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Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

| June 29, 2010

by Jim Bruce

Chip and Dan Heath, authors of “Made to Stick,” released a new book in February – “Switch:  How to change things when change is hard.”  Today’s reading is a review of the book by Keith McFarland which appeared in BusinessWeek. McFarland is founder of McFarland Strategy Partners and author of The Breakthrough Company, and BOUNCE.

In Switch, the Heath brothers take on the subject of organizational change.  And, according to McFarland they make the often dry subject “suddenly relevant for anyone trying to get a bunch of people to change directions.”

As I read McFarland’s review and subsequently portions of the book, I came to understand the Heaths’ argument that human change tests the relationship between our rational side — which deliberates, analyzes, and looks to the future — and our emotional side — that part of a person that is instinctive, that feels pain and pleasure.

This tension in this relationship, the authors believe, is captured best by an analogy used by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis.  Haidt says that our emotional side is an elephant and our rational side is its rider.  “Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader.  But the rider’s control is precarious because the rider is so small relative to the Elephant.  Anytime the six-ton elephant and the rider disagree about which direction to go, the rider is going to lose.  He’s completely overmatched.”

As the book unfolds, the Heaths’ provide a framework that can be your guide in any situation where you need to change behavior:

1.  Direct the rider.  Make sure the direction is crystal-clear.

2.  Motivate the elephant.  Engage the emotional side of those involved.

3.  Shape the path.  They call everything about the situation and its context the “path.”  Shaping the path makes the change more likely no mater what the rider and elephant are doing.

Within this framework, they suggest approaches drawn from actual situations discovered in their research.  Many times I found myself thinking “I wouldn’t have thought of doing that.”

The book is well worth adding to your summer reading list.  You’ll find in it some new tools for your toolkit.


.  .  .  .  .     jim