Book Review: Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard

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After hearing about this book in an interview with Mary and Tom Poppendieck, I decided to immediately purchase the audio version on Audible and listen to it during my daily commute to and from work. This book is all about how to enable and inspire change in all kinds of environments, be it at work, your local community or your private life.

The authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath make the advice to focus on the so-called ?bright spots?. Most people, including myself, focus on flawed behavior and the things that go wrong. Instead, we should first be looking at the the things that go right, copy and do more of it in order to make change happen. Scaling up the ?bright spots? instead of focusing on the negative parts.

In the book, change management is compared with an elephant with a rider on his back who are following a certain path.

The topic of change is therefore broken down in three simple sections:

  1. Direct the Rider – This represents the rational and logical part of the brain. This thoughtful part responds well to reason, facts and provides long-term thinking. In order to tell the rider what to do, just provide good arguments.
  2. Motivate the Elephant – This part of our brain responds to emotions and short-term gain. This is the biggest part and one where the Rider has limited control over, so both need to be convinced.
  3. Shape the Path – This completes the analogy made by the authors representing the Path which the Elephant and Rider are following.

When we?re faced in making a decision, we’re often torn between our rational, logical reasons
and our emotional, intuitive feelings. The general consensus in the book is that if the Rider can direct the Elephant down a well prepared Path then there is a good chance for change. The authors filled the book with dozens of real-life, scientific and practical examples where these principles worked brilliantly (there?s even a story about BP and oil-drilling!!).

These are the nine steps that are illustrated by these anecdotal stories:

  1. Find the bright spots ? Focus on the successes and not the failures.
  2. Script the critical moves ? Remove decision paralysis by laying down small and easy steps.
  3. Point to the destination ? Clearly describe and put out a goal that is hard to neglect and to which people can relate.
  4. Find the feeling ? Try to find an emotional connection.
  5. Shrink the change ? As agilists we all know the value of taking small steps. All big things are accomplished in tiny small steps. Change is no exception.
  6. Grow your people ? Stimulate the ?growth mindset? in people, helping to create a new identity to which people can relate.
  7. Tweak the environment ? Make the necessary changes to peoples? environment in order to point to the right direction.
  8. Build habits ? Change peoples?’ habits in order to change long-term behavior.
  9. Rally the herd ? Use the power of group behavior.
    The first three steps are targeted at directing the Rider, the next three steps on motivating the Elephant and the last three steps on shaping the Path.
    You just need to read this book for yourself and utilize all the information that you?ve picked up from it. Just give it a try. Its a quick read (or listen) and afterwards, you?d be glad you did.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard

  1. Sounds very interesting. Switch has been on my list of books to read for a while now.

    After reading your explanation of the Rider-Elephant-Path metaphor, I think you would be interested in a book I’m currently reading: ‘How We Decide’ by Jonah Lehrer. It contains a fascinating explanation of the interplay between the rational and the emotional parts of our minds. It sounds like it would dovetail nicely with the concepts from ‘Switch’.

  2. It’s an Elephant. Chances are it knows which way to go better than the one riding it. Hang on and enjoy the ride; That’s my motto! 🙂

  3. Very concise review. But best part of the book is the stories of people that illustrate each of these points. That is what makes these points indelible. Some of the stories are at http://eon.businesswire.com/news/eon/20100219005897/en. A book review of “The Power of Positive Deviance” expands on the Heath brothers’ concepts. See http://www.anecdote.com.au/archives/2010/07/book_review_the.html. The Heath brothers write for “Fast Company” magazine. A good article by them is at http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/148/made-to-stick-tase-the-haze.html
    Eric, I loved Lehrer’s “How we Decide.” Exciting times for “Overthinkers.”

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