The Sticky Wicket – It’s getting sticky in here

Cricket Batsman

Any cricket fans out there? I just got a crash course in the game this week and all because I read the book, Made to Stick, and found its contents virally adhesive …but I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, I’ll take this opportunity to inaugurate a regular segment of our blog called the “Sticky Wicket,” where we’ll offer little tidbits of crisis management counsel.

Tidbit No. 1. Always see the opportunity in crisis. It’s a batter’s game. Those of you who follow cricket will appreciate that companies (and individuals) facing down a crisis are forced to bat on a sticky wicket, much like cricketeers after a thunderstorm. What is a sticky wicket? In general parlance, it means a difficult and unpredictable situation. But it’s also cricket-speak for a wet, challenging playing field — ground that is mushy in places and hard and crusty in others. To quote the Wikipedia, batting under those conditions “… is awkward and sometimes hazardous, as the ball will spin and seam and there will be variable bounce.” Indeed, when a crisis looms, the real-life reputational match could prove not only difficult and embarrassing but season-ending. Or it could provide an unmatched opportunity for a strategic, steely-nerved batter to shine under adverse conditions and redirect his team’s fortunes.

We always counsel our clients to keep this second possibility in clear focus. For a real-life application of the theory, consider Jet Blue (for the record, not one of our clients) and its video apology. Although the apology is not without flaws or critics, the airline’s use of social media was a groundbreaking response to crisis generally appreciated by its customers and the public at large. It helped to put Team JetBlue back into the game.

Here’s another reason I like the cricket framework: the sports pundits say that the biggest difference between cricket and baseball is that baseball is a pitcher’s game (i.e., the pitcher takes center stage and is challenged by a series of batters), and cricket is a batter’s game (i.e., the batter becomes the focal point of the challenge as he deftly takes on a series of pitchers). Like cricket, crisis management is a batter’s game.

Chinese symbol for crisis

Now, let me fold another dimension into the sticky wicket analogy, and I draw my inspiration from the Chinese characters symbolizing crisis. When you think of crisis management, concentrate not on the word “sticky” (danger) but on “wicket” (opportunity). Here’s why: Wicket, according to its standard dictionary definition, means a small door or gate leading to a larger door or opening. When a wicket gets sticky, passing through to the next opening requires a recalibration of fortitude and skill, but with some strategic decision-making and meaningful reflection on the reputation-arresting circumstances and consequences at hand, a company (or an individual) can navigate its (his) way to a more promising opening.

Tidbit No. 2. Make it stick.

One tool for navigating through the muck of crisis to the opportunity on the other side – and please keep in mind it is not the only tool — is communicating persuasively when it matters most.

Made to Stick cover

My crash course in cricketry notwithstanding, Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick, is the real inspiration for the Sticky Wicket. The book got me thinking about ideas that really stick, just like that facsimile of duct tape on its cover.

I need to thank my friend, John Brodeur of Brodeur Worldwide — a highly persuasive man in his own right — for putting the book on my radar screen. So much has already been written about Made to Stick that I’m surprised when people tell me they haven’t already heard about it. For now, I’ll just add my own praise to the chorus of hoorays for this straightforward treasure trove of information about how to communicate persuasively, whether or not you are in crisis. Read the book. It will make you rethink the way you communicate.

The whole book builds on the “Stickiness Factor,” a concept popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point. Put very simply, ‘stickiness” is what makes an idea memorable and powerful, what causes something to tip, to become more than a notion. As any company that has experienced crisis can attest, merely launching messages and information out there to critical constituencies doesn’t guarantee crisis-altering results. Words only gain action-provoking momentum when audiences perceive authenticity in the ideas being expressed and feel a purposeful connection to them. When ideas take on this connective stickiness, words then become a powerful force-multiplier for behavior.

