Stick – Part 3
In the January 31, 2020 & February 21, 2020 Grassroots Corners, we reviewed the first two of six principles laid out in Heath, “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold, & Others Come Unstuck” (Arrow Books, 2007).
In taking apart sticky ideas to figure out what made them stick, the Heath Brothers came up with 6 principles summarized by the acronym “SUCCESS” (p18). Okay, its 7 letters, the extra “S” at the end is added to make the acronym spell an English word. These are the principles which could help make the FAIRtax message “sticky”.
You will recall the 1st principle is “Simplicity”, which is really finding the core idea of your message and expressing it concisely. The 2nd principle is “Unexpected”. This principle states when we break a pattern or expectation, people pay attention. “Unexpected” is illustrated by an ad now running on TV: A meteorite from space strikes a TruGreen lawn and the couple walking by marvel at the green lawn.
Today we examine the 3rd principle. The “C” of SUCCESS, is: “Concrete”. “Concrete” is perhaps the biggest challenge to us FAIRtax-ers. After all, what could be more abstract than taxes?
Concrete ideas are easier to remember. People are better at memorizing concrete, easily visualized nouns like “bicycle” or “avocado” than abstract ones like “justice” or “personality” (p106). So how can one take abstract ideas and use concrete illustrations to bring them home?
Let’s look at something abstract like accounting. Eyes glaze over through accounting lectures on fixed and variable costs and cash flow. Two Georgia State professors, Carol Springer and Faye Borthick decided to try something different.
Their centerpiece for the whole semester was a concrete case study of two imaginary college sophomores, Kris and Sandy, with an idea for an imaginary new product called Safe Night Out (p107). Safe Night Out is a device installed in a car used by teenagers who are just beginning to drive. The device alerts parents to the route and speed of the car. The semester long Kris & Sandy soap opera underscored the role accounting plays in business life.
Over time, the benefits to the students of the case study became obvious (p109). Good students were more likely to want to become accountants. Average students who worked through the Kris & Sandy case study scored dramatically higher on the first exam of their next accounting course.
A FAIRtax economist used a similar approach to Professors Springer and Borthick in his paper. Laurence Kotlikoff wrote in 1/20/2008 “The FAIRtax & Middle Americans, A Case Study”. Dr. Kotlikoff followed imaginary couple Frank and Mary Middle, a middle-class 40-year-old Kansas Couple as the world changes from the income tax to The FAIRtax. Ibid. The imaginary couple and the concrete case study made the paper into an easy read.
Can concreteness help recruit FAIRtax supporters? Let’s examine the Saddleback Church in Irvine, California (p128-129).
The minister gave his congregation the task of looking for imaginary “Saddleback Sam” and “Saddleback Samantha” to join as members. The minister had a concrete image of “Sam”. “Sam”, said the minister, is an unchurched man in his late 30s or early 40s with a college degree and perhaps an advanced degree. Sam is successful, likes his job, and is self-satisfied, perhaps even smug. Sam is skeptical of what he calls “organized” religion.
“Sam” helped to focus the church members on certain decisions. For example, “Sam” hates telemarketing, so the church dispensed with the idea. Volunteer members of the church are diverse, but they know whom they are trying to reach. As a result, Saddleback church has over 50,000 members.
Maybe having a concrete image of whom we FAIRtax-ers are trying to reach would bring success in recruiting.
So, if concrete is better, why do we slip into abstraction?
Experts in a particular area often think abstractly. The “Curse of Knowledge” in previous “sticky” discussions comes into play. Engineers, for example, think in terms of abstract design. They struggle to talk to manufacturing people on the floor who are trying to put together the machine to produce what the engineers designed (p115).
When questioned by the non-engineer co-worker, the engineer will go back to their drawings and make them even more elaborate, further confusing the manufacturing person. The engineer needs to speak on the level of the concrete machine both understand.
When I get an invitation to speak to a group, I try to be concrete by illustrating various points with props. For example:
A pen marked for $1 illustrates tax-inclusive and tax-exclusive rates.
A lamp marked for $100 illustrates embedded taxes and increased purchasing power of consumers under The FAIRtax.
A mirror illustrates who REALLY pays the tax when Government taxes a corporation, and
A U-Haul truck illustrates real-world response to government tax policy. It costs nearly 3x as much to rent a U-Haul truck from California to Texas as it costs to rent the same U-Haul Truck from Texas to California.
So to summarize, the first 3 principles of “SUCCESS”, to make the FAIRtax idea “stickier”:
- Find the SIMPLE core
- Figure out what is UNEXPECTED about The FAIRtax message and break the audience’s guessing machine, refer to the previous January 31, 2020 & February 21, 2020 Grassroots Corners
- Be CONCRETE
What is your idea for how to make the FAIRtax “Concretely sticky?”
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