Betsy Speicher

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

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22 posts in this topic

Other than for work, my interest in this book was also to see if it contained any ideas to improve the "stickiness" of Objectivism. The different generalizations in the Heaths' book are: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, believability, emotional appeal and the narration of values.

The ongoing Free Books to Teachers campaign is a good thing but I suppose many people don't see the need for Objectivism when non-Objectivists seem to be successful and appear happy without explicitly understanding the philosophy. The most useful tactic to increase the rate of enlightenment for the majority of the population are stories such as the one Ayn Rand related about Mr. X. Most people will not be guided by logic or rhetoric even when the most eloquent speaker ARI can produce urges them to prevent the enactment of even more irrational laws, for example. There could be no more eloquent speaker on what's wrong with the world than Ayn Rand, but her messages have not been converted to action for most listeners, and this is not because they do not grasp the issues or the content of her messages, I think, but because they did not find them emotionally appealing to bring about the will to revisit their premises.

How important would the last two generalizations in the Heaths' book be to the happiness of bonafide Objectivists? Just clock the amount of time the average American spends sorting and resorting recyclable cans and bottles only because they were told in many different ways, with positive emotional stories that recycling is a wonderful thing (they do not take on other activities for the same low monetary return as recycling - for example, the same number of people will not take the time to complete telephone surveys for the chance to win something), as if it were a fact under all economic circumstances. That is the degree to which emotionally appeal messages about indigent baby turkeys or whatever in old growth hardwood forests translates into even the tiniest actions that reinforces a particular worldview. A far less hostile environment for Ayn Rand's ideas within my lifetime, I think, cannot be accomplished only through appeals to reason and getting people to read what Ayn Rand wrote - there has to be a spread of positive vernacular stories. Note I am not saying emotional appeal will net more Objectivists, but a more receptive environment where Objectivists can carry out more of the activities they want within their lifetimes.

Overall, the good things I obtained from this book in relation to a more rapid rise of an Objectivism-friendly culture are contained in two points:

"A story is powerful because it provides the context missing from abstract prose. This is the role that stories play-putting knowledge into a framework that is more lifelike, more true to our day-to-day existence. Stories are almost always CONCRETE. Most of them have EMOTIONAL and UNEXPECTED elements. The hardest part of using stories effectively is make sure they're SIMPLE-that they reflect your core message. It's not enough to tell a great story; the story has to reflect your agenda."

and

"How can we make people care about our ideas? We get them to take off their Analytical Hats. We create empathy for specific individuals. We show how our ideas are associated with things that people already care about. We appeal to their self-interest, but we also appeal to their identities-not only to the people they are right now but also to the people they would like to be."

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I agree with your point, Cometmaker. An appeal to emotion has been a very successful tool used in marketing. You can notice it working wonders everywhere: condo ads display not only the space you will be buying but more importantly the life style; vacation resort advertisements try to portray the feeling of having fun; many activity adds state: "you could be THAT person". Rational thought leads customers to be interested but it is emotion that sells. Notice that what is being sold to the public is ideas (often a dream of what could be) which then help them sell their product. I do think that a similar approach can be used to successfully sell philosophy.

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"A story is powerful because it provides the context missing from abstract prose. This is the role that stories play-putting knowledge into a framework that is more lifelike, more true to our day-to-day existence. Stories are almost always CONCRETE. Most of them have EMOTIONAL and UNEXPECTED elements. The hardest part of using stories effectively is make sure they're SIMPLE-that they reflect your core message. It's not enough to tell a great story; the story has to reflect your agenda."
I think Ayn Rand understood this point very well; I think Atlas Shrugged addressed it powerfully. That's why Rand considered herself a novelist first: It was her means of communicating her philosophical message, but through the artful telling of a compelling story.

We certainly need more of that, on the smaller scale of short narratives in essays and long-form fiction. I find heroic stories told through the medium of film, tv, or the written word give me the fuel I need and give non-Objectivists the context they need to reconsider their assumptions.

As we hurtle toward the election of a Communist president (or his Socialist alternative), many in the culture besides Objectivists appear to be grappling with these issues and groping their ways toward an Objectivist Ethics. What Objectivists need are more and better writers of fiction, even more than great essayists, although that is what we have in quantity and it is certainly helpful.

