Monday, December 22, 2008

Fight The Urge to Think In Slogans...

The "Made to Stick" brothers, Dan Heath and Chip Heath, deliver great counsel in their latest Fast Company column, "Kill the Slogans Dead," as they encourage us to "fight the urge to think in clever tag lines." Here's my edit of their column:

Everyone likes a slogan.
They're fun. But here's the catch: What happens if you have something really important to say, but when you open your mouth, what pops out is a snappy snippet.

Recently, a task force of top executives at a large technology company was brainstorming about a new leadership initiative. They wanted the company's managers to spend more time developing their people and less on giving orders. To make this happen, the firm would have to change the way those managers were trained and evaluated. Yet, facing these epic changes, the task force felt the need to hammer out a slogan. It was a doozy: "360-Degree Leadership: Because we all matter."

Think about that phrase for a second. These were smart people, each with 20 to 30 years of experience, and this slogan is what they thought they needed.

Oliver Sacks, the famous writer-neurologist, has discussed the plight of patients who get stuck with "earworms," snippets of songs that play, unceasingly, in their heads." Could our sloganeering instinct be a "mouthworm"? Having been pelted by an endless barrage of slogans since birth, perhaps we simply can't imagine an important communication without one?

How do you know if you're inadvertently sloganeering? Here's a take-home test: If you can envision two exclamation points at the end of your idea, it's a slogan. If you can see it on a mug in Comic Sans font, it's a slogan. Toss it and start communicating.

When you have a big idea, make it come alive with a story. Make it real, color in some details, let it be something people can care about. Just don't make it snappy.