Saturday, March 07, 2009

Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Chip Heath and Dan Heath have introduced a new "sticky guide" on making your ideas stick, and eliminating the ones that ought to die. How do you make your ideas stick or prevail (without being a dictator)? Just today, I was trying to make my thirteen year old son do some backyard work (cleaning the table, chair, moving the garbage bins, and picking up our dog's poop). As a dad, I asked him twice to do this chore (and forgot that this was a weekend when he wanted to relax a bit). He told me he already did the work (he had only partially done the work). Finally, I had to raise my voice and even yell at him to get up and go out, and finish the work. Which he did, albeit grudgingly. Imagine trying to do this at work. Imagine yelling at your employees and telling them to do their work, when they are not interested or busy doing something else. Either your employee will quit on you, or worse yet, complain against you with Human Resources (and may even sue you). Would you yell at your customers to buy your products or services? "Hey you, you must buy this NOW. I ASK YOU TO BUY THIS PRODUCT NOW!!" Sure, Mr. Customer will buy the products, but your competition's instead, even if it was expensive or not to their best needs. What is wrong with this picture? We are trying to dictate our ideas, our thoughts, our actions, our products, our services down to our recipients. How far can you succeed with this approach? Not far. This is a recipe for failure.

The real challenge is to transform the way people do things, act, work, live their lives. Your customers are busy with their work solving their everyday problems, inspiring their employees to work harder and be more productive, implementing processes to streamline operations and reduce costs, and creating their own important products and services that will make a difference in their customers' lives and work. And the cycle continues.

Netflix had a simple idea: NO LATE FEES. Why was this simple? Because customers hated late fees when they rented their movies (because there was always a due date for returning the movies). Customers loved their movies, but simply hated to pay extra fees when they were late (remember haggling with the checkout desk at Blockbuster over your late fees). However, Blockbuster made a lot of money from late fees; except, it was out of touch with its customers. Netflix innovated with this simple idea of no late fees and no due date, and created the largest online movie rental business that boasts 10 million subscribers today. Blockbuster is filing bankruptcy this year because it is not able to survive on its antiquated business model. Call it Netflix's creativity, or Blockbuster's ineptitude. After all, Blockbuster still has the largest movie rental business; one small fact: it's not profitable.

In "Made to Stick", authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath provide us six key qualities of an idea that is made to stick:

1. Simplicity: "How do you strip an idea to its core without turning it into a silly sound bite?"
Authors give examples of army commanders when they choose simple battle plans at war, Southwest Airlines focus on being "THE low fare airline", or then presidential candidate Bill Clinton's simple campaign strategy on "It's the economy, stupid." Keep it simple! Simplicity sticks if it is done right and communicated effectively. Frequently, CEOs and leaders alike fall in the trap of creating complexities, and even creating processes to block creativity and innovation.

2. Unexpectedness
"How do you capture people's attention and hold it?" When you are taking some one's photo, how long is their attention span? A few seconds (unless you are an actor or a politician). Do you remember yesterday's news? Do you even remember what you did last weekend or the weekend before? Here's a question: Who is the second largest maker of MP3 players after the Apple iPod? Chances are you don't even know this. Authors give example of Nordstorm on how they "shock new employees into embracing high customer service standards."

3. Concreteness
"How do you help people understand your idea and remember it much later?" The best innovators are our school teachers - the good ones. They help us understand new concepts, languages, mathematics, sciences, and more, and through the rigorous process of teaching (and learning), help us remember this throughout the school year. Except when summer vacation comes, and we begin to forget what we learnt except for concrete things such as subtraction, addition, some science principles. Authors provide example of an elementary school teacher who helped students overcome racial barriers by creating a "brown eye, blue eye" experiment in her classroom. A simple exercise such as writing down all the white things you know, and then all the white things in your refrigerator shows how you remember concrete things.

4. Credibility
"How do you get people to believe in your idea?" Easier said than done. Make ideas credible and trustworthy. Credibility comes from success stories. From your customers who are trying out your ideas, and providing you valuable feedback. From your sharing this feedback with new customers, and improving your products. Credibility takes time to build. It is sort of a reference check when you meet someone new. You have no clue as to that person's credibility. So you ask around, and do some background check. But what if someone else is trying hard to make you less credible. Well, your work even becomes harder. Whenever you are competing against an established brand or market share leader, how do you get your customers to believe in you? By offering a better product, a differentiated product, a lower cost product perhaps.

5. Emotional
"How do you get people to care about your idea?" This one is tricky. You are trying to appeal to the human side of the brain, the one that is more tuned to emotions and mood. Authors give an example of a donation survey and how most people have something in common to Mother Teresa: When it comes to our hearts, one individual trumps the masses. Authors show that products or services must appeal to people's emotions, and should create an effect that is memorable. Make your ideas memorable. What drives you to work every morning? What drives you to go play golf on weekends? What drives you to buy the car of your dreams? In as much as you can separate the analytical mind from the emotional, and capture the imagination, your ideas will be successful. Authors examine psychologist Abraham Maslow's research on what motivates people, and share with us the needs and desires that people try to fulfill:
  • Transcendence: help others realize their potential
  • Self-actualization: realize our own potential, self-fulfillment, peak experiences
  • Aesthetic: symmetry, order, beauty, balance
  • Learning: know, understand, mentally connect
  • Esteem: achieve, be competent, gain approval, independence, status
  • Belonging: love, family, friends, affection
  • Security: protection, safety, stability
  • Physical: hunger, thirst, bodily comfort
6. Stories
"How do you get people to act on your idea?" Definitely not by dictating. However, by influencing, by friendly cajoling, by reminding, and by showing examples of successes. What stories do you hear around your workplace? Are your customers happy? Do they call you and thank you for the products and services? Would they refer you new business? Are your employees inspired to come to work each day? Are your customers inspired to do business with you? Are their stories about transformation in the way your customers work and act that are profound, memorable and worth sharing? The more stories about the positive effects of your products on your customers' needs and wants, the better your ideas become. Authors give example of Jared, the now Subway spokes person, who actually lost weight by eating healthy sandwiches at Subway, and how Subway signed him up to talk about his story. How inspiring was his story to the rest of us? Did you go to Subway to eat a healthy sandwich and remember Jared?

Mark Twain once observed: "A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on." This is true of the world we live in. A bad experience, a half-lie, a real lie, a rumor travels fast and furious especially in the connected world we live in. And as a business, you have to be on top of this so that real stories are being shared about your ideas and successes, and not the perceived ones.
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The authors conclude by providing sticky advice to managers, teachers, and everyone on how to make our ideas stick - create a strategy for your work team, avoid three barriers that kill communication, make your lessons stick, and even unstick a sticky deal.

I highly recommend "Made to Stick" to business managers, leaders, CEOs and innovators alike. It is a guide you can reference meaningfully as you change your business, spark new ideas and jump start innovations - build that innovation factory.

"Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die - Made to Stick" - Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Selected references:
Leading eBook on Creativity and Innovation in Business
Creativity and Innovation Best Practices
Creativity and Innovation Case Studies
The Innovation Index
Top 50 innovative companies in the world

Creativity Innovation Archives