Ignite possibilities

Gum Wall

One of Seattle’s unique attractions is found in a nondescript alley near famous Pike Place Market.  It’s a wall covered in gum.  The gum wall, located outside the Market Theater, started in the 1990’s. Theatre-goers stuck their gum on the wall as they waited for tickets.

It’s become a collaborative work of art, an ever changing gum mosaic with great variety in color and design.

The wall has been scraped clean twice, but people can’t seem to stop sticking their gum up and down the wall, and now it’s a tourist attraction.  It has made the list of the world’s top five “germist” attractions! If you visit the wall, be sure to bring your sticky kit – a pack of gum, a camera and hand sanitizer.

As an attraction, the gum wall is an idea that sticks.  In an attempt to explain why, I consulted the best selling book Made to Stick which describes six principles that improve an idea’s chance of survival.  I wasn’t surprised to see that the gum wall adheres to all of the principles:

Principle 1:  Simplicity.  Don’t over complicate.  Keep the idea simple and focused. Remember that less is more.  The gum wall is accessible as a work of art, and simple to participate in.

Principle 2:  Unexpectedness.  Grab attention with the unexpected.  Entice your audience to want to learn more.  The bright and vibrant gum wall hidden away in an alley is surprising, particularly to those who just happen upon it.

Principle 3:  Concreteness.  Use sensory language.  Paint a mental picture.  Stay away from abstract descriptors.  When I describe the gum wall as a wall collaboratively decorated with gum, you instantly get the picture.  If I describe the gum wall as an idea that sticks, that would be too abstract.

Principle 4:  Credibility. Ideas gain credibility from outside or internal authorities or association.   The gum wall’s proximity to Pike Place Market and collaborative nature gives it credibility.  You want to be part of something to which so many people have contributed.

Principle 5:  Emotions. Get people to care about an idea.  Make them feel something.  Remember that people care about people.  The gum wall taps into our common desire to express ourselves and rebel just a little bit.  Even the best behaved kids stick gum under the table.  The fact that the wall has been scraped clean twice definitely adds to its appeal.

Principle 6:  Stories. A great story can motivate and inspire.  After a friend told me about discovering the gum wall, I just had to see it for myself.

Consider adding this thought to your list of criteria for evaluating new ideas:   Will it stick, like the gum wall?



  1. Joanna says:

    Disgustingly magnificent! I love the anarchic nature of this “project.” Nobody is in charge and it’s better for it.

  2. Mike says:

    Ewww! Woops, I mean, cool!

  3. Mike says:

    Ewww! Woops, I mean, cool!

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