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We certainly need more of that, on the smaller scale of short narratives in essays and long-form fiction. I find heroic stories told through the medium of film, tv, or the written word give me the fuel I need and give non-Objectivists the context they need to reconsider their assumptions.

Yes, but I think it’s more than this. Cometmaker mentioned spreading “positive vernacular stories”. Obviously one is the story of Ayn Rand’s life, and Michael Paxton’s documentary did an excellent job of showing just what kind of person this creator of Objectivism was. People naturally are going to want to know, does this philosophy really work? If you think of it from a marketing perspective, like ~Sophia~ suggested, to really sell a product you do more than just tell people how it works or list off the chemical ingredients. Consumers want to actually see it in action, they want to see proof of how this will make their life better.

If there is a weakness to the way Objectivism is currently being taught, I would say it’s not being taught in a way that relates to people on an individual level. ARI is focused on changing a culture, and maybe that’s too grand a goal for the nonObjectivist to focus on. Even if they agree, for example, that Capitalism is the only moral system, that may not be motivation enough to learn Objectivism. Most people can’t relate personally to that level of abstraction, they can only think on the level of how things affect them directly. That’s the sense in which I think this book has a good point – the more concrete the example, the more vivid it is and the more easily it “sticks”.

I don’t think looking at how recycling propaganda is spread is the way to come up with new strategies, because we don’t want drones. However, I do wonder whether there's something else that could be done to appeal to people's personal values in a way that hasn't been done so far.

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Cometmaker brings up an important consideration. Motivation to get involved with Objectivism. They have to feel the emotional reward of being logical. How much easier it is to get that reward from wishful thinking or religion. Motivation, is an emotion. It seems ironic, but that is what is needed to get many to embrace reason.

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I've thought about one website for a long time but haven't pursued it yet - one dedicated to presenting the life stories and ongoing news about successful individuals who've been highly influenced by Objectivism, including statements in their own words after that influence. The length of the list would probably surprise even most Objectivists (though I'll bet that Betsy would not be surprised.) I've had the domain name for it registered for awhile now.

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If there is a weakness to the way Objectivism is currently being taught, I would say it’s not being taught in a way that relates to people on an individual level. ARI is focused on changing a culture, and maybe that’s too grand a goal for the nonObjectivist to focus on.

I certainly approve of ARI's Books for Teachers program. It gets Ayn Rand's novels into the hands of teenagers at the most propitious time in their lives and Ayn Rand is the best salesman Objectivism ever had.

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Other than for work, my interest in this book was also to see if it contained any ideas to improve the "stickiness" of Objectivism.

That's what I was thinking when I read Made to Stick a few months before this summer's OCON. I enjoyed reading the book and thought it had many valuable insights communicated, in accordance with its own thesis, is a way that made it memorable.

That's why I was delighted when Ray Girn had a copy with him and recommended the book in his OCON course on "Motivation and Pedagogy: Facilitating the Childhood Choice to Know" (here). It was an excellent course and Ray, an elementary school teacher at the LePort School, gave many examples of how to use the techniques in teaching children.

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I've thought about one website for a long time but haven't pursued it yet - one dedicated to presenting the life stories and ongoing news about successful individuals who've been highly influenced by Objectivism, including statements in their own words after that influence. The length of the list would probably surprise even most Objectivists (though I'll bet that Betsy would not be surprised.) I've had the domain name for it registered for awhile now.

I would be willing to contribute to it.

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When I first started my business I would begin each initial session by explaining what Progressive Exercise could do for the possible client. I was growing consistently but thought I could be growing faster. In the many hours of free time that I use to have between clients I would do a lot of reading, sometimes up to five books a week. One of the books I read back in the year 2000 was Jean-Baptiste Say's A Treatise on Political Economy which I found to have a lot more benefit than just economics.

In Jean-Baptiste Say's book there is a part where he is condemning governments for being so insolent to think they can choose what values are important to every citizen. I transfered this thought to myself and asked, who am I to think I know what is of importance to a possible client? I came to the conclusion that I have no idea what is of importance to any of these people without first asking them "what is it that is most important to you?" Once I could explain how the client could achieve their own goals and then use a tool of measurement to demonstrate that they were achieving their own goals, my numbers almost tripled over the next few months.

