I spent a stimulating Thursday afternoon at an IDEO "Know How Forum" session in Palo Alto featuring Chip Heath. Scott Underwood runs these events, and I appreciate being his guest. Thanks Scott!
Prior to Chip's lecture, I got to spend some time chatting with Diego Rodriguez (creator of the Metacool blog). We've been corresponding by email since early fall, but it was my first time to meet him in person. Diego is funny and delightfully friendly!
I also got to catch up with best-selling author Tom Kelley (The Art of Innovation, The Ten Faces of Innovation). 2006 has been a banner year for Tom in terms of book sales and miles flown (he was getting ready for "another trip" to Istanbul).
Barry Katz, one of my favorite Stanford professors, was also in attendance. I've taken three design classes from him since 1999, and I'm sure that some of the seeds for the Ball of Whacks were planted while I was listening to his design philosophy stories. It was good to see him.
The high point of the afternoon, of course, was the presentation by Stanford Business School professor Chip Heath. Chip is the co-author (with his brother Dan) of the soon to be published book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Chip provided the overflow IDEO cafe audience with a one-hour overview of the main theme in his book, which is "How do you get your message to stick?"
Chip's believes that some of the "stickiest" messages around are urban myths (e.g., "we only use 10% of our brain," "alligators in the sewer," "people get drugged and have their organs harvested," "the phantom hitchhiker"). Even though these myths aren't true, they persist. Why? Chip then proceeded to analyze the elements of their stickiness. Urban myths last because they are:
Chip contends that these very same elements (Simple, Unexpected, etc.) can be applied to our own messages to make them "sticky." Chip then "wowed" us with many, many wonderful stories to illustrate his points. Looking at my notes I see such diverse examples as "the film Alien — Jaws in a Spaceship" . . . "Herb Kelleher -- 'I'll teach you how to be a CEO in 30 seconds'" . . . "how the Swiss firm Rohner Chemicals inadvertently went from being a hazardous waste producer to a water purification plant" . . . "the Frank Sinatra test" . . . "fighting litter strategies in Texas" . . . "the efficacy of memorability: statistics vs. stories" . . . "plotlines of stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul " . . . "stories as 'mental battery packs'" . . . "the curse of knowledge" and much more. All in all, a lot of useful tips and information.
At the conclusion, Chip gave me a galley copy of his book (this is how he rewards people who ask questions at his sessions!). I read about a third of it last night. I'm impressed. He (and his brother) certainly have the same command of contemporary cultural stories as the writer Malcolm Gladwell. Equally important, they also have Gladwell's gift for teasing out the significance and meaning of these stories, and then weaving these meanings into a compelling story. I think this book will be a big seller (available early January, 2007). I wish them success with it.