Ideas that are Made to Stick – Understanding SUCCES

Applying ‘Sticky Ideas’ to Lean, Six Sigma and TOC

Chip Heath & Dan Heath, the authors of Made to Stick, present a six step formula to help audiences remember a message better… even unto action on that message. The steps in this process break down into the simple acronym SUCCES.


Simple. This means the core meaning… like a proverb is simple. Or simple like a military order “Commander’s Intent” is simple. Not simple like an advertising sound bite is simple.

Unexpected. If people expect to hear something that THEY class as old information, they tune it out. (Ask any child… or parent for that matter).

Concrete. This is one of the hardest things for authors and writers to do because oftentimes they spend their whole life learning the “answers” that they are trying to pass along.

The process of learning answers truly gets in the way of communicating those answers to people who have never before encountered either those answers or their root questions. The complexities acquired in learning the topic turn into abstractions that, on the one hand, become elegant & useful tools for the master but, on the other hand, become very difficult to understand for the beginner in that topic. The authors call this the “Curse of Knowledge”! It is the inability to remember what it was like not to know how to proceed with a situation. Making the topic “Concrete” acts as a “common language” that both teacher and student can understand. Putting something in the concrete form acts as a sort of crutch to the writer or teacher so they can actually communicate with the people they are trying to help.

Credible. The authors discuss several forms of credibility, including internal credibility of authorities, external credibility of anti-authorities (people who have experienced the opposite of what the authorities claim) and two or three other forms of credibility.

Emotional. People care about the “one” not the masses.

If you are having trouble motivating people with the bottom 4 of the 8 motivators in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (what the authors call the “basement”)… try using some from the top 4. These needs, stacked from top to bottom, are:

8) Transcendence: help others to realize their potential
7) Self-Actualization: realize our own potential, self-fulfillment
6) Aesthetic: symmetry, order, beauty, balance
5) Learning: know, understand, mentally connect

4) Esteem: achieve, be competent, gain approval, independence and status
3) Belonging: love, family, friends, affection
2) Security: protection, safety, stability
1) Physical: hunger, thirst, bodily comfort

The authors give case evidence that these motivators are not strictly higher article, as Maslow theorized. The “Attic motivators” do frequently work, even if the “basement motivators” are not continuously fulfilled.

These motivatorscomprisewhy people act on messages. Wrapping up this chapter on the effectiveness of “emotional” motivational appeals, there is an intriguing piece regarding how they have been very effectively applied to anti-smoking campaigns… and how these ad campaigns, as a class, are stifled in favor of big tobacco’s “cognitive” motivational appeals… which, of course, don’t work!

Stories. This involves the use of three common story formats.
1) The Challenge Plot where there is an unexpected, or difficult task to achieve (the David & Goliath plot).
2) The Connection Plot where an unexpected relationship forms (The Good Samaritan plot ).
3) The Creativity Plot which “… involves someone making a mental breakthrough, solving a long-standing puzzle, or attacking a problem in an innovative way. It’s the MacGyver plot.”

Selecting stories from an organization’s history that fit one (or more) of the three emotional story formats will also probably fit one or more of the previous five “sticky” criteria much better, and will therefore be more actionable to the people that the teacher / coach / consultant is trying to reach. This sort of story actually acts like a “program” of sorts. It tells people how to act when they don’t know, for example, what happens “good” and what happens “bad” in a similar or analogous situation. These sorts of stories help people understand and internalize what to do in their own situations… like a behavioral programming option.


The author or teacher should apply the 1st step of “Simple” to both

  1. Select the Core Issue and then
  2. Articulate the Core Issue in his or her own mind

before ever trying to communicate it to a student/learner/client via the next five steps. (Curious how much this sounds like “Focus on your process’s single systemic constraint” isn’t it? Hummmmm.)

The next five steps in the SUCCES formula address barriers to action. They are so the audience will:

  1. Be interested,
  2. Understand,
  3. Believe,
  4. Care about, and
  5. Grasp the whole message…

So they can ACT ON IT. Action is the point of this type of story. In the case of this website, it is to help you see your most pressing constraints, and then act to steadily eliminate them.

This is why I will try to use SUCCES stories to illustrate topics on this site.

Note to reader: Made to Stick was published in early 2007. I read it in late 2007. Among other things, this site is a personal exercise in applying these tools… I still consider myself a novice but I am iterating! For that matter this whole website is an exercise in tornado-like iterations! (See Helix article.)