Concreteness Helps Ideas Stick

May 26, 2008

According to the authors of “Made to Stick,” a New York Times Bestseller, Chip Heath and Dan Heath consider there to be six essential principles of “stickiness.” Stickiness is an idea that describes whether or not certain messages are retained. The Heath brothers discuss why certain methods of communications are more effective than others by analyzing each one in detail.

In each chapter of the book Dan Heath and Chip Heath discuss the different principles of stickiness. The brothers consider the principle of “concreteness” to be vital to creating a “sticky” message. To analyze the concept of “concreteness,” “Made to Stick” focuses on the principle of abstraction. The book explains that abstraction makes it harder to understand and remember an idea but concreteness helps avoid such problems. The Heath brothers strongly believe that naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete words and images such as the “kidney heist” that sends a clear and concrete message about a man who got drugged and woke up to discover that his kidney was missing. Even though this story is fake, the disturbingly concrete images painted by this story are likely to be remembered by its audience.

It is important to use concrete messages when communicating ideas to audiences. Concrete messages are core messages, which are more memorable and easily understood by others. A Yale researcher, Eric Havelock, studies tales such as the Iliad and the Odyssey that have been passed down by word of mouth for centuries. In this chapter of “Made to Stick” he asserts that such tales are characterized by lots of concrete actions and not very much abstraction. He believes that the principle of abstraction evolved away over time and that’s why the more memorable concrete details survived over the centuries. He claims that abstraction “evaporated” because it wasn’t as memorable as the concrete details of such stories. This idea proves that people are more likely to remember fables and childhood stories, than abstract ideas they are taught in a philosophy class. Abstraction could be very difficult to grasp, and if one does not understand the idea it will fail to stick.

To further explain concreteness, the Heath brothers tell a story about Jerry Kaplan, who used a portfolio to convey a concrete idea that created a shared “turf” for his audience. The story of Jerry Kaplan applies to the main focus of this chapter, and that concreteness creates understanding, which puts an audience on a common ground. If everyone understands an idea, that creates a forum for discussion. If the idea is too abstract the “shared turf” may never be achieved.

When communicating with an audience, it is important that it has a clear understand of the core message. If the language or the idea is too abstract, the audience will have a hard time understanding or let alone remembering the message. This is why concrete language is key in communication.


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