The Grassroots Corner December 11, 2020

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  • Source: FAIRtax
  • 04/09/2021

What principles could help make the FAIRtax message “sticky.”

In the January 31, 2020, February 21, 2020, May 12, 2020, June 16, 2020, and October 16, 2020, Grassroots Corners, we reviewed the first five principles of “sticky” ideas laid out in Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold, and Others Come Unstuck, (Arrow Books, 2007). In taking apart sticky ideas to figure out what made them stick, the Heath Brothers came up with six principles summarized by the acronym “SUCCESS.” (P. 18.) (The extra "S" at the end appears to make the acronym spell an English word.)

The first principle is "Simplicity," which is really finding your message's core idea and expressing it concisely. The second principle is "Unexpected." This principle states that when we break a pattern or expectation, people pay attention. The third principle is “Concrete.” It says that ideas are easier to remember when they are tangible. The fourth principle is “Credible.” Credible dictates that, for us to present an out-of-the-box concept such as the FAIRtax, we need to appear as mainstream as possible so people won’t dismiss us as radical fringe dwellers. The fifth principle is “Emotional.” Emotional states that the FAIRtax message needs to extend beyond the intellect and reach people in a way that makes them feel like they need to get involved.

Today we examine the sixth and final principle. The final “S” of SUCCESS is: “Stories.” Credible makes people believe; Emotional makes people care, but Stories make people act. Page 206.

Stories first bring about SIMULATION, which makes people understand what they are experiencing. Simulation found expression in an experiment with students at UCLA. Pages 210-212. Three groups were told to think about a current problem in their lives that was stressing them out but was potentially solvable. The control group was told to think about the problem, learn more about it, think about steps to deal with it, and go home.

The second group, the “event simulation” group, was told to visualize how the problem arose starting with the beginning of the problem, go over its events and incidents in detail, remember what you said, visualize the environment where you said it, recall who was around and where you were. This exercise became the “story” of the problem.

A third group, the "outcome simulation" group, was asked to imagine a positive outcome emerging from the problem. The latter two groups were sent home and asked to spend five minutes every day repeating their simulations.

Not surprisingly, the control group did the worst. However, you may be surprised to learn that the event-simulation group - the people who simulated how the events unfolded - did the best on almost every dimension. Simulating past events is far more helpful than simulating future outcomes.

"You may find these results a bit counterintuitive," writes Heath, "because the pop-psychology literature is full of gurus urging you to visualize success. It turns out that a positive mental attitude isn't quite enough to get the job done. Maybe financial gurus shouldn't be telling us to imagine that we're filthy rich," says Heath, "Instead, they should be telling us to replay the steps that led to our being poor."

Simulation can help explain why stories are better than the straight delivery of bottom-line facts. The problem is that when you hit listeners between the eyes, they respond by fighting back. Instead, tell a story to engage the audience’s "little voice inside the head," the voice that would typically debate the speaker's points. Page 234.

Many people may find it counterintuitive that lowering tax rates can lead to higher revenues for the government. But there's an impactful story about the dynamic effect of taxation that makes the point better than just quoting facts and figures. President John F. Kennedy called for lowering tax rates when the Eisenhower Administration's highest marginal tax rate was 91%.

Before his untimely assassination in 1963, President Kennedy repeatedly urged Congress to drop the rate.  They finally dropped it to 77% in 1964 and then 70% in 1965.   So, the lower rate meant that the Federal government collected less in taxes, right? Wrong!

Revenue to the Federal treasury actually increased. The lower rate stimulated economic activity, and more people paid more tax. When we get the question about lowering tax rates, we can launch into that story. The story allows the audience to simulate the dynamic effect of lowering tax rates.

On pages 218-224, we hear a story that takes us from simulation to inspiration, which gets the audience to both understand and act. The story is about the health benefits of Subway sandwiches. The story is about Jared Fogle, who, at 425 pounds, was on course for a life of health problems and an early death. If you were watching television on January 1, 2000, you would remember the TV spots of how Jared saved his life by eating only Subway sandwiches and losing several hundred pounds. Even skinny people who aren’t interested in dieting found inspiration in Jared’s tale. He fought big odds and prevailed.

The story was inspirational and got people to act. In 2000 Subway sales jumped 18%, and the next year sales jumped another 16%, while sales from other chains rose only 7%. Page 221.

But the back story is how those spots ever got on the air. The national advertising director for Subway, who had a lifetime of experience trying to make ideas stick, wanted to walk away from the Jared story. Many unlikely events had to take place for Jared to hit the airwaves. The Subway store manager had to be proactive enough to bring the magazine article to the creative director's attention. The creative director had to be savvy enough to invest resources in what could have been a fruitless errand. The ad agency president had to make the spot for free because he knew he was onto something big. The national Subway marketing team had to swallow its pride and realize that it had made a mistake by not embracing Jared earlier.

Jared teaches us another lesson about stories. We don’t always have to create sticky ideas. Spotting them is often easier and more useful. The Subway store manager did not make Jared – he spotted him.

What should we look for when we’re trying to spot something useful? Try three basic plots. The first is the Challenge Plot. David and Goliath, a story we all know, was one such plot. See pages 226-227. The critical element of a Challenge plot is that the obstacles seem daunting if not impossible to the protagonist. One would never expect a little shepherd boy like David to overcome a giant warrior like Goliath.

The second plot is the Connection Plot. See pages 227-228. The Good Samaritan story from the Bible is an example. Jesus told a lawyer to love his neighbor as himself. The lawyer, looking perhaps to limit the number of people he’d be on the hook to love, asked, "And who is my neighbor?"

Rather than answer the question directly, Jesus told a story of a Samaritan who stopped to help a stranger. The stranger had been beaten by thieves and left for dead. The story requires context. Samaria was a dangerous place in those times, and Samaritans had terrible reputations. Therefore, this Samaritan was not just a nice guy. He was a nice guy crossing a vast social gulf. Heath writes, “That is what a Connection plot is all about. It’s a story about people who develop a relationship that bridges a gap-racial, class, ethnic, religious, demographic, or otherwise.”

The third plot is the Creativity Plot. See page 229. An example of such a plot is the apple that
falls on Sir Isaac Newton’s head. “The Creativity plot,” Heath writes, “involves someone making a mental breakthrough, solving a long-standing puzzle, or innovatively attacking a problem.”

The Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, frequently used stories to illustrate points. One showed how cynical the Soviet people were about their system. Reagan began, an American and a Russian were arguing about their two countries. The American said, "In my country, I can go into the Oval Office, pound my fist on the table and tell President Reagan 'I don't like the way you're running the country!'” The Russian said, “I can do that, too."  The American looked puzzled.  The Russian continued, "I can go into the General Secretary's office, pound my fist on the table, and tell the General Secretary 'I don't like the way President Reagan is running his country!'" This story both gets a laugh and permits the audience to simulate freedom.

I’d love to hear your ideas on making the FAIRtax message tell a “Story” and get audiences to experience the simulation and inspiration to act.

I hope you have enjoyed this series as much as I enjoyed the Heath book. Paul Livingston, our Florida State Director, is trying to put together a group to discuss how to make the FAIRtax a “sticky” idea. Please raise your hand to volunteer and send your thoughts to Paul at

Yours In the FAIRtax Movement!

Jim Bennett
AFFT Grassroots Coordinator & Secretary


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