talks about something picking up the characteristics of an epidemic - whether that's the sudden popularity of a type of footwear or the popularity of a restaurant.

People Power 
Intriguingly, the roles of various types of people are shown to be really key in things going epidemic.

One type is the person who knows everybody, has many secondary connections, and can reach out effectively to everyone and are themselves great socializers. I was at a talk the other day by Nicole Ellison about social networks online, and this factor was described as "social capital" - so these folks have high social capital and can make it work.

Another type is the maven - someone who is passionate to share their knowledge about something - whether it's how to get a great deal on a tv or how get a great rate at a hotel or how to fix something - they just love to share the info.These folks inspire uptake of a practice or product because they KNOW the space so well and their passion conveys their knowledge.

Little Things Count. Then there are types of people that connect knowledge with action. Gladwell presents the example of crime in NY in the 80/90s and how the theory of broken windows is actioned by the person tasked to make New York subways safe again. Essentially, the theory goes, a small ugliness sets up a signal of tacit approval to create a bigger ugliness: an unrepaired broken window sets up a climate for more decay or destruction to follow. Nip the little things in the bud right away, the signals don't get sent that it's ok to vandalize/ruin an environment.

The kind of person involved here is one who was intrigued enough to look at transferring this hypothesis from one domain - neighborhoods - to another: the New York subway system. At the time this was apparently seen as what was an ass backwards approach to dealing with "real crime" and missing the big picture. Intriguingly, sometimes the big picture it seems can be addressed from the bottom up; focusing on the little things.

Some of the methods described in these parts of the book left me cold - rounding up homeless squeegee guys may address the irritant of squeegee guys, but does it do anything to address the issues that create homeless squeegee guys in the first place?

That question aside, Gladwell looks progressively at the strategies that lead things from products to practices to reach epidemic proportion.

One other discussion Gladwell has - related to the Cultural Value connection in Made to Stick - is his discussion of using the best knowledge we have at the time, and testing and reassessing our understanding of the group we want to reach. He uses two examples: one revolutionary and the other evolutionary. He discusses the advent of sesame street, and generations later, the development of Blue's Clues.

The Best of What we Know NOW
With Sesame Street, he notes that a kids psychologist took the best understanding of how kids learn and, violating current wisdom, believed that television could be an effective medium for pre-schooler education. The key element for me of this story is the constant test and reassess the producers of the show carry out (still) with each show to make SURE there's a strong interaction between the show and the kids. Because the show tuned its delivery to map the attentional practices of kids as best as they were understood, the show became sticky, successful.

The next lesson of this piece, however, is it seems, never stop learning. The show Blue's Clues is very different in pace and focus that Sesame Street, but is largely developed from the same methodology that lead to Sesame Street's development. The differences in the show benefit from new knowledge based on years since Sesame Street of working with how pre-schoolers learn. By the same measures that Sesame Street uses to test its shows, Blues Clues does better with its target audience: it has a higher stickiness with the kids watching - their attention wander less. We're talking small but meaningful differences: 90% attention rather than 80%, but that's still something.

Evolving the Even More Sticky: The take away for me from this section is never assume we can't get better at what we do, and that better might look very different than what we're doing right now.

From above vid: Example Drills combining speed movement and vision 
work for fast testable cognitive performance improvements 
- simple, repeatable, in one's own culture / context - stickier?

Simple, Fast, Testable Success. One more lesson from Tipping Point, similar to Made to Stick: make it dead simple for people to act.  The lesson of how to get folks to mail in coupons or get an important health test is amazing. Like all elegant solutions, these seem obvious in hind sight.The mental exercise however of trying to come to that solution in the first place is well worth exploring.

Take Aways
  • From Made to Stick we get that a sticky message is in large part a good story. The qualities of a sticky story all seem to share these key elements: the unexpected, the concrete, simplicity, credibility, emotion?
  • Connecting with cultural values to motivate behaviour change in a story seems a big personal take away.
  • Getting a message to move, to be taken up such that it turns epidemic, we learn from Tipping Point, is often down to types of people, both as message movers and as innovators willing to break with at the time's received wisdom
  • Test and re-assess all the time: is it working NOW? Developing methods for instant feedback about uptake of a message seem potent ways to assess effectiveness rather than wait and see.
  • Imagine the even-stickier: staying fresh with best knowledge about a subject of stickiness, and testing and retuning that knowledge can lead to an even stickier solution.
If you pick up either of these books, and find some cool ideas that you apply, please post a comment below.


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