To sale a product, an idea or a lifestyle one must first know what it is that the person wants, which can only be known by asking the person. I have also found that you must get the client to be focused on the positives/good that will come when they obtain their chosen values. If they let their focus slip from the achievement of their values, I have found, they do not achieve or keep those values. Another thing that I have found very beneficial for keeping people on the right track is that I (the seller of the values) must be an example of those values. In other words I must be an exemplification of what I state. If I state the a person can eat, drink and be merry, they must know I do exactly what I say and that I am a physical example of the achievement of my goals. If I state that a person only needs once a week training, they must also know that I do the same and achieve my goals. If I state that the philosophy that I live by (Objectivism) allows me to achieve the goals/values that I state I want to achieve, they must see me achieve those values and with it happiness. And this is the one of the problems that I see when talking with a lot of people.

When the people that state they live by the philsophy of Objectivism are living in a small apartment, spend all of their extra time on the computer, drive cars that are 10-20 years of age, act like a hermit, never go on a date, act like they are unhappy or rude, how in the hell do they think they are going to convince people that Objectivism is the greatest philsophy known to man.

In my office I have a banner that states my central purpose/objective, "to exemplify the sublime in man." Yes, you have heard or read this before, but instead of exemplifying it in fiction I am doing it in my life and selling it to every client that walks through my door, even through it is an indirect sale.

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When the people that state they live by the philsophy of Objectivism are living in a small apartment, spend all of their extra time on the computer, drive cars that are 10-20 years of age, act like a hermit, never go on a date, act like they are unhappy or rude, how in the hell do they think they are going to convince people that Objectivism is the greatest philsophy known to man.

Are you saying that a young person starting out in life (or I, for that matter, because I've never wanted a big house) cannot be a good Objectivist because he doesn't live in a mansion? That neither can someone who chooses to allocate more of his resources on other things because to him a car is nothing more than a way to get from here to there? Must Objectivists be social butterflies?

With the possible exception of "act[ing] unhappy or rude" (although everyone is unhappy about something at some point for some amount of time, and I've never met anyone who's never been rude), one might interpret this as a presumption about what other people's values ought to be.

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When the people that state they live by the philsophy of Objectivism are living in a small apartment, spend all of their extra time on the computer, drive cars that are 10-20 years of age, act like a hermit, never go on a date, act like they are unhappy or rude, how in the hell do they think they are going to convince people that Objectivism is the greatest philsophy known to man.

Are you saying that a young person starting out in life (or I, for that matter, because I've never wanted a big house) cannot be a good Objectivist because he doesn't live in a mansion? That neither can someone who chooses to allocate more of his resources on other things because to him a car is nothing more than a way to get from here to there? Must Objectivists be social butterflies?

With the possible exception of "act[ing] unhappy or rude" (although everyone is unhappy about something at some point for some amount of time, and I've never met anyone who's never been rude), one might interpret this as a presumption about what other people's values ought to be.

No I am not saying that any person need to live in a big house if the do not choose it as a value. What I am saying is that to a certain extent people must know that an Objectivist lives according to his prinicples and achieves his own values. If any person is living according to their stated or even unstated values and living a life of a poor hermit, what do you think is going to motivate people to want to follow in their foot-steps? The point is that the good, or a person's values are what motivates them. To achieve those values they must have guiding principles that can actually be demonstrated to work. A lot of the people that I have either talked to or met that claim to be living by the philosophy of Objectivism live spartan (avoidance of luxuries) life-styles that will never be enough to convince someone that they should take on the philosophy. How do people expect to change a culture for the better when no one knows the philosophy they live by nor if they are achieving their chosen values while also living according to their principles? I think people must see a concrete exmple of the philsophy which to me means you have to be a walking talking example of the philosophy. If people do not even step outside, who the hell is going to know that Objectivism works?

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I certainly approve of ARI's Books for Teachers program. It gets Ayn Rand's novels into the hands of teenagers at the most propitious time in their lives and Ayn Rand is the best salesman Objectivism ever had.

I completely agree, and I think their work with high schools and colleges is wonderful. After all, I read Ayn Rand because of an ARI essay contest. I was thinking more about appealing to adults, who might be more easily drawn by the personal benefits of Objectivism than an academic interest.

