Heath, Switch, How to Change When Change is Hard

Heath-Switch-200 Amazon.com

Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. Crown Business, 2010.

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LifeandLeadership.com Summary

This book is gold for troubleshooting why change is not working and how to get change efforts on track. It is designed for those who want to create change but have very little leverage (e.g. positional authority) to accomplish it, e.g. church leaders. Tons of examples describe 1) The situation, 2) What’s the switch and what’s holding it back? 3) How do we make the switch? This process is expressed in a simple three-part rubric. The summary below lays out the three parts and the steps under each, using quotes directly from the text.

1. Direct the Rider

Reality: What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.
Prescription: Provide crystal-clear direction. This usually involves the following.

  • Find the Bright Spots - Investigate what’s working and clone it. To pursue bright spots is to ask the question “What’s working, and how can we do more of it?” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet, in the real world, this obvious question is almost never asked. Instead, the question we ask is more problem focused: “What’s broken, and how do we fix it?”
  • Script the Critical Moves - Don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behaviors. Bottom line: Decision paralysis disrupts medical decisions and retail decisions and investment decisions and dating decisions. Let’s go out on a limb and suggest that it might affect decisions in your job and life, too.  We all hear a lot of “common sense” wisdom about change: People don’t like to change; people resist change; people are set in their ways; people are stubborn. But here we’ve seen something else entirely: railroads made profitable, towns reborn, diets changed, and child abusers reformed. Clarity dissolves resistance.  Prescribe specific behavior that is within their control.
  • Point to the Destination - Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it. Spell out specifically how life will be different and better.

2. Motivate the Elephant.

Reality: What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. The Rider can’t get his way by force for very long.
Prescription: Engage people’s emotional side — get their Elephants on the path and cooperative. This usually involves the following.

  1. Find the Feeling - Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something. Focus on positive emotions that will instill hope, optimism, and excitement.
  2. Shrink the Change - Break down the change until it no longer spooks the Elephant. Make people feel as though they’re already closer to the finish line than they might have thought. Think of small wins along the way, milestones that are within reach.
  3. Grow Your People - Cultivate a sense of identity and instill the growth mindset. In the identity model of decision making, we ask ourselves three questions when we have a decision to make: Who am I? What kind of situation is this? What would someone like me do in this situation? Because identities are central to the way people make decisions, any change effort that violates someone’s identity is likely doomed to failure. So the question is this: How can you make your change a matter of identity rather than a matter of consequences?

3. Shape the Path.

Reality: What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.
Prescription: Change the Situation. Heath calls the situation (including the surrounding environment) the “Path.” When you shape the Path, you make change more likely, no matter what’s happening with the Rider and Elephant. This usually involves the following.

  1. Tweak the Envionment - When the situation changes, the behavior changes. So change the situation. Simply make the journey easier. Create a steep downhill slope and give them a push. Remove some friction from the trail. Scatter around lots of signs to tell them they’re getting close.
  2. Build the Habits - When behavior is habitual, it’s “free”— it doesn’t tax the Rider. Look for ways to encourage habits.
  3. Rally the Herd - Behavior is contagious. Help it spread.

There is also a Book Website that provides a one-page overview of the book and a series of podcasts that apply Switch to business, marketing, social sector, and personal change.

**For a summary, click here for the Kindle Version, go to right column, and download the free sample. If you don’t have a free Kindle Reader on your computer, there’s a link for that too.

Publisher’s Description

Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives?

The primary obstacle is a conflict that’s built into our brains, say Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the critically acclaimed bestseller Made to Stick. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.

In Switch, the Heaths show how everyday people—employees and managers, parents and nurses—have united both minds and, as a result, achieved dramatic results:

  • The lowly medical interns who managed to defeat an entrenched, decades-old medical practice that was endangering patients.
  • The home-organizing guru who developed a simple technique for overcoming the dread of housekeeping.
  • The manager who transformed a lackadaisical customer-support team into service zealots by removing a standard tool of customer service

In a compelling, story-driven narrative, the Heaths bring together decades of counterintuitive research in psychology, sociology, and other fields to shed new light on how we can effect transformative change. Switch shows that successful changes follow a pattern, a pattern you can use to make the changes that matter to you, whether your interest is in changing the world or changing your waistline.

About the Author

CHIP HEATH is the Thrive Foundation for Youth Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. DAN HEATH is a consultant to the Aspen Institute. Together, they are the authors of the national bestseller Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. They write a regular column in Fast Company magazine, and have appeared on Today, NPR’s Morning Edition, MSNBC, CNBC, and have been featured in Time, People and US News and World Report.

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