Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath


We face change in every stage of our lives. We choose what schools to attend, when to start or switch careers, where to live, whom to marry, and when (or if) to have children. We regularly see change at work with new procedures in response to technology innovation, globalization, and projects.  Sometimes change comes in the form of behavior modifications we adjust ourselves, and other times it is trying to sway others to adopt new practices or alter bad habits. And although we are faced with change almost daily, most of us don’t know how it works, how to follow through with it, or if it’s worth the time and effort.

This book is for anyone who is interested in learning how change works. If you are interested in learning more about these concepts, check out our blog post and pick up your own copy of Switch

Table of Contents

1. Three Surprises About Change        1

  • What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.        3
  • The problem is this: often the heart and mind disagree.        5
  • The conventional wisdom in psychology, in fact, is that the brain has two independent systems at work at all times. First, there's what we call the emotional side. It's the part of you that is instinctive, that feels pain and pleasure. Second, there's the rational side, also known as the reflective or conscious system. It's the part of you that deliberates and analyzes and looks into the future.        6
  • The Elephant's hunger for instant gratification is the opposite of the Rider's strength, which is the ability to think long-term, to plan, to think beyond the moment (all the things your pet can't do).       7
  • Emotion is the Elephant's turf - love and compassion and sympathy and loyalty.        8
  • Self-control is an exhaustible resource.       9
  • When people try to change things, they're usually tinkering with behaviors that have become automatic, and changing those behaviors requires careful supervision by the Rider. The bigger the change you're suggesting, the more it will sap people's self-control.        11
  • Change is hard because people wear themselves out.        12
  • Remember that if you reach your colleagues’ Rider but not their Elephants, they will have direction without motivation.       14
  • Once you break through to feeling, though, things change.       14
  • What often looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.       15
  • If you want people to change, you must provide crystal-clear direction.        16
  • To change behavior, you’ve got to direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path.        19

2. Find the Bright Spots        27

  • Best of all, bright spots solve the “Not Invented Here” problem. Some people have a knee-jerk skeptical response to “imported” solutions.        31
  • The Rider has a terrible weakness – the tendency to spin his wheels. The Rider love to contemplate and analyze, and, making matter worse, his analysis is almost always directed at problems rather than at bright spots.        32
  • The Rider will spin his wheels indefinitely unless he’s given clear direction.        33
  • Understanding a problem doesn’t necessarily solve it – that knowing is not enough.       35
  • Solutions focused therapy        36-41
  • Even success can look like problems to an overactive Rider.       42
  • This problem seeking mindset is a shortcoming of the Rider in each of us.        45
  • When people learn bad stuff about someone else, it’s stickier than good stuff.       46
  • Your child comes home one day with her report card. She got one A, four B’s, and one F. Where will you spend your time? This hypothetical comes from author Marcus Buckingham, who says that nearly all parents will tend to fixate on the F. … It is a rare parent who would say, instead, “Honey, you made an ‘A’ in this one class. You must really have a strength in this subject. How can we build on that?”        47

3. Script the Critical Moves        49

  • The more choices a Rider is offered, the more exhausted the Rider gets.       50
  • Uncertainty makes the Elephant anxious.        53
  • In short, to make a switch, you need to script the critical moves.        54
  • You can’t script every move – that would be like trying to foresee the seventeenth move in a chess game. It’s the critical moves that count.        56
  • Clinic        58
  • When you want someone to behave in a new way, explain the “new way” clearly. Don’t assume the new moves are obvious.        58
  • The most successful change transformations were more likely to set behavioral goals.        62

4. Point to the Destination        73

  • When you describe a compelling destination, you’re helping to correct one the Rider’s weaknesses – the tendency to get lost in analysis.       81
  • SMART goals – goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely        82
  • In the 1980s, a major study of corporate change efforts found that financial goals inspired successful change less well than did emotional goals        82
  • Clinic        83
  • Destination Postcards        85
  • A B&W is an all-or-nothing goal, and it’s useful in times when you worry about backsliding.        86
  • You have to back up your destination postcard with a good behavioral script.       93
  • On the plus side of the ledger, the Rider is a visionary. He’s willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term payoffs (which is why he fights so often with the Elephant, who generally prefers immediate gratification). He’s a clever tactician, too – give him a map and he’ll follow it perfectly. But we’ve also seen plenty of evidence of the Rider’s flaws – his limited reserves of strength, his paralysis in the face of ambiguity and choice, and his relentless focus on problems rather than solutions.       98

