Make It Stick

"Watch the Hands!" —J.D. "Buck" Savage

Dave Smith Headshot

"Watch the Hands!" —J.D. "Buck" Savage

The French have a saying; in fact, they are full of sayings, unfortunately none of them is pertinent right this second, but it makes the point that everyone has sayings. The French tend to have rather pithy ones, while the Irish tend to have warm ones. Sayings come in many forms and meanings and each of us finds ourselves drawn to the ones that carry the most meaning or simply make us sound wiser than we are.

One of my favorites is: "Never wrestle with a pig; you both get dirty and the pig likes it." I like to use it from time to time to make the point I am no longer interested in continuing an argument that I am losing. I will say this as I look away with a bemused expression that makes me appear bored and intelligent all at the same time.

Good sayings are easy to remember and make us better at what we do. They teach us life lessons or give us insights without the pain of experiencing them. I bet right now you can think of three or four sayings that allow you to remember to act or even more important not act a certain way.

While my face never did get "stuck that way," my grandmother's warning did change the faces I made. Recently, I was reading a book about ideas that "stick" with us. The authors explain the traits an idea should have for it to be easy to remember for a long time and help modify our behavior.

As a law enforcement trainer, I am always looking for ways to get my ideas across better. Over the years some have worked well, some haven't. Humor works well but it is also a good way to end up in sensitivity camp being reprogrammed. I have been to that woodshed a few times…Buck Savage was a great idea but not everybody thought it was funny and a few of those were high above me in the organizational chart.

Many folks come into a class or meeting not as participants, but as monitors, and humor is one of the trip wires of political correctness. But sayings are another thing. They tend to not push negative buttons but instead give us images that reinforce our points and allow them to be retained longer. I think we need more sayings in law enforcement.

Here is a good example: When I say "the 21-foot rule," crime fighters instantly recognize what it means. They probably saw it demonstrated in the academy, and they remember the safety message with just this simple saying. On the other hand, trainers often express their ideas in very smart sounding ways such as "a subject who is armed with an edged weapon and seven meters or closer to an officer with a holstered weapon will, in all probability, be able to successfully reach the officer prior to said officer drawing the holstered weapon and delivering two rounds." Sounds smart but it isn't very memorable.

Which is the goal! We need to make our training memorable; it needs to be "sticky!" In their book, "Made to Stick," Chip Heath and Dan Heath explain how our brains remember ideas and how we can make things easier to recall. One way is through memorable sayings.

A profession that faces so many risks needs to have lots of memorable lessons that mitigate those risks. I think we need to make up a bunch of sayings and plaster them all around. Things like "routine is what we are doing right before we get hurt," "bad guys' cars break down too," and "saw drunk, arrested same" have meaning for us that we can recall easily and help us stay safe, write reports better, or just generally do our jobs better.

So, the next time you are writing a general order, preparing an in-service class, or writing an academy lesson plan think about the core ideas you are trying to convey and make them stick when they hit the brains of the folks you are trying to change.

About the Author
Dave Smith Headshot
Officer (Ret.)
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