Archive - March, 2010

Book Review- Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Thrive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath

Title: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath

Where You Can Get It: Better World Books has it for $14.99. iTunes has the audio version for $17.95.

In a Sentence: This book is a page-turner that will help you learn to communicate more effectively.

What I Liked About It: This book was all about making ideas “stick”. It was about communicating in such a way that your communication is memorable and inspires behavior. According to the Heath brothers, one a professor at Stanford’s Business School the other a former researcher at the Harvard Business School and the founder of the textbook company Thinkwell, sticky ideas have six components:







Each of these ideas is given a chapter-length treatment in the book. Along the way the authors tell numerous anecdotal stories about teachers, CEOs, preachers, and other leaders that have succeeded (or not) at improving the stickiness of their ideas by utilizing the above principles.

Needless to say there are all sorts of principles in this book that can be applied to public speaking of any kind, and I found many ideas that will be useful for me to keep in mind in my future preaching endeavors.

However, I also found a lot in this book that will be helpful in day-to-day communication with individuals. Prior to reading this book I don’t think I realized how much I (and most people, for that matter) tend to communicate using complex, abstract ideas while assuming that my listener a) knows what I am talking about, and b) defines terms the same way that I do. Both of those assumptions negatively affect communication.

One major takeaway I had from this book is simply that effectively communication is not difficult, but it is not intuitive either. The principles found in this book are not difficult to apply, but if we aren’t conscious of them we won’t apply them, and our communication ability will suffer.

Reading this book was a lot like reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point or Blink in that it relied heavily on counter-intuitive stories that supported the points the author was trying to make. These examples were informative, surprising, entertaining, amusing, and a lot of fun to read.

The second edition of the book ends with specific advice to managers and teachers about how they can communicate more effectively in their respective professions.

What I Didn’t Like: Not much. I loved this book. This was my favorite of the 15 books I’ve read so far in 2010.

Bottom Line: This book was a lot of fun to read, and the principles found in it are immensely valuable. Communication is not only something for managers, pastors, and other leaders, but it is something that all of us need to learn to do more effectively. A few hours spent reading this book will be time well spent.

Rating (out of 5): 5

Cursed By Knowledge

Suppose you and forty of your closest friends are hanging out.

Then suppose I give you a list of 25 well-known songs like “Happy Birthday to You” and “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

Then suppose I have you sit down at a table, and tell you that each of the forty people in the room are going to sit, one at a time, across from you at the table, and you are going to tap the tune of one of these well-known songs and ask them to identify it.

How many of your forty friends do you think would be able to identify the tune?

20, maybe?



All 40?

Well, according to a study performed at Stanford University in 1990, one of the forty people would be able to guess the song.


That’s a whopping 2.5%.

What’s really interesting is that when “tappers” in the study were asked the same question I asked you at the beginning of this post, on average they guess that 50% of the “listeners” would be able to identify the tune.

The reason for this is that when a “tapper” is tapping out the song, they are also hearing the tune in their head. This is impossible to avoid. Just try tapping out “Happy Birthday to You” without “hearing” the tune in your head.

It can’t be done.

However, that tune is not available to listeners. Listeners only hear what sounds like bad Morse Code.

I read about the preceding story this week in the book Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Thrive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath.

The brothers Heath used the story to illustrate a concept that they call The Curse of Knowledge. They say that “tappers” have been given knowledge (namely, the title of the song they are tapping), and that makes it impossible for them to imagine what it’s like to lack that knowledge.

They say that knowledge “curses” us because it is difficult to “share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind” (MTS, pg. 20).

This Curse of Knowledge plays itself out in companies and organizations all over the world every day. The Heaths give the example of a CEO who talks about “unlocking shareholder value” to her employees. When she uses that phrase, there is a “tune” playing in her head that goes along with it that her employees cannot hear.

This is a simple, but incredibly important communication principle, and it is one that I believe is important for pastors and church leaders.

When we use even simple Christian language: Jesus, the Bible, Holy Spirit, God, sin, salvation, etc., there is a tune that is playing in our head to accompany those words. If we are speaking to an audience with a limited church background, they likely don’t hear the same tune that we do. In fact, in these sorts of cases, they are probably hearing an entirely different tune that is based on what they have been taught about those words and concepts by popular culture, their families, or other influences.

The Heaths go on to suggest that communicators can defeat the Curse of Knowledge by using simple concepts, using concrete language, being unexpected, being credible, tapping into listeners’ emotions, and using stories. Each of those concepts gets a chapter-length treatment in the book.

