Notes on Made to Stick

The book Made to Stick and its SUCCESs paradigm are important for teaching.

It states that coherent stories will be recalled best, in particular if shaped according to the following principles:

  • Simple - Focus on the core message and its clarity.
  • Unexpected - Surprise!
  • Concrete - Perceptible language, multiple senses.
  • Credible - Richness in details and vivid description.
  • Emotional - Emotions are markers "Remember me!" - Show your fascination!
  • Stories - Coherent stories are best to remember.

Made to Stick [Heath2007] attempts to condense the key factors for having ideas stick into a catchy paradigm SUCCESs:


  • Importance to focus on a single most important message.
  • What's the take-home message? What's the core that each listener should take home?
  • Simplicity means beauty and clearly structured argument, not over-simplification or dumbing-it-down.
  • It means clarity of the message.
  • They give an example of the Commander's Intent, translating it to a lecturing situation, formulating the key intention of the speaker that the listener should get, even if everything else fails.


  • The mind only has a limited attention span (cf. Notes on Medina's Brain Rules, Rule #4).
  • One needs to grasp that attention.
  • The mind is drawn to surprises (in the language of Kahneman [Kahneman2011], a core function for System 1 is finding deviations from a norm and highlight a surprise).
  • The aha-effect or wow-effect is therefore very important.
  • What about the content is surprising? Counter-intuitive? Beyond the user's expectation?


  • Some parts of the mind are very well adjusted to concrete language (Kahneman would say System 1 has its difficulties in dealing with abstract terms [Kahneman2011]).
  • In fact, dealing with abstract terms costs mental effort (and leads to ego depletions because of the necessary activation of System 2 [Kahneman2011])
  • Language of the senses (things we see, things we hear, things we can touch,...) works best. In fact, Feynman uses a language rich in sensory inputs, one can vividly imagine, visualize, the scenes (cf. Notes on Feynman's Lectures)
  • Language understandable by an 8-year old child, without clutter of technical terms. If Feynman manages that for Quantum Physics, then we should be able to do that for any topic.
  • Actors interacting or doing something is easier to understand than abstract concepts.


  • Internal credibility: richness in details and vivid description.
  • External credibility: by authority.
  • Kahneman has something to say about this, because clarity, understandability, readability, etc. spawn a sense of credibility. [Kahneman2011]


  • Emotions are markers for the memory system. That means memories that solicit an emotion are remembered better.
  • Medina compated them to post-it notes added to topics, saying "Remember me!" (cf. Notes on Medina's Brain Rules).
  • We see Feynman, for instance, using humor in his lecture (cf. Notes on Feynman's Lectures).
  • Being excited or passionate about the topic makes a huge difference, again one may sense Feynman's fascination from his lectures.
  • By the mirror neuron effect, the emotions (inspiration, fascination) of the lecturer will transfer to some extend to the audience and enrich the learning experience.
  • Also, a lecture that spawns curiosity by asking open questions and creating tension will benefit from emotions.


  • The most crucial point is that people understand and learn content much better if it's presented at a story.
  • The authors refer to the impact of talks at Ivy Leage unversities, in which the speakers presenting a story fared much better than others.
  • This statement is emphasized by Kahneman's analysis of System 1, which is responsible for creating coherent stories from experiences and lays the foundations for the remembering self [Kahneman2011].



[Heath2007] Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Random House, pp. 291, ISBN: 978-1400064281, January 2007.

[Kahneman2011] Daniel Kahneman. Thinking, fast and slow. Allen Lane, pp. 512, ISBN: 978-1846140556, November 2011.