In a recent interview on The Art of Manliness Podcast, the host, Brett MacKay, was interviewing Peter Brown co-author of Made to Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. In the interview, Mr. Brown made the comment that the only way to make learning stick is to make people associate it with something tangible and applicable, quite simple: to make it real and useable.
If anyone cares to look back at their old math classes, it’s likely they will recall the teacher explaining an abstract comment and then assigning problems that made it more realistic and useable in the real world. “If I have five apples and Janet has two, how many do we have in total?”
In Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath, they describe this as making something “concrete.”
Concrete language helps people, especially novices, understand new concepts. Abstraction is the luxury of the expert. If you’ve got to teach an idea to a room full of people, and you aren’t certain what they know, concreteness is the only safe language. – Made To Stick
Without concreteness, abstract ideas are ethereal concepts that bore people and steal their time. It’s when the head starts nodding without any actual understanding – they just want you to stop talking.
The easiest scenario to see this play out in agriculture is to look at the farmers market. The farmer is well acquainted with every process on his farm, how pastured poultry works and what a chicken tractor is. The consumer, on the other hand, has less an idea of what these concepts mean without concrete explanation.
Inadvertently, you may leave them thinking that a chicken tractor is a special vehicle designed for poultry to cultivate a field (though that may be a by-products when everything is said and done). You can use any industry jargon used by farmers, and the customer will rapidly become confused without a concrete example that they can understand from their own lives.
Without an anchor to the customer’s experiences, explanations will not stick, they won’t mean anything because it exists only as an idea, not as a reality they know. If they come to the farm and see it for theirselves, then yes, it becomes a concrete idea in their mind. Otherwise, they are left thinking of it as an idea, a concept that is not the “real” world.
If you are explaining something to a customer, such as why the chickens you raise on pasture is healthier, you can’t go at it from an abstract idea of better health or better quality. Instead, you need to make it practical and real for the customer. “It’s healthier for your child.” or “Better for you and your family to enjoy a quality meal together.”
That is the language the translates ideas and concepts into actionable reality. Make something concrete and applicable to the other person if you want them to remember it and care about it.
This topic comes from more than one book, but both can be useful. Made to Stick is an excellent read, and a fun one. If you enjoy reading about what makes some ideas stick, definitely pick it up. If you’d just as rather take our word for it and work on something real and practical, do so.