The Curse of Knowledge causes us to communicate as if we were communicating to ourselves, as if our audience had the same information to work with, the same points of view, and the same past experiences that we do. The Curse thus causes people to be ineffective in their communication, and causes their ideas to lack “stickiness”, such that they are soon forgotten by hearers.

While I have learned much from this book (and will likely write a review of it tomorrow), the concept of the Curse of Knowledge is the one that has “stuck” with me the most. It is so easy, as a pastor, to speak in abstractions and assume that everyone understands you. It’s easy to do that in any sort of leadership position. And yet, effectively communicating ideas requires that we learn to avoid it, and instead learn to speak in concrete terms that are intelligible and memorable.

Question: Where/how do you suffer from the Curse of Knowledge?

The Beauty of the Basics

A few weeks ago Elijah Davidson, a gifted writer and a fellow Fuller student, sent out the following Tweet:

The really profound seminary lessons are the “givens”: prayer is effectual, God is good, Christ rose again. May I learn these things.

That one stopped me in my tracks as I skimmed the list of Tweets that day. Dare I say truer words hath never been spoken in the Twitterverse? Indeed I do. And it is my prayer that I too would continue to learn and relearn those things.

I was reminded of Elijah’s words last week when I was riding the Metro from Pasadena to Union Station on my way to the Burbank airport. I was sitting against one wall of the train facing the other side. A woman sat across from me, facing me, and another sat two seats to my left. I was simply reading a book and minding my own business.

At one of the stops a middle-aged woman walked onto the train pushing a young woman in a wheelchair. She parked the wheel chair in front of the woman to my right, and sat across from her. I did not get a good look at the young woman in the wheelchair because she was parked facing away from me, but it was clear that she was very severely physically handicapped. She could not speak, and she had minimal control of her bodily motions.

But to be honest when they boarded the train I noticed the middle-aged woman with her more than her.

Because the pleasantness of her disposition was almost overwhelming.

I confess I was almost annoyed by it.

As she spoke to the woman in the wheelchair I learned that they were mother and daughter, and this mother had the deepest of affections for her daughter. She started talking to the woman sitting to my right and the woman across from me (I was just barely outside of comfortable conversation distance.

I learned also that the reason for their train ride that day was that it was the daughter’s birthday. She was 24, and apparently she really liked train rides. They were going to ride to Chinatown to get her a birthday cake, one that she would get to enjoy looking at but would not be able to eat.

The middle-aged woman proceeded to ask the other two women about their lives, showing interest in their families and weekend plans. Every thirty seconds or so she would return her attention to her daughter, lovingly smiling at her, wishing her a happy birthday, and telling her that she loved her.

I learned that the daughter’s name was Charity, a name that was selected before she was born, because her parents just knew she would be a precious gift. She was the seventh of seven children.

‘This woman has to be a Christian.’ I thought to myself. The joy, the large family, the boundless optimism, there is just no other possible explanation.

Sure enough, after a few more minutes the middle-aged woman again spoke of what a great gift her daughter is, but then asked the two women if they knew Jesus, because he is the greatest gift of all. She proceeded to quote Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” One of the women said that she did, and appeared genuine about it. The other said that she did, with the look in her eyes shouting that she was afraid of the conversation that would follow if she said anything different.

The woman then looked back at her daughter and said, “Charity is gonna dance with mama in heaven, isn’t she? Oh yes she is! Charity is gonna dance with mama in heaven, isn’t she?

There are some who would suggest that such a statement is misplaced hope at best, and lunacy at worst. I confess there was a part of me in that moment, that, as I sat reading a book about Anabaptist perspectives on issues of Bioethics, was somewhat taken aback by her simple statement.

Not long after that, the Chinatown station came up, and mother and daughter exited the train in pursuit of the perfect birthday cake.

In that moment I realized that I can be guilty of forgetting the “givens” that Elijah spoke of. I can be guilty of forgetting the words of Paul, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” I can be guilty of remembering that a day is coming when we will all be changed, and that young woman in the wheelchair will indeed be able to dance with her mother in the new heaven and new earth.