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No I am not saying that any person need to live in a big house if the do not choose it as a value. What I am saying is that to a certain extent people must know that an Objectivist lives according to his prinicples and achieves his own values. If any person is living according to their stated or even unstated values and living a life of a poor hermit, what do you think is going to motivate people to want to follow in their foot-steps? The point is that the good, or a person's values are what motivates them. To achieve those values they must have guiding principles that can actually be demonstrated to work. A lot of the people that I have either talked to or met that claim to be living by the philosophy of Objectivism live spartan (avoidance of luxuries) life-styles that will never be enough to convince someone that they should take on the philosophy. How do people expect to change a culture for the better when no one knows the philosophy they live by nor if they are achieving their chosen values while also living according to their principles? I think people must see a concrete exmple of the philsophy which to me means you have to be a walking talking example of the philosophy. If people do not even step outside, who the hell is going to know that Objectivism works?

Well, I would disagree with what seems to be the implicit premise here that our primary consideration should be changing the culture. Objectivism isn't about improving others, it's about pursuing your own happiness. To chide someone for not being a better example to others, when they never agreed to be a poster child, is unfair in my opinion. Also, it may not be the case that they're a bad example. Everyone has different priorities, and you have to be careful not to project your own onto others. As piz said, with the exception of being unhappy, who's to say that living in a small apartment and driving an old car is not the way they should be living? Isn't that assuming that their goals are the same as your own?

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No I am not saying that any person need to live in a big house if the do not choose it as a value. What I am saying is that to a certain extent people must know that an Objectivist lives according to his prinicples and achieves his own values. If any person is living according to their stated or even unstated values and living a life of a poor hermit, what do you think is going to motivate people to want to follow in their foot-steps? The point is that the good, or a person's values are what motivates them. To achieve those values they must have guiding principles that can actually be demonstrated to work. A lot of the people that I have either talked to or met that claim to be living by the philosophy of Objectivism live spartan (avoidance of luxuries) life-styles that will never be enough to convince someone that they should take on the philosophy. How do people expect to change a culture for the better when no one knows the philosophy they live by nor if they are achieving their chosen values while also living according to their principles? I think people must see a concrete exmple of the philsophy which to me means you have to be a walking talking example of the philosophy. If people do not even step outside, who the hell is going to know that Objectivism works?

Well, I would disagree with what seems to be the implicit premise here that our primary consideration should be changing the culture. Objectivism isn't about improving others, it's about pursuing your own happiness. To chide someone for not being a better example to others, when they never agreed to be a poster child, is unfair in my opinion. Also, it may not be the case that they're a bad example. Everyone has different priorities, and you have to be careful not to project your own onto others. As piz said, with the exception of being unhappy, who's to say that living in a small apartment and driving an old car is not the way they should be living? Isn't that assuming that their goals are the same as your own?

Again, you miss the point as I am not stating that changing a culture is your primary goal in life nor that I even know your values. I used those specific examples/values because a lot of people, in general, do value those items. I also stated that to a certain extent a person must be willing to state what it is they choose as a value or people will not even know that the philsosphy works in achieving those independently chosen values. But, a lot of people seem to think the culture is going to change without getting their hands dirty. A lot of people seem to think they can just rattle off abstract ideas and everyone should just jump in line. I disagree. If people want to live in a rational world, nation, state, city, community or any where besides their own apartment they will have to be willing to go out and fight for it which cannot be done as an armchair warrior. Do you think John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Ayn Rand and many others of their level of intellect set their primary goal to change a culture? I do not think so. But, they did seem to realize that without first fighting for their right to their life, there would not be any other values to choose.

It is because I value my life above all else that I am willing to put forth the effort and time needed to fight irrational people for it. People are born with the right to their own life. But, without fighting for that right, someone else will happily take it, just look to history for examples of that.

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Well, I don't wish to enter a long argument about this, but I think you have to pick your battles and not assume a posture that it is your duty to fight irrational people wherever you see them. Everyone has to judge for themselves the possible gain expected from any single battle against the purpose of their action which is their own life and happiness. I think it's also important to have a realistic idea of what change you can actually effect, so that it doesn't eat away at you whenever you fail.