Why do I so strongly recommend this book? The concepts aren’t new, and the authors admit that they’ve aggregated parts of the existing research out there on persuasive communication. What makes their presentation so convincing is the stickiness with which they communicate. Their writing models the communication discipline they prescribe.

YouTube is a veritable wonder. I could spend thousands of words explaining the fundamental concepts in Made to Stick, but instead I’ll direct you straightaway to videos that will give you a primer on how to make your communications stickier:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGSWFbTYinE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zlld9TA-Vg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkntPrREjCA

or you can read more about the book on these links:

http://www.randomhouse.com/madetostick
http://www.amazon.com/Made-Stick-Ideas-Survive-Others/dp/1400064287/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1203640277&sr=8-1

I’ll say only this: According to the Brothers Heath, the following SUCCES factors inject stickiness into communicated information:

*Simplicity
*Unexpectedness
*Concreteness
*Credibility
*Emotion
*Stories

And I agree with them. I’ve long told my clients that people *want* to listen to simple, concrete stories that appeal to their emotions and relate to their own experiences. Emotion often trumps actual content in communication – something that advertisers and marketers rely on mightily in pitching consumer products. Add in the element of surprise — one of most potent triggers for learning — and you’ll motivate your listeners not only to tune in but to act.

Tidbit No. 3. Do the Little Extra Thing That Makes You Stand Out.

Latte art

Malcolm Gladwell shares a powerful observation in The Tipping Point: Incremental changes can have monumental consequences (and these, of course, can be good.)

Consider the impact of latte art. You go into a small neighborhood espresso bar. The barista, after pouring your drink, takes 15 extra seconds and, with a few deceptively simple swirls of her wrist, creates artwork on the surface of your latte. How does it make you feel? Better than getting the same latte at the bigger, more deeply routinized Starbucks, where, as of this writing, there is no latte art? I think you know where I’m going with this. I remember a time in New York City — about 15 years ago — when Starbucks roared into town with a vengeance, and partaking of the Starbucks experience become de rigeur, so much so that many existing coffee shops went out of business. Now many denizens of the caffeine demi-monde find the initially-thrilling Starbucks experience generic, and at least from what I can see here in Gotham, there’s been some backlash against Starbucks and a corresponding resurgence in patronage of independent neighborhood coffee joints where you can get a little art with that latte. Which leads me to wonder: how much does that 15 seconds of art account for in the trend?

The same phenomenon applies to interpersonal dynamics at work. Doing that little extra thing can distinguish you as a person or company that cares. I read an article recently that illustrates the principle. Something as simple as praise for a job well done scan motivate younger workers to stay with a company. A study undertaken by Leadership IQ, a leadership training and research company, found that for workers between the ages of 21-30 “the biggest driver of workplace satisfaction … is whether their boss recognizes and praises their accomplishments” and that these workers feel they generally do not get enough praise and recognition. To quote Leadership IQ’s Chairman & CEO, Mark Murphy, “It’s become a cliché to bemoan younger workers’ need for praise and recognition. But what’s disturbing is that 6 out of 10 younger workers are being actively demotivated because their boss won’t give them the one thing they really care about. And these results are especially disappointing because praise and recognition don’t really cost anything.”
Praise — a small thing, yes, but it can have a tangible effect on the bottom line. Yet, so many companies and managers fail to do it. Perhaps they should start making things stickier.

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Posted on: February 22, 2008
Posted by: Barbara

One thought on “The Sticky Wicket – It’s getting sticky in here”

  1. Really great post, Barbara. I’m ordering Made to Stick today before 11 (lazy Manhattan resident that I am, it means Barnes and Noble will deliver it by 7 tonight!)

    I especially love the latte art example; it happened to me two weeks ago in Kenya, when I was at the Nairobi Java House, and one of us ordered a latte, which came with the cutest little design. All conversation at the table stopped–we had to talk about it. Then two more of us ordered lattes too, so we could see the designs! It’s great to have you put that experience in context.

    Brava–and thanks.

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