468 of 515 people found the following review helpful
Chip and Dan Heath have once again summoned a lively writing style to present a series of compelling insights that make this book even more interesting as well as more valuable than its predecessor, Made to Stick. As they explain in the first chapter, "In this book, we argue that successful changes share a common pattern. They require the leader of change to do three things at once: To change someone's behavior, you've got to change that person's situation...[to cope with the fact that change] is hard because people wear themselves out. And that's the second surprise about change: What looks like laziness is often exhaustion...If you want people to change, you must provide crystal clear direction [because what] looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity." Throughout, the Heaths work within a narrative, best viewed as a "three-part framework," as they provide countless real-world (as opposed to hypothetical or theoretical] examples and - to their great credit - also provide a context or frame-of-reference for each.
Moreover, the Heaths invoke a few extended metaphors. The most important of these are the Rider (i.e. our rational side), the Elephant, (i.e. our emotional and instinctive side) and the Path (i.e. the surrounding environment in which change initiatives will be conducted). The challenge is to direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path to make change more likely, "no matter what's happening with the Rider and Elephant...If you can do all three at once, dramatic change can happen even if you don't have lots of power or resources behind you."
Donald Berwick offers an excellent case in point. In 2004, in his position as a doctor and the CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), he had developed some ideas as to "how to save lives - massive numbers of lives" and his ideas were so well-supported by research that they were indisputable and yet "little was happening" until he spoke at a professional meeting and proposed six very specific interventions to save lives. Within two months, more than 1,000 hospitals had signed up. Eighteen months later, to the day (June 14, 2006) he had previously announced that he'd promised to return, he announced the results: "Hospitals enrolled in the 100,000 Lives Campaign have collectively prevented an estimated 122,300 avoidable deaths and, as importantly, have begun to institutionalize new standards of care that will continue to save lives and improve health outcomes into the future." He had directed his audience's Riders (i.e. hospital administrators), he had motivated his audience's Elephants by making them feel the compelling need for change, and he had shaped the Path by making it easier for the hospitals to embrace the change. The Heaths offer more than a dozen other prime examples (e.g. Jerry Sternin in Vietnam, the Five-Minute Room Rescue, "Fataki" in Tanzania) that also demonstrate how the same three-part framework resulted in the achievement of major changes elsewhere despite great difficulty.
Near the end of the book, the Heaths summarize the key points they have so thoroughly made while explaining to their reader how to make a switch. "For things to change, somebody somewhere has to start acting differently. Maybe it's you, maybe it's your team. Picture the person (or people). Each has an emotional Elephant side and a rational Rider side. You've got to reach both. And you've also got to clear the way for them to succeed." By now, the Heaths have explained how others have directed the Rider, motivated the Elephant, and shaped the Path. They conclude their book with a Q&A section during which they advise how to resolve twelve problems that people most often encounter as they fight for change. They suggest, and I agree, that this advice "won't make sense to anybody who hasn't read the book." The same can probably be said about much of what I have shared in this review.
Although, in my opinion, this is one of the most important business books published during the last several years, no commentary such as mine can do full justice to it. It simply must be read and read carefully, preferably then re-read carefully. Otherwise, it makes no sense to visit [...] to obtain additional information and assistance.
I offer my congratulations to Chip and Dan Heath on a brilliant achievement. Bravo!
166 of 182 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2010
Switch is a compelling, story-driven narrative the Heaths use to bring together decades of counterintuitive research in psychology, sociology, and other fields to shed new light on how we can engage our emotions and reason to create real change.
The book is arranged around an analogy that illustrates the crux of emotional intelligence: when making a decision we are typically torn between our rational, logical reasons and our emotional, intuitive feelings. Chip and Dan ask us to imagine an Elephant and its Rider (the mahout). The Rider represents the rational and logical. Tell the Rider what to do, provide a good argument and the Rider will do it. The Elephant, on the other hand, represents our emotions, our gut response. If the Rider can direct the Elephant down a well-prepared path then there is a good chance for change. Otherwise, the massive elephant is bound to win.