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I have never said that fighting for one's life is an unchosen duty. I have stated that if a person wants to keep their freedom, and hence achieve a happy life, then fighting for one's life should be very important in a person's choice of actions. I also have not stated that one should waste their time/life by attempting to discuss or fight with every petty person that comes along. But, to sway other people's minds, those other people must first know what it is that a person stands for and that the person is achieving their stated values through the application of their philosophy. How people expect that to happen when all they do is stand on the fringe is beyond my understanding and something that I have never seen in history.

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I have never said that fighting for one's life is an unchosen duty. I have stated that if a person wants to keep their freedom, and hence achieve a happy life, then fighting for one's life should be very important in a person's choice of actions. I also have not stated that one should waste their time/life by attempting to discuss or fight with every petty person that comes along. But, to sway other people's minds, those other people must first know what it is that a person stands for and that the person is achieving their stated values through the application of their philosophy. How people expect that to happen when all they do is stand on the fringe is beyond my understanding and something that I have never seen in history.

I didn't say "fighting for one's life", I said "fight irrational people wherever you see them". Since that's not your position, I'm not sure what exactly you think the people you describe should be doing. What does it mean to "stand on the fringe"?

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I have never said that fighting for one's life is an unchosen duty. I have stated that if a person wants to keep their freedom, and hence achieve a happy life, then fighting for one's life should be very important in a person's choice of actions. I also have not stated that one should waste their time/life by attempting to discuss or fight with every petty person that comes along. But, to sway other people's minds, those other people must first know what it is that a person stands for and that the person is achieving their stated values through the application of their philosophy. How people expect that to happen when all they do is stand on the fringe is beyond my understanding and something that I have never seen in history.

I didn't say "fighting for one's life", I said "fight irrational people wherever you see them". Since that's not your position, I'm not sure what exactly you think the people you describe should be doing. What does it mean to "stand on the fringe"?

Whether your fighting irrational people or rational (which is very seldom) what do you think you are essentially fighting for if not your life?

To stand on the fringe is to stand on the border. In other words, if a person is standing on the fringe they have not yet engaged in the battle.

Do you expect the world you live in to become a better place, where reason and ideas are held as high values, without fighting for them? Do you think you can convince people of the validity of the most radical philosophy in world history without being an example of the virtues and values of that philososphy?

But, the primary subject from my first post was that if you want your ideas to survive you must show the validity of those ideas by exemplifying the virtues and achieving your stated, chosen values. Most people have to know that the ideas they are going to accept work in reality. Almost all of my new clients are referrals from other clients. When these people first come in, a lot of them state that my ideas are radical but they could not fight with the positive gains achieved by the person that exemplified my ideas.

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Whether your fighting irrational people or rational (which is very seldom) what do you think you are essentially fighting for if not your life?

Doesn't this really depend on the fight? Surely not every irrational person is a threat to your life, nor is it always to your benefit to fight with them? I'm just curious to know what fights you think are worth engaging in that the people you've described avoid. I'm trying to nail down the meaning of your argument here and what it is you're objecting to.

But, the primary subject from my first post was that if you want your ideas to survive you must show the validity of those ideas by exemplifying the virtues and achieving your stated, chosen values. Most people have to know that the ideas they are going to accept work in reality. Almost all of my new clients are referrals from other clients. When these people first come in, a lot of them state that my ideas are radical but they could not fight with the positive gains achieved by the person that exemplified my ideas.

Yes I agree, I said much the same thing.

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What I am objecting to is the type of people that think the people of the world are going to change their ideas for the better without those people that have the correct ideas or philosophy taking action to stimulate the change. Even if a person held all the right ideas that person cannot get from point A to point B without taking action. If a person wants to remain free they must take actions to keep it so, all the great ideas in the world mean nothing if one does not apply them. And how are you going to be able to apply those actions if the society you live in takes action to limit your choices and you do nothing to fight against those irrational ideas/people.

Merriam-Websters dictionary defines fight in a couple of different ways. One of those definitions, and the one I am attempting to use is: a struggle for a goal or an objective. If you want rational ideas such as Objectivism to survive (which I think is a worthy objective) you are going to have to struggle/fight for that to happen.

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