Last month I wrote something about a phenomenon that I’m sure that you’ve experienced: having a tune get stuck in your head. James Kellaris has used the term “Ohrwurm” to describe this phenomenon.
I made brief mention of the way in which research into the ohrwurm may inform other fields, such as addictions.
The other big topic that may be illuminated by the ohrwurm phenomenon is the way that ideas, trends and fashions gain traction.
Some successes are created: you may or may not like Madonna or Britney Spears, but both of them are talented. The question is this: why did they first make it? In some senses both had the right set of talents be molded into a highly successful products. People in the music business saw their potential and that both were just right for the market of the time. Thousands of similarly gifted people just never had the opportunity to be made into stars.
Some successes are the results of memes. I’m speaking here about memes with a little “M,” to differentiate them from the Memes of spiral dynamics. Ideas, fashions and trends spread through society like the measles.
But are there any characteristics of psychological or social ohrwurms? What is it about some ideas, concepts or products that just have a great big hook that makes them not just memorable but irresistible?
People have been asking that question for years, but now it begins to look as if we might be getting close to generating some sensible answers based not on market research or focus groups, but on neuroscience.
A book called Made to Stick will be coming out in the New Year and identifies some of the characteristics of ideas that become popular and stick in people’s minds. The authors’ have come up with:
- Emotional Story
I’m sure that they are on to something.
But I think that there is more.
In the original piece about the ohrwurm I mentioned three characteristics of a tune that gets stuck in our heads:
The same principles and a few more are crucial in getting a message to resonate:
- Simplicity: It’s much easier to believe that the motivators of human behavior are pain and pleasure, or that Men are from Mars and Women from Venus, than getting into the messy realities of human motivations and interpersonal relationships
- Clarity: The simple idea must be expressed in a cogent and incisive way
- Incongruity: This is essential: we know that the brain is hardwired to respond to novelty. Yet despite being incongruous, the odd, strange, unexpected idea must afterwards fit into the rest of our knowledge and beliefs about the world. We can only take so much incongruity!
- Repetition: Few ideas - whether true or false - are embraced and adopted if they are only heard once
- Emotional resonance: You are unlikely to be interested in or remember something that has no emotional meaning for you
- Integrity: The idea or concept must have internal consistency
- Believability: The idea needs to come from a trustworthy source
- Consonant: The idea or concept needs to resonate with your own core beliefs or core values
- Practical: Most people need to be able to see simple, concrete actions that they can take
- Beneficial: There is a sliver of self-interest within all of us: something else that is hardwired. Unless we can see that we will derive some benefit from an idea, it is unlikely to have much traction
Now I am going to let you in on a secret. I do a lot of public speaking and I could not work out why my talks, lectures and speeches seemed to be so popular.
One day a friend from Canada told me that he had also been mystified by my popularity as a speaker. Then he told me that he had discovered my secret: I am a storyteller. It took me a while to grasp what he was saying, but then I realized that it was true. Whether presenting research data, ways to improve your life or an inspirational speech I constantly tell stories. And so does every other good speaker that I know. And the keys to telling good stories?
They are these ten points.
Try them out for yourself and see what you think.
“A man's success in business today turns upon his power of getting people to believe he has something that they want.”
--Gerald Stanley Lee (American Professor, Writer and Lecturer, 1862-1944)