The book is structured into three sections, each one suggesting specific behaviors you can follow:
I. Direct the Rider:
- Find the bright spots
- Script the critical moves
- Point to the destination
II. Motivate the Elephant:
- Find the feeling
- Shrink the Change;
- Grow your people
III. Shape the Path:
- Tweak the environment
- Build habits
- Rally the herd
Another must read on the topic is Emotional Intelligence 2.0
143 of 157 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2010
"Switch" oscillates between the citation of psychological research and the slightly-suspect relaying of 'inspirational anecdotes' (as is de rigeur for this genre), but is, on the whole, a worthwhile read. Coming across as a self-help version of Nudge, the authors wield an array of techniques to help people create change in their lives as painlessly as possible. In doing so, they indirectly provide an evidential basis for David Allen's "Next Action" mantra, as suggested in Getting Things Done, but their focus is neither on the "nuts and bolts" of organisational management (which can lead to meta-productivity fetishism, as many GTD converts are prone to), nor on the sort of "flying with the eagles" nonsense that keeps Anthony Robbins in a mansion in Hawaii. Instead, the authors try and strike a balance between social psychology and "change your life" blue sky thinking. For the most part, they succeed admirably, and their approach ends up leading them to more sensible suggestions than the interesting -but wacky- 59 Seconds which itself purports to be based on hard science (or, at least, as "hard science" as psychological research can be). For those who like their self help rooted strongly in scientific research, I would probably recommend this alongside Brain Rules, but own it's own, Switch is still a worthwhile addition to the burgeoning genre of self-help-based-on-academic-research genre.
177 of 206 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2011
Like many universities, mine is in the midst of implementing some major changes to the way we do business, with the goal of becoming more efficient and decreasing operating costs. Recently, Chip Heath and Dan Heath's book "Switch" was provided to a number of people on campus who have responsibility for some aspects of these changes. Although I generally find business books to be disappointing at best, and irritating at worst, I started this one optimistic that it would be different. Alas, that optimism waned by the second chapter, and was completely destroyed by the time I finished the book.
"Switch" suffers from the three main problems that I've found in nearly all popular business books. First, it presents claims without sufficient justification. This book focuses on techniques to facilitate change in organizations and individuals, and while it occasionally cites interesting work in cognitive and social psychology that may be relevant to the techniques suggested, for the most part the justification for the techniques is anecdotal: technique X worked at company Y in particular instance Z, and so it's obviously a valid technique that's always applicable. There's no attempt at any sort of rigorous scientific testing of such a claim. For example, in chapter 2, the Heath brothers claim that you cannot focus on why a proposed change is failing to take hold, but must instead "find the bright spots," i.e., identify the pockets where it is working, figure out why it works there, and then try to emulate the small successes elsewhere. They describe several case studies where this approach has led to successful change, including a project to improve childhood nutrition in Vietnam, and an intervention with a misbehaving ninth grader. Finding the brights spots is surely a good thing to do, but the hypothesis that it is always the best approach, that it will always trump analysis and correction of failure, is simply not sufficiently backed up. How do we know that there weren't particular features of the Vietman project or particular aspects of the ninth-grader's personality that made one approach more effective here than others? We don't. Anyone trained in the proper use of the scientific method will want to scream at instance after instance of this type of claim without support.
The second problem with "Switch" is that it uses the overly cutesy language that is so common to this genre of books. At a high level, the book's central claim is that effective change requires three things: you need to engage the rational, data-driven perspective of the people who have to make the change; you also need to make sure that they also have an emotional stake in the change; and you need to make the change process as easy as possible for them by manipulating the environment. To describe this triad of requirements, the Heath brothers make use of a metaphorical rider (the rational perspective) on an elephant (the emotional component--it's much stronger, and so gets the elephant label), moving down a path (the change context). They then use and use and re-use and re-use again this metaphor in paragraph after paragraph, until their message is almost drowned out by the infantilizing language. This use of cute language pervades the book, even beyond the rider-elephant-path triad. For example, near the end of the book, where they're describing how to keep change momentum going, they talk about positive reinforcement, and provide the example of a monkey trainer who rewards her charge with bits of mango for each small action she performs correctly. A page or two later, they proclaim "If you want your boss or your team to change, you better get a little less stingy with the mango." C'mon!
Finally, one has the sense that the book is about twice as long as it needed to be to convey its key points.
All that said, "Switch" contains some reasonable, if sometimes common-sense, approaches to effecting change. To summarize, and paraphrase heavily, their main points:
Engage the rational mind by (1) seeking out examples of where change is working and emulating those successes in other quarters; (2) providing specific, well-defined statements of the initial steps that need to be taken in the change process; (3) clearly identifying the intended end-state and the reasons that that end-state is valuable.
Engage the emotions by (1) instilling a positive disposition in the people who must implement the changes: focus on hope and optimism, not fear; (2) "shrinking the change", i.e., show people that they're already partway to the goal; (3) capitalizing on people's sense of identity by showing them how certain behaviors align with the kind of person they naturally want to be; and (4) blocking the common belief that people are defined by inherent personality characteristics, and instead affirming that people can change and grow.
