Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

The book is called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. It’s by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It shows interesting anecdotes and good strategies on how to motivate people and situations to change.

Who are you?

Did you know you are actually a combination elephant and rider? Your rider represents your analytical thinking. He wants to know every option. He gets hung up in analysis paralysis. It is likely he’ll never make a decision. Your elephant represents your emotions and your instincts on things. It’s much bigger than the rider, who is supposedly in control. If your elephant decides it wants something, it usually gets its way.

This analogy of our two halves is a bit silly but works quite well. It illustrates well our internal struggle. It helps me realize how I approach problems, seek solutions, and eventually make a choice on how to proceed. I thought it was quite helpful. As with most of the concepts in the book, it is revisited many times, presumably in order for us to do a better job remembering the concept.

Practical and Powerful

The 3 main thrusts of the book are focused around a strategy that the authors stated they hoped was small and simple enough to be memorable and practiced yet real and powerful enough to actually help us exact change.

1. Direct the Rider

The rider, admittedly, will not make decisions easily. So, he needs some direction. It can be hard to choose how to even begin to change. The main helps stated in the book are as follows:

Follow the Bright Spots

In the problem situation or field that you are considering, there are most definitely things that are working. These are the bright spots. Why not replicate these good things in your own way for your own problem? There are people who have faced a similar problem, whether they knew it or not, and found their way through all or part of it. These are usually easier to discover than by starting from scratch. And we know they’ll work!

Script the Critical Moves

To ensure the rider takes action, you’ll want to make it more than abundantly clear what exactly you want him to do. If there is one thing that will make the biggest impact, that becomes your critical move. Script, just as in a screenplay, exactly what actors in the program are expect to perform.

Point to the Destination

As the rider is weighing options, there will be many that appeal to him (or not). It will be important to enumerate in an analytical way why the destination you’re choosing is worth pointing toward.

2. Motivate the Elephant

The elephant, once sufficiently motivated becomes the powerhouse that ensures change will begin. The elephant is the one to change inertia, bringing us lurching out of our standing position.

Find the Feeling

Knowledge alone will not change behavior. This is obvious considering our clear knowledge of the ill effects of habits such as smoking. People still smoke. So we must additional paint an emotional picture of what a change may mean to someone, what it will feel like, and the deeper reasons for attempting it.

Shrink the Change

Large changes require a large effort and many steps. It may look daunting, especially to start. The elephant starts on emotion, but it will also stop by the same virtues. Break down the change into steps that are small and readily doable.

Grow Your People

People attach themselves to causes. Causes appeal to the inner values of people and motivate them from within. Encourage a sense of identity with the change you’re promoting. If people can identify with the behavior as a part of who they are, they are likely to meet the change with a great dose of internal enthusiasm and excitement.

3. Shape the Path

Even with great instructions for our riders and motivation for our elephant, the friction to change may still be strong. There is still more we can do to help.

Tweak the Environment

What looks like resistance from a person may just be that person falling into the environmental norms. It may be the way things have always been done, and it’s natural to continue doing them. Make the change you advocate the most natural thing to do as a product of the environment. And consider environmental change your responsibility before you blame others for not responding well to change.

Build Habits

It turns out that making decisions, especially hard decisions to change, takes energy and will power. And we only have so much to give. If something becomes automatic, the effort to enact the behavior will be much lower. We’ll just do it. Determine how you can create triggers that happen automatically to regularly change behavior along the path.

Rally the Herd

Behavior is contagious. People want to respond as others around them do. Most people instinctively do not want to stand out, especially in negative ways, compared to the crowd around them. To encourage change, publicize the majority behavior that is in line with what you seek.

Style and Read

Switch is a pretty short book. The sheer amount of anecdotal and interesting examples of people chaning their lives and communities made it fun and inspiring to read. I think I’d have to re-read it to have the strategies and tactics for change sink in deep enough to pull them out in the midst of change, but it does seems small enough to remember and powerful enough to be useful. At the least, it’s a great reference. I’d recommend the book. And since everyone has encountered and/or wants to change, it seems like an applicable read. Chip and Dan have several other books I’m going to go check out now.


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