I believe theology, and good, nuanced, theology at that, matters immensely. In a world where the Church is plagued by idols of every sort and kind, we need good theology. I believe it is important for Christians to study the Scriptures, study the men and women who have come before us, listen to the Holy Spirit, and split whatever hairs need splitting as we seek after what it means to live as faithful followers of the risen Jesus Christ today. I also believe that an over-emphasis on the afterlife can have the opposite effect that God intended it to have, namely that it can cause us to care less about doing justice and loving mercy (Micah 6:8) in this life.

But may we never, in our intellectualizing, in our efforts to gain secular credibility by our intelligence, or in our efforts to speak the language of the academy, forget the givens: Prayer is effectual, God is good, Christ rose again, and if I may add to Elijah, that the perishable will one day put on imperishable, and that will be a glorious day.

Those are things I must learn and relearn day after day.

How should Christians die?

Several weeks ago in one of my classes I overheard a conversation between the professor and one of the students (who was about the same age as the professor). During their conversation the professor made a comment about medical ethics.

She cited the tremendous amount of money that is spent on medical care for individuals in their last year of life, and then suggested that Christians need to address issues of end-of-life medical care, and seek to willingly redirect medical funding away from themselves when they are old so that it goes to those who are young enough (or treatable enough) to truly benefit from it.

In other words, she was suggesting that Christians should be the first to willingly stop treatment when all reasonable avenues for a cure have been explored, and should be most ready to accept death.

She said this as one who watched both of her parents and her husband die slow and expensive deaths.

I believe this is a conversation that deserves some attention, so here are some imperfect initial thoughts on this extremely sensitive subject. As always, I welcome your feedback:

Last weekend, while we were driving up to go skiing my dad, who is a  physician, and I were talking about healthcare, and I mentioned that conversation to him. His first comment was that part of the reason end-of-life care is so expensive is that we rarely know when “the last year of life” starts. A fair point.

He then proceeded to tell me about a family friend who, as part of his job as a physician, is often responsible for determining when medical care is “futile” and thus when it should be stopped and the patient should either enter hospice care or unplug from machines.

Take a guess at what people group he said was most difficult to deal with when it came to having to make those sorts of decisions.


In this guy’s experience, Christians were the ones that refused to accept the inevitability of death, and thus made his job extremely difficult. Even when a loved one had entered an entirely vegetative state Christians often refused to allow that loved one to die. They often insisted that they be allowed to continue to pray for a miracle.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against praying for miracles. I believe in miracles, and I believe that God heals. I believe we should pray for the sick, and I believe we should ask God to heal.

But at the same time it seems to me that there is a real theological problem if our hope as Christians lies entirely in God’s ability to heal, and not in the resurrection at the return of Christ.

Consider: even those people that Jesus raised from death eventually died for good some time later.

The truth is, we are all going to die, unless Christ comes back in our life time.

I could die tomorrow, I could die 80 years from now. More than likely I will die somewhere in between. Hopefully closer to 80 years from now than tomorrow, because I enjoy living. All of my loved ones face the same fate. I know that even if I were to be stricken with a deadly disease and then healed, death would still be coming for me eventually. I know that no matter how much I exercise and how many bananas I eat, death will come for me eventually.

And yet so many of us, as Stanley Hauerwas says, live as if we honestly believe we are going to make it out of life alive.

We are terrified of death.

That is understandable for those who believe we turn into fertilizer when we die.

But it ought not be that way for Christians.

Yes, we ought to seek to preserve life, including our own. And we ought to seek out appropriate and competent medical care when we are ill. And we ought to grieve death when it comes. I am in no way suggesting that the sting of death is to be ignored, nor am I seeking to minimize the grief that accompanies death. Death can be a brutally grievous event.

But to quote the words of the apostle Paul,

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep…Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Yes we grieve, but we grieve differently because we have hope. We have a promise that life does not end at death.

My wife’s dear grandfather was converted to Christ many years ago when his first wife was dying of cancer. He was converted not because God performed a miracle, but because his wife’s steadfast faith, and her steadfast desire that God be glorified in her in the midst of her disease, showed him the reality of God in the most powerful of ways.

I am inclined to wonder if perhaps we should add prayers for those types of miracles to our prayers when we or loved ones are sick.

I suppose then people who have jobs like our family friend has would speak of Christians, and perhaps even Jesus, differently.

Hauerwas on Healthcare: Learning how to Die

Here’s another great video from the good people over at The Work of the People. In this one, theologian Stanley Hauerwas weighs in on the conversation about healthcare, and as usual he suggests that we are asking the wrong questions. I think his comment about most of us living with a “quiet desperate atheism” was spot on.

Question: What did you think?