Review: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others DieMade to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I purposefully let this book marinate in my mind for a week or so after I completed it before sitting down to write the review. I wanted to see what stuck. For me, it was the idea that my communication needs to be simple (find the central idea) and concrete (like a story) in order to stick.

The SUCCESs acronym didn’t fully stick, so I had to look it up again to confirm what it was: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories. (So it turns out I elided “Concrete” with “Stories”—is that my fault or the authors’?)

Chip and Dan Heath write with an earnest but perhaps a bit breezy style, one I would call “Gladwellian.” That argument-by-anecdote formula (with a generous dose of pop social science) is easily assimilated, but it always leaves me wishing for a more stable authority to which to appeal. I get the feeling that this book will feel its age more quickly than, say, the persuasive modes of Aristotle (logos, pathos, and ethos), which have served a similar function in the history of rhetoric to the one SUCCESs now proposes to take.

From a Christian theological perspective, the Heaths have no doubt uncovered truths about humanity from God’s general revelation. I’m willing to say that God made people to like stories, even if the Bible doesn’t directly say so. And judged against other books in the genre, the Heaths may deserve five stars instead of three—they certainly held my attention. But in the end, I’m annoyed by utilitarian books. I’d rather hear from a speaker/writer who is rhetorically faulty but spiritually authentic than from someone who has learned the strategies for winning friends and influencing people. Of course I’m making a false dichotomy here; the ideal is both authenticity and rhetorical skill. And for help with the latter I’m indebted to Made to Stick.

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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