5. Find the Feeling        101

  • Kotter and Cohen said that in the most change situations, managers initially focus on strategy, structure, culture, or systems, which leads them to miss the most important issue        105
  • In other words, when change works, it’s because leaders are speaking to the Elephant as well as to the Rider.
  • The sequence of change is not ANAYLZE-THINK-CHANGE, but rather SEE-FEEL-CHANGE.        106
  • The change is not one of understanding but one of feeling.        110
  • When people fail to change, it’s not usually because of an understanding problem.     112
  • We are all lousy self-evaluators.       114
  • Change is hard because people are reluctant to alter habits that have been successful in the past.        119
  • Negative emotions tend to have a “narrowing effect” on our thoughts.       122
  • To solve bigger, more ambiguous problems, we need to encourage open minds, creativity, and hope.       123

6. Shrink the Change      124

  • One way to motivate action, then, is to make people feel as though they’re already closer to the finish line than they might have thought.      127
  • A business cliché commands us to “raise the bar.” But that’s exactly the wrong instinct if you want to motivate a reluctant Elephant. You need to lower the bar.      129
  • Clinic       134
  • One way to shrink change, then, is to limit the investment you’re asking for      136
  • The value of a miracle scale is that it focuses attention on small milestones that are attainable and visible rather than on the eventual destination, which may seem very remote.        142
  • In Allen’s judgment, these people are sabotaging the likelihood of action by being too murky. He says it’s critical to ask yourself, “What’s the next action?”        145

7. Grow Your People       149

  • We’ve seen that one way to motivate a switch is to shrink the change, which makes people feel “big” relative to the challenge. But here we’re seeing something different. Paul Butler didn’t shrink the change. Instead, he grew the people.        152
  • In the identity model of decision making, we essentially ask ourselves three questions when we have to make a decision: who am I? What kind of situation is this? What would someone like me do in this situation?       153
  • Because identities are central to the way people make decisions, any change effort that violates someone’s identity is likely doomed to failure.       154
  • It shows that people are receptive to developing new identities, that identities “grow” from small beginnings.       161
  • A new identity can take root quickly, but living up to it is awfully hard.       161
  • Any new quest, even one that is ultimately successful, is going to involve failure.        162
  • If you want to reach your full potential, you need a growth mindset.       164
  • Real change, the kind that sticks, is often three steps forward and two steps back.      168
  • If failure is a necessary part of change, then the way people understand failure is critical.        168
  • U-shaped curve       168
  • People will persevere only if they perceiver falling down as learning rather than failing.       169

8. Tweak the Environment        179

  • What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. And no matter what your role is, you’ve got some control over the situation.       183
  • Clinic       186

9. Build Habits        203

  • This makes sense – our habits are essentially stitched into our environment.     208
  • Action triggers can have a profound power to motivate people to do the things they know they need to do.     210
  • Peter Gollwitzer argues that the value of action triggers resides in the fact that we are preloading a decision.    210
  • When people predecide, they “pass the control of their behavior on to the environment.”     210
  • Clinic        213
  • A change leader thinks, How can I set up a situation that brings out the good in these people.     220
  • Checklists provide insurance against overconfidence.      222

10. Rally the Herd        225

  • People look to others for cues about how to interpret the event.     226
  • Behavior is contagious.     227
  • It’s clear that we imitate the behavior of others, whether consciously or not.     228
  • When you’re leading an Elephant on an unfamiliar path, chances are it’s going to follow the herd.    228
  • Clinic     240
  • “Free spaces” – small-scale meetings where reformers can gather and ready themselves for collective action without being observed by members of the dominate group.    246

11. Keep the Switch Going        250 

  • The answer doesn’t involve punishment.     251
  • Change isn’t an event; it’s a process.   253
  • Psychologists call one of them the mere exposure effect, which means that the more you’re exposed to something, the more you like it.     254
  • Cognitive dissonance works in your favor.     255
  • Small changes tend to snowball.  But it is not the same as saying that change is easy.     255

How to Make a Switch        259

  • This is a fantastic review of the whole process, start to finish.

Overcoming Obstacles        261
Next Steps        265
Recommendations for Additional Reading        267
Notes        269
Acknowledgments       293
Index        295