Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
I chose to read the book
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (2010)
by the brothers Chip and Dan Heath. My husband read this book a few months ago and has been using the insight from the book to effect change in our church where he is a pastor. The techniques in this book can be applied to help us change things. The Heath brothers consider change at every level—individual, organizational, and societal.
The Heath brothers use an analogy of an elephant and an elephant rider throughout their book. As humans, we have an internal struggle between our rational selves and our irrational or emotional selves. Our rational selves are like the rider, doing things thoughtfully with a plan for a long-term goal. Our emotional selves are like the elephant—instinctive and compassionate, but choose instant gratification over a long-term payoff. The problem is that when the six ton elephant and the rider disagree, the rider is always going to lose. The Heath brothers say that to effect change you have to do three things: direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path.
To direct the rider, you must give crystal clear direction. What looks like resistance is often lack of clarity. Two health researchers at WVU had the task of getting people to “eat healthier,” which is an extremely broad goal. They focused on getting people to switch from whole milk to 1%. Just that one change would allow the average person to attain the USDA recommended levels of saturated fat. They ran specific public health ads about switching to 1% milk, and in six months, the market share of 1% milk doubled in those communities. They gave clear instructions to direct the rider—the rational side of our brain.
To motivate the elephant, we have to appeal to people’s emotional side. Jon Stegner wanted to reduce purchasing costs by $1billion over 5 years in the manufacturing company that he worked for. He found that throughout his company, they were purchasing 424 different kinds of gloves from different glove suppliers and they were all negotiating their own prices. One pair might cost $5 at one factor and $17 at another. Huge amounts of money were being wasted. Stegner got one of each glove—424 different ones—put a price tag on each, piled them on a conference table, and called in the executives. The pile of gloves and varying prices was the shock the execs needed to say, “This is crazy. We have to stop this.” This is motivating the elephant—our emotional side.
To shape the path, the Heath brothers say that we must realize that what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. Researches gave movie-goers buckets full of nasty 5-day old popcorn for free. Some had small buckets and some had large buckets. They found that those with large buckets ate 53% more popcorn than those with smaller buckets. Therefore, if we want people to change their snacking habits, the only change necessary is to give them smaller buckets. This principle can be implemented in many different scenarios, but the key is to shape the path. Do what you can to make the change easier.
I think this book does a thorough job at explaining the steps to change. My background is in psychological research, so I appreciated that the authors used so many studies to support their points. Their three basic steps were broken down further into a few more steps each. Their argument was rounded and complete. They even have a trouble-shooting section in the back of the book. I noticed two weaknesses in the book. The first is that it uses quite a few case studies to prove a point, but because of the nature of a case study, you can’t apply it to every situation like they’re trying to do. Just because something worked at one company doesn’t mean it will apply to all companies.
However, overall, the authors had a great plan for creating change. Direct the rider, motivate the elephant, shape the path. Those are the keys to effecting change.
Review by Alisha Dierdorff