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Core Competency

Simplicity and concreteness are at the heart of successful ideas.

by Kate Pavao, May 2007

In Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, brothers Chip and Dan Heath explore many of the most memorable ideas—from urban legends to ad campaigns—to find the common denominator. Profit talked to Chip Heath, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

PROFIT: You say that you were inspired by Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point. How is your book different?

HEATH: Gladwell was talking about things that are a bit more tangible, like the revival of Hush Puppies shoes. We're most interested in how you take an intangible idea and pitch it to other people in a way that makes them say, "Wow, that's an important idea; we ought to devote time and attention and resources to it."

PROFIT: How should business leaders use your book?

HEATH: The principles are the same whether you're a business leader or a teacher. Part of being a great leader is teaching people enough about the business that they can make the right decision on their own. Take Jeff Hawkins leading the Palm Pilot team. There is a pervasive problem in Silicon Valley called "feature creep." Engineers make products more and more complicated, because they're engineers and they understand how to use complicated products. But if the Palm Pilot was going to work as a PDA, it was going to have to be elegantly simple.

Jeff Hawkins reinforced his goal of simplicity by creating a visual proverb. He walked around with a block of wood carved in the shape of the Palm. When an engineer would say, "Let's put a peripheral port on it," he'd hold up the block of wood and say, "Where's it going to go?"

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