Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Stickiness in action

As I was reading Chip and Dan Heath's book, Made to Stick, I happened onto a great example of what they call 'stickiness.' According to the brothers, stickiness, a concept they borrowed from Malcolm Gladwell, is what makes communication attention-grabbing and memorable. They write:

By "stick," we mean that your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact -- they change your audience's opinions or behavior.
I happened to see stickiness in action during a 2-hour walk through New Quarter Park with Dr. Gerald Johnson, a retired William and Mary geology professor. I was surprised to find about 50 people waiting for this guided tour of the park's geology -- often these things are deadly boring and sparsely attended. But here were twice the maximum number of people expected by the park's staff and it didn't take long to figure out why.

Johnson is a great teacher. He's animated, clearly loves his topic and an audience, and is a master of communication. Within seconds of being introduced, he was moving thru us, choosing individuals to finish his sentences for him to ensure we were listening. Before we set off, he posed a problem that he promised we'd be asked to solve at the end of the walk. We kept our eyes out for clues the entire walk.

When Johnson introduced a scientific term, he paired it with a mnemonic device, such as when he startled us by breaking into song, "Gonna take a sedimentary journey." He had the group vote on whether the soil is deeper in the forests or the plains. We chose the forests. He said, "This is why we don't vote in science."

I learned more about geology on this 2-hour walk than I learned in a semester at college and I think I might even remember a good part of it. For sure, I'll be looking out for anything that Johnson is doing in the future.

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