Facilitate the change by (1) tweaking the environment so that the newly desired behavior is inevitable, or at least easy; (2) similarly, creating a situation in which good habits are natural (and making use of one interesting approach to this, namely preloading decisions, i.e., setting up triggers for desired actions);and (3) using peer pressure.
These are all reasonable strategies, and having them in one's change-management arsenal is doubtless a good thing. But surely there is a way to present them in less than 265 pages, without using silly, repetitive language, and without claiming that they are the only effective ways to create change.
116 of 135 people found the following review helpful
I am a big fan of the Heath brothers' first book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die and I am happy to report that they have stepped up to the plate and hit another home run. As a writer and someone who works for social change, I found "Switch" to be even more engaging and applicable to my own work.
In "Switch," the Heaths once again take the kernel of a good idea originated by someone else and build an expansive original work around it. In "Made to Stick" that kernel was Malcolm Gladwell's concept of "stickiness," what makes ideas memorable. In "Switch" the core is psychologist and The Happiness Hypothesis author Jonathan Haidt's analogy for the mind: that the emotional side of our mind is like a headstrong Elephant, and the rational side of our mind is the guiding Rider. The Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader, but we all know what it's like for an emotional Elephant to overpower a rational Rider. (For example, this is why many of us would say that a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream should be labeled one serving and not four. Once a worked up Elephant digs in, the Rider has a hard time reining her in. Um, speaking hypothetically, of course.)
Add in the third element to this framework, the Path, and you have three elements that can be worked on to address change. "Switch" addresses each of these elements in detail; Directing the Rider, Motivating the Elephant, and Shaping the Path, bringing in research-tested solutions and real-world success stories. What I liked best was the simplicity of many of the examples. To encourage people to "eat healthier," an initiative that could go in so many directions, rather than doing something complicated like following an illogically-designed government "Food Pyramid," a West Virginia initiative instead encouraged people to take one step, to buy 1% or skim milk. That is simple, and creates change at the level of purchasing behavior rather than altering drinking or eating behavior. (If the Ben & Jerry's isn't in the freezer in the first place, the Rider doesn't have to worry about controlling the Elephant.) And by narrowing the change down to one action, that eliminated choice paralysis and ambiguity that arise with more complicated directives.
"Switch" is a book for anyone from the grassroots, to cubicle nation, to CEOs. Most of the examples consciously focus on people who needed to effect significant change with little power and few resources available to them. How could a low-level NGO employee make a difference in alleviating the malnourishment of Vietnamese children, in only six months? By finding "bright spots," identifying children who were thriving, finding out what their mothers were doing differently, and spreading that knowledge to other families. Stories like this are both inspiring and practical for all of us. This is really what I appreciated most about "Switch." I found myself taking notes that were not only about the book itself, but about how I could apply this knowledge to challenges I am working on. The Elephant-Rider-Path metaphor helped me see my own work in a new light. What more can a reader ask for?
431 of 536 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2010
This book is largely unhelpful to those who wish to "change" because it presents a framework that is too vague to be useful. In Switch, authors Chip and Dan Heath appear to have researched loads of success stories (in the individual, corporate, and government realms), and then attempted to create a framework for "change" based upon the similarities in those stories. But very few stories follow the framework closely, and the framework is too ambiguous to be useful. Motivate the elephant (i.e., our emotional side)? Shape the path?
What this book is really about is inspirational leaders and how they have accomplished change in nuanced situations that would rarely (if ever) apply to the most of the rest of us. For example, one (of many) stories discusses a South American railroad exec who turned his business around by focusing on short-term cash flow and reusing old rails. Inspirational? Yes. Useful? Probably not.
That's not to say that the book doesn't offer tidbits of information about what we generally know about change (for example, look to success stories, establish specific, well defined goals, set lofty, but not too lofty goals, etc.). But that's really nothing new, is it? Reading this book felt like watching an infomercial, except that no product was being sold. I really wanted to make some changes, but other than keeping in mind generally accepted principles of change, and some inspiration (derived form the numerous success stories in the book), I really wasn't in a better place than when I started.
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2010
Have you ever made a New Year's Resolution to lose weight, exercise more, kick a bad habit, etc.; and then the next week slipped back into the same old routine? There is a reason that people, organizations, and societies many times fall into this trap of trying to make a big change; and shortly thereafter fall back into the same old rut. Can't we just change by trying harder? According to Chip and Dan Heath, the authors of "Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard", trying harder will never result in lasting change. All that it will do is tire the "Rider."
