Home Book Reviews Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard


SwitchChip and Dan Heath co-authored the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die that I reviewed on this blog in November 2008.  Chip is a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Dan is a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE).  Their latest book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, is a theoretical and practical cookbook for individuals who are interested in making lasting changes in their companies, communities, and/or their lives.

The authors point out that for an individual to make a change, changes must be made in their environment, heart, and mind.  Unfortunately for most of us, the heart and the mind generally do not agree.  The Heaths cite more than a few psychological studies that profile the conflicts and benefits between the emotional and rational sides of our thinking.  In order to make change successful, both sides have to be satisfied.  Companies have people who are more emotional and people who are more rational.  Successful teams need to recommend solutions that meet the needs of both of those emotional/rational profiles.

The Heaths have a three-pronged framework for initiating successful change.  They refer to the heart/emotional side as the Elephant, the mind/rational side as the Rider, and the environment as the Path.  Simplistically, their theory is that Riders need direction.  What is sometimes perceived as resistance is in reality a lack of clarity.  Elephants may appear to be lazy when in reality they may be exhausted from trying to keep up with the Riders in the group.  Appealing to their emotions rather than ignoring them will help move them toward the change.  Lastly, individuals who can shape the Path, i.e., change the environment around the situation, will move the Riders and the Elephants toward making the change.

Dan and Chip introduce their framework concept early in the book and provide a significant amount of content with psychological studies that support their theory and practical examples that demonstrate how individuals were able to make changes happen through either influencing the Riders, Elephants, Paths, or all three.  One of my favorite chapters entitled “Shrink the Change” is about making the change seem smaller so that the Elephant can be persuaded to move rather than resist the change.  According to the authors, “when you engineer early successes, what you’re really doing is engineering hope.”

I enjoyed reading Switch.  Once again, the Heaths have taken a topic related to psychology, built a framework, and grounded it with a simplistic explanation of the theory and research and supported it with numerous examples of successes of the framework’s components.  It’s an easy-to-read book and one that might easily be pulled off the shelf and re-read before initiating the next change project in your company or at home.

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


  1. Very interesting comments about the book, Wally. I wonder if you’d pull it off your shelf for a short loan to me? I can then say something meaningful about it on your blog.



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