Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard: Heath and Heath 2010

Switch Heath and Heath

Change is a vital process for any business or organization. The failure to adapt to a continuously evolving environment leads inevitably to failure and eventual extinction.

I’m always looking and listening for book recommendations. I had the privilege of attending the Thai IOD “Anti Corruption Conference” on 15 October. During the lunch break Professor Robert Klitgaard of Claremont Graduate University gave a very interesting presentation about countries that managed to change course, significantly reducing corruption, improving competitiveness, improving public engagement and confidence. During his presentation he referenced the book “Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard” by Chip and Dan Heath. I immediately added the book to my “Unread Books Collection.”

I have just completed reading “Switch”, and I can report that I found the book quite interesting and very useful. The authors did a great job of presenting an effective and practical template for achieving effective and lasting change.

“Switch” proposes that change is most effectively achieved by recognizing and responding to both rational and emotional elements, and then creating an process to enable, support, and sustain the desired change.

To most effectively and memorably introduce and explain their change template, they have created the metaphor of a Rider, an Elephant, and a Path.

The Rider is the rational human element. The Rider can be readily convinced of the needed change by presenting logical and analytical framework, but the Rider is also easily distracted and confused by excessive options or inadequate direction. The Authors recommend providing the Rider with clearly scripted critical moves and a precise vision of the destination or objective.

To most effectively determine the change which is required to achieve an objective, the authors discuss the concept of “Bright Spots.” Look for examples of success that can be replicated, such as an employee who is succeeding at a task where others are failing. Identify the key success factor and replicate it. Solutions for most problems typically already exist, but it often takes diligence and persistence to find the “Bright Spots” that illuminate the solution.

The Elephant is the emotional human element. The Elephant doesn’t readily respond to rational explanation; it must be motivated. Promote the change in a way which reaches the heart and feelings of the team. Massive change is inherently demotivating, so the authors recommend breaking down the change into smaller, more readily achievable milestones. This allows rapid and frequent successes along the path to the ultimate change destination.

Finally, the Authors recommend “Shaping the Path” to facilitate the change process. Behaviors change when the situation changes, so seek to change the situation or environment to most effectively and efficiently achieve the desired change in behavior. Seek “Action Triggers” to encourage behaviors to become habits. Rally the team or organization to adopt the change as a contagious behavior.

As I read “Switch”, I found myself frequently remembering occasions when I pursued or promoted change using either a rational, emotional, or process (path) based approach. However, I was rarely conscious of my choice of method to promote change, and I don’t believe I ever successfully combined and utilized all three change drivers simultaneously. Individual people are complicated, and teams and organizations are both complicated and diverse. It makes a great deal of sense to utilize all three change driving tools to best motivate and sustain the change process.

Frank T.