Wednesday, February 27, 2008



Steve Gold gave us a wonderful talk about stickiness for Vital Ideation. He focused on a fundamentally different idea of what “sticky” meant than the book “Made to Stick” did, but Steve’s thoughts encompassed a whole new set of ideas than I had previously considered.

One of the key points that Steve made was asking whether ideas are sticky, or if it is their implementation that makes them so. Arguably, there are ways to package up things that will make them more attractive, no matter what they are.

Furthermore, Steven questions whether things stick to people, or people stick to things. In fact, the stickiness is bi-directional.

What makes them stick?

Steve argued that the thing that makes people and ideas stick together is a two-way flow of value. The thing you are stuck to is giving you value somehow (an iPod, for instance), and you are giving it value (a reason for being, money, time, etc). It is because of this two-way flow that there is this Velcro effect.

But what causes this two way flow? One of the most interesting concepts Steve mentioned is the idea of “mine”.


There are lots of objects we interact with every day. Cars, food, facebook profiles, rooms, water bottles, pens, shoes, shirts – the list is endless. However, some of these objects we think of specifically as “mine.”

Some things are obvious. These are my shoes and those are yours. This house is my house and that house is your house. Give me my pen back when you are done with it.

Still, some things possess greater degree of “mine”-ness as others. You probably wouldn’t feel weird if you lost your pen and had to borrow someone else’s, or ate at a restaurant instead of your house. You would probably start to feel weirder if you fell in a pool and had to borrow clothes from a friend. A sense of “not mine” would start to creep up on you. If you lost your iPod or your cell phone, someone else’s is almost an entirely useless replacement – you simply can’t do with someone else’s what you can with yours.


I feel as though the stronger this concept of “irreplaceable,” the stronger the feeling of ownership. When I use other people’s laptop, I am much less efficient than when I am using my own, because it is somehow foreign and uncomfortable despite being exactly the same. The programs aren’t in the same place and the keys feel a bit different. My laptop has the top row rearranged to spell “MARRA” and has stickers on it that I recognize it by. It goes with me almost everywhere, and finding a thirty minute block where I don’t need it so I can give it to IT to replace my speakers is difficult.

You can get a new stapler very easily. You won’t miss your old stapler. A stapler is a commodity good.

You can’t get a new iPod in the same way. It is not a drop-in replacement. The difference will be tangible.

People are more comfortable with and take care of things that are theirs. I would feel no remorse snapping my pencil, I can just get another. I will edit my Wiki page to say what it should, but I am afraid to edit other people’s pristinely marked up pages. When I have ownership I am not an outsider. Ownership is comfort. People care about and take care of things that they feel ownership of. No one wants to see their toy break, their idea get shot down, or their essay get an F.

But this feeling of ownership is not a permanent one. Toys that I cherished in my childhood I now donate to charity. My MySpace page went from being checked multiple times daily to being deleted. The laptop I carry around with me daily now will be replaced by another in a few years. It is something that comes and wanes, and perhaps something that can be harnessed.

Creating Ownership

So as budding entrepreneurs, designers, and engineers, the question is: how do I make you feel this powerful ownership over the things I make?

Customization creates ownership. My Build-a-Bear has a green shirt and cool hat. My iPod has gem rhinestones around the screen. My Webkins has a different name than yours. Your thing is no longer a commodity; it is its own unique entity. There is a book I intend to read called “FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication.” It is about how some time in the not-too-distant-future everyone will be able to customize products in the same way that we can print custom party invitations today. As technology enables more and more individualization of products, people will become more aware of the differences between mine and yours.

Ability to affect change creates ownership. If I let you comment on my blog, then maybe you feel like you are part of a discussion. But if I let you all the way on the inside and let you post to my blog, then you are now an insider with control over its direction. These sorts of small viral communities have popped up all over the internet, and there is no barrier of entry to joining. You simple can participate and become part of the crew of “regulars” and feel part of the place belongs to you.

These are just a few of the many ways to create ownership in the way that makes ideas and products “sticky.” More and more, we will see these trends of personalization and viral communities, among others, influence people’s perceptions.

Take Home Messages

You would care a lot more if someone erased your iPod than stole your stapler.

You would rather sleep in your own bed than a hotel bed.

Mine and yours aren’t interchangeable, and that is critical.

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