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.



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One Response to Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

  1. katy marre May 15, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

    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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