High-Level Thoughts

The best book I’ve found on crafting a compelling message. Useful for speaking, marketing, writing, any time you need to make people listen, believe, and act.

Summary Notes

The SUCCESs Principle of stickiness:

  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotional
  • Story

“This is the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.”


  • “It’s hard to make ideas stick in a noisy, unpredictable, chaotic environment. If we’re to succeed, the first step is this: Be simple. Not simple in terms of “dumbing down” or “sound bites.” You don’t have to speak in monosyllables to be simple. What we mean by “simple” is finding the core of the idea.”
  • ““A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” A designer of simple ideas should aspire to the same goal: knowing how much can be wrung out of an idea before it begins to lose its essence.”
  • “There are two steps in making your ideas sticky— Step 1 is to find the core, and Step 2 is to translate the core using the SUCCESs checklist.”
  • “We know that sentences are better than paragraphs. Two bullet points are better than five. Easy words are better than hard words. It’s a bandwidth issue: The more we reduce the amount of information in an idea, the stickier it will be.”
  • “So, to make a profound idea compact you’ve got to pack a lot of meaning into a little bit of messaging. And how do you do that? You use flags. You tap the existing memory terrain of your audience. You use what’s already there.”
  • “Proverbs are the Holy Grail of simplicity. Coming up with a short, compact phrase is easy. Anybody can do it. On the other hand, coming up with a profound compact phrase is incredibly difficult. What we’ve tried to show in this chapter is that the effort is worth it— that “finding the core,” and expressing it in the form of a compact idea, can be enduringly powerful.”


  • “The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern.”
  • “we have to understand two essential emotions— surprise and interest— that are commonly provoked by naturally sticky ideas.”
  • “To be surprising, an event can’t be predictable. Surprise is the opposite of predictability. But, to be satisfying, surprise must be “postdictable.” The twist makes sense after you think about it, but it’s not something you would have seen coming.”
  • “If you want your ideas to be stickier, you’ve got to break someone’s guessing machine and then fix it.”
  • “So, a good process for making your ideas stickier is: (1) Identify the central message you need to communicate— find the core; (2) Figure out what is counterintuitive about the message— i.e., What are the unexpected implications of your core message? Why isn’t it already happening naturally? (3) Communicate your message in a way that breaks your audience’s guessing machines along the critical, counterintuitive dimension. Then, once their guessing machines have failed, help them refine their machines.
  • “Mysteries are powerful, Cialdini says, because they create a need for closure. “You’ve heard of the famous Aha! experience, right?” he says. “Well, the Aha! experience is much more satisfying when it is preceded by the Huh? experience.””
  • “One important implication of the gap theory is that we need to open gaps before we close them. Our tendency is to tell people the facts. First, though, they must realize that they need these facts. The trick to convincing people that they need our message, according to Loewenstein, is to first highlight some specific knowledge that they’re missing.”
  • “To make our communications more effective, we need to shift our thinking from “What information do I need to convey?” to “What questions do I want my audience to ask?””


  • “The moral of this story is not to “dumb things down.” The manufacturing people faced complex problems and they needed smart answers. Rather, the moral of the story is to find a “universal language,” one that everyone speaks fluently. Inevitably, that universal language will be concrete.”
  • “But being concrete isn’t hard, and it doesn’t require a lot of effort. The barrier is simply forgetfulness— we forget that we’re slipping into abstractspeak. We forget that other people don’t know what we know. We’re the engineers who keep flipping back to our drawings, not noticing that the assemblers just want us to follow them down to the factory floor.”


  • “A person’s knowledge of details is often a good proxy for her expertise. Think of how a history buff can quickly establish her credibility by telling an interesting Civil War anecdote. But concrete details don’t just lend credibility to the authorities who provide them; they lend credibility to the idea itself. The Civil War anecdote, with lots of interesting details, is credible in anyone’s telling. By making a claim tangible and concrete, details make it seem more real, more believable.”
  • “The use of vivid details is one way to create internal credibility— to weave sources of credibility into the idea itself. Another way is to use statistics.”
  • “PUNCH LINE:When we use statistics, the less we rely on the actual numbers the better. The numbers inform us about the underlying relationship, but there are better ways to illustrate the underlying relationship than the numbers themselves. Juxtaposing the deer and the shark is similar to Ainscow’s use of BBs in a bucket.”
  • “For instance, if you’ve got the security contract for Fort Knox, you’re in the running for any security contract (even if you have no other clients). If you catered a White House function, you can compete for any catering contract. It’s the Sinatra Test: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”


  • “On average, the people who read the statistics contributed $ 1.14. The people who read about Rokia contributed $ 2.38— more than twice as much. It seems that most people have something in common with Mother Teresa: When it comes to our hearts, one individual trumps the masses.”
  • “The most basic way to make people care is to form an association between something they don’t yet care about and something they do care about.”
  • ““First and foremost, try to get self-interest into every headline you write. Make your headline suggest to readers that here is something they want. This rule is so fundamental that it would seem obvious. Yet the rule is violated every day by scores of writers.””
  • “So far we’ve looked at three strategies for making people care: using associations (or avoiding associations, as the case may be), appealing to self-interest, and appealing to identity.”
  • “This tactic of the “Three Whys” can be useful in bypassing the Curse of Knowledge. (Toyota actually has a “Five Whys” process for getting to the bottom of problems on its production line. Feel free to use as many “Whys” as you like.) Asking “Why?” helps to remind us of the core values, the core principles, that underlie our ideas.”


  • “In the last few chapters, we’ve seen that a credible idea makes people believe. An emotional idea makes people care. And in this chapter we’ll see that the right stories make people act.”
  • “You may find these results a bit counterintuitive, because the pop-psychology literature is full of gurus urging you to visualize success. It turns out that a positive mental attitude isn’t quite enough to get the job done. Maybe financial gurus shouldn’t be telling us to imagine that we’re filthy rich; instead, they should be telling us to replay the steps that led to our being poor.”
  • “A man trying to kick a drinking problem will be better off if he mentally rehearses how he will handle Super Bowl Sunday: How should he respond when someone gets up for beers?”
  • “Overall, mental practice alone produced about two thirds of the benefits of actual physical practice.”

“The second villain is the tendency to focus on the presentation rather than on the message. Public speakers naturally want to appear composed, charismatic, and motivational. And, certainly, charisma will help a properly designed message stick better. But all the charisma in the world won’t save a dense, unfocused speech, as some Stanford students learn the hard way.”

“For an idea to stick, for it to be useful and lasting, it’s got to make the audience:

  1. Pay attention (unexpected)
  2. Understand and remember it (concrete)
  3. Agree/ Believe (credibility)
  4. Care (emotion)
  5. Be able to act on it (simplicity / story)”

Problems and Answers plus an easy reference guide are in the back of the book.

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