Duct Tape Leadership


Ever been to one of those retreats where the flip chart that holds our “top 10 opportunities” or our new “mission statement” keeps falling off the sound-insulated hotel room wall?  Ever go back to work and watch the same “exciting” ideas glance off people like a puck hitting a goal post?

I handed the book Made to Stick around the table at a meeting to show off its orange dust cover.  The strip of duct tape on the cover may have grabbed your eye if you saw the book at Borders, Barnes and Noble, or your local independent.  As I passed it around, every single handler tried to find a loose corner to peel the shiny, slightly bumpy duct tape off the cover.  It was impossible.  Because the cover is the work of a master design and print team:  The gray color perfectly matches real tape, the texture shines just right, and the tape part of paper is raised from the rest of the paper cover so it looks and feels like real.  The cover catches your attention.  The theme of Dan and Chip Heath’s book holds your attention:  In leadership we’re always trying to move people, but we can almost always do a better job of crafting messages that stick like duct tape.

So often, ideas stick like masking taped flip chart pages falling from the wall – if they hold that well.  The reason is our perceptions are over-stimulated and our memories are totally over-loaded.  Can I ask you for a minute this morning to consider the “audience” that you are most trying to engage and influence as you lead?  Perhaps it’s moving your manager.  Perhaps your team.  Perhaps your teenager, or aging parent.  Maybe you are trying to move your neighbors or school students.  Well, do you have a “sticky message” in play?  If you do, they’ll get it. They’ll have it; it’ll hold to their imagination and intention, like duct tape holds to a nice dry wall.

The Heaths offer marvelous examples of messages that have stuck – from getting “Bubba’s” in Texas to stop littering, to inducing teenagers to quit smoking, to getting McDonald’s customers to ask, “Where’s the beef?”  They have me thinking differently about a sticky message for my next book, about ways to get our kids to value a clean room, and about how Jennifer can speak in a stickier way about adjusting to our new economy.

I’ve played in this email with a couple of their key points.  Be concrete.  Be a little unexpected.  Tell a story.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Chip Heath on my show last week; listen here for the 40-minute interview on iTunes.  Pick up Made to Stick or read Dan and Chip’s column monthly in Fast Company.  Get sticky with your message(s) to

Lead with your best self!


Audio – Duct Tape Leadership

  • Dan,

    Years ago, I watched a video presentation on meetings done by John Cleese Training, called Meetings, Bloody Meetings. (See: http://www.johncleesetraining.com/Meetings_Bloody_Meetings.htm). It was made in 1993, about the time I viewed it, and the content has stayed with me. Why should subject matter as mundane as meeting planning, preparation, pre-notification, control and summarization have remained a fresh part of my memory? Because in his wisdom, Cleese has determined that people will retain what they tie to emotional responses, including humor. Watching that helpless, hapless character be put on trial for the lousy way he managed his meetings, I connected with mistake after mistake and laughed my way to better meeting management.

    Perhaps, that is the key to making a message sticky — one has to make it resonate with the person receiving the message — on an emotional level, as well an on an intellectual level. We remember what we love, what we hate, and what makes us laugh and cry. I prefer the laughing concept because crying in the office can be counter-productive with co-workers and customers.

    Reach out and touch their hearts as well as their minds, and your messages will stick.


  • A good post by Mick.

    John Cleese. Just the mention of the name makes the corners of my mouth start to curl up into a grin, much like when someone mentions Joe Pesci. (“How do you cook your grits? Do you like ’em regular, creamy or al dente?”) John Cleese was indeed able to take the gift for humor that he used for many years, and made it transcend topics in such a way that it made learning more entertaining, and as Mick says, more memorable. How many readers on this site (mainly older, grizzled ones, like me) saw John Cleese and his band of Python co-conspirators in some particular skit 30 or more years ago — and haven’t seen it since — but still remember parts of it? The Ministry of Silly Walks. The Cheese Store. The Pet Store. The hedgehog searching for Dinsdale. And I could go on and on. Admittedly, I didn’t understand many of those segments, but they made me laugh, and I still remember them.

    The key to those great Monty Python segments was the unexpected humor, the non sequiturs, much like the strip of duct tape that Dan describes … people know it’s there, because they can see it and feel it … but it’s not really there. Today, Cleese incorporates humor into training presentations … where common sense tells us it doesn’t belong! Incorporating that type of device in learning can truly make the learning memorable.

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