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Concrete ideas

The third step to making our ideas stickier is to make them more concrete. An idea which is tangible and appeals to our senses naturally becomes more memorable. In other words, don’t sell a concept, sell a prototype. Don’t sell with statistics, sell with examples. People prefer to give donations to real people, not abstract causes. So make it real, and avoid abstractions, metaphor, numbers and jargon. Use the senses and sensory language to paint a vivid mental picture.

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Out of the six traits of “stickiness” described in the book, being concrete is the easiest to accept and implement. Something becomes concrete when it can be described or detected by the human senses. A V-8 engine is concrete; “high-performance” is abstract. Concrete ideas are easy to remember. Experiments have shown that people remember concrete over abstract nouns: “bicycle” over “justice” or “personality.”

This illustrates that the “curse of knowledge” is the main enemy of being concrete. The main difference between an expert and novice is the ability of the expert to see things abstractly. For example, the difference in reaction between a judge and a jury: The jury sees all the concrete aspects of a trial – the lawyers’ clothing, manner, the specific procedures in a classroom; the judge sees all in terms of legal precedent and the lessons of the past. Novices perceive concrete detail as concrete detail; an expert sees concrete details as symbols of a pattern.

Two examples of being concrete: 

  1.  Movie popcorn contains 20 g fat; this is too abstract. Instead, we can say that it contains more fat than a bacon-and-eggs dinner, a Big Mac, and fries for lunch and a steak dinner will all the trimmings – combined.
  2.  A simple mixture of salts and sugar – oral rehydration therapy (ORT) – in water can save lives in the developing world. Instead of giving facts and figures about how many can be saved, its promoter carries with him a packet of the power and whips it out to, say, a group of Prime Ministers and says “Do you know that this costs less than a cup of tea and it can save hundreds of thousands of children’s lives in your country?”

The notion of using concrete language to describe abstract thought works well because we are using terms that will mean the same thing to everyone. It is a different way to simplify our ideas but definitely one of the more effective ways.

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