« Back to Blog

What We’re Reading: Urban Legends, Candy Apples, and Ideas that Stick

Remember the worst part of trick-or-treating?

It was the waiting. The waiting for your grown-up to inspect each piece of your candy and make sure it was untampered with and (grumble) safe to eat.

The resulting boon always saw anything homemade — from candy apples to oatmeal cookies — go straight to the bottom of the kitchen trash.

Why? Razor blades and cyanide, of course. Everyone who has ever donned a snowsuit under their Halloween costume (Greetings from Ohio!) and carried a pillowcase door-to-door knows you can’t eat homemade Halloween treats. Every year, strangers would prepare snacks with an unheard of homemade lethality and then hand them out to us little kids. It was The Purge but with baking.

But, did you know that researchers found such stories to be false?

In Chip and Dan Heath’s best-selling book, Made to Stick, the authors borrow a term from Malcolm Gladwell and set out to discover what gives certain ideas “stickiness.” Why do some ideas thrive and others wither on the vine? What they found was that the cautionary tales of dangerous Halloween treats have several key, sticky ingredients.

Rumors of dangerous Halloween candy began making the rounds in the 1960s and 1970s. By 1985, an ABC News poll revealed that 60 percent of parents were concerned their kids could be victims. Nationwide, schools held indoor trick-or-treating. Hospitals offered candy bag X-rays. That same year, sociologists Joel Best and Gerald Horiuchi studied all the reports going back to 1958. Chip and Dan report:

They found no instances where strangers caused children life-threatening harm on Halloween by tampering with their candy.

Why, the Brothers Heath ask, was this idea so successfully rampant? Emotion, unexpected outcome, concrete details — these are just a few qualities at work in ideas that stick.

The remainder of Made to Stick goes on to outline and explore six principles of sticky ideas. In a nutshell, the principles look like this (“SUCCESs”):

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotions
  6. Stories

If you’re looking for your fall/winter read, pick up a copy of Made to Stick. The sections on the “curse of knowledge” and “curiosity gaps” alone are worth the price of admission. We think you’ll find it a treat…but you don’t have to take our word for it!