The authors explain that when we try to change, we have to use both the logical (the Rider) and the emotional (the Elephant) parts of our brain. The Rider is the part of us that decides to lose weight, but (as Chip and Dan illustrate) the Elephant is that part of us that goes hunting for the Cheetos in the pantry late at night. The Elephant will always take the easiest and most familiar course, whereas the Rider tries to take the most logical course. The Rider (our self-control or will power) will only allow us to re-route the Elephant for a short while before tiring. In order to make an effective "Switch" we must appeal to emotion (the Elephant). However, when the Elephant encounters an obstacle he will try to revert to the comfortable way of doing things
Change is hard; however, since reading "Switch", I now understand the psychology behind effective change. I've read lots of self-improvement books, books on success, goal-setting, and the like; but I've never read another one that brings the hope of effecting change down to such an individual level! You MUST read this book! It WILL change the way that you think! Thanks SO much to Chip and Dan Heath for an excellent job. "Switch" is definitely in my top ten list of books!
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2013
This is supposed to be a book to help catalyze change right? One can't help but think of the South Park episode when Obama gets elected and everyone destroys the town because "change" is coming. This book approaches change with the entire notion of shooting first and asking questions later, if at all. Everything you need to know is on page 259 - an outline for catalyzing change, that's what the book comes down to, a basic outline. Yes it's a good outline but I feel like I wasted my life with this book, a flyer would have been sufficient.
What's sad is that this outline does provide a great starting point and could have been beefed up with proper research and informed insight, for which this book is devoid. The whole premise of two-thirds of this book is that the "rider" (i.e. your rational side), is totally helpless against your "elephant" your emotional side. Now for trying to change things, it might not be practical to try to change psyche, but rather play to in your favor; understandable. However in the final third of the book, they do just this when they teach people how to develop a "growth mindset," a pretty major shift in cognitive process if you ask me. Studies of willpower and meditation show that you can in fact build up your prefrontal cortex to have more control over your limbic system (the "rider" and "elephant" as they so quaintly label neurological processes in this book).
This is the key takeaway from this book, don't think, just do. You want those fries? Eat them! She said he said what about your sister? Shoot Him! You want those brown people's oil? Invade them! Okay, over-analysis is not good for acting but this book errs way too much on the side of "no analysis." This is heavily demonstrated throughout "Switch" with many unsubstantiated assumptions and conclusions which are drawn. A few of which, my humble self could identify as absolute fallacy from other readings. This is what the final blow was for me, many of their claims are actually false and can be disproved with minimal research. The fact that they did not do this research leads one to conclude that they simply have no credibility at all. How's that for an assumption?
I think their outline is published for free on their website, don't bother to waste your money on this book.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2010
Switch is not your typical change management tome. There's no 10-Step Plan or Come-to-Consensus moment. Instead, the Heath brothers present a clear 3-part framework based on scientific research of how the human brain works. In short, the framework advocates appealing to individual's rational (Rider) and emotional (Elephant) sides, and shaping the change path.
The book is broken into three sections - Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant and Shape the Path. Consistent with their earlier book, Made to Stick, and their Fast Company column, Switch is replete with real-world anecdotes about identifying, motivating and executing difficult changes.
One story that stuck out for me was Jerry Sternin's work in 1990 with Save the Children in Vietnam. Save the Children was invited to Vietnam to combat malnutrition. However, when Sternin arrived, he was given "six months to make a difference". This deadline made the research Sternin collected on malnutrition root causes -- poverty, lack of clean water, poor sanitation and nutrition ignorance -- "true but useless" (TBU).
Sternin didn't have the time or money to address the underlying issues. He needed to identify a more direct way to make a difference. Forgoing the typical "focus on the problem" route, Sternin set out in search of bright spots. Sternin sought out well-nourished village children to learn how they defied the odds. Once identified, Sternin studied how these homes varied from the norm, on the lookout for deviations related to nutrition. Through observation, Sternin was able to identify differences in what and how the well-nourished children were fed.
Instead of issuing a proclamation of his findings, Sternin created a change path. Sternin instituted a mothers-teaching-mothers community program to change feeding habits. Making these seemingly small adjustments - number of meals per day, individual servings, sweet potato green and shrimp supplements to rice -- dramatically improved childhood nutrition in the studied villages, and then spread throughout the country, eventually reaching 2.2 million people in 265 villages.
Besides the humanitarian aspect, what appealed to me about Sternin's story was the problem solving technique. Instead of getting lost in "true but useless" (analysis-paralysis) Sternin identified and exploited bright spots. In a later example, a similar technique is described as Appreciative Inquiry.
Reading Switch, I picked up techniques related to change and solving hard problems. The latter was a pleasant surprise for me. If your work involves change, hard problems or the combination, I highly recommend Switch.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
This is a fun, entertaining and informative book that succeeds in providing an interesting framework to define/analyze/effect "change". Other reviewers have very ably summarized some of the key insights and the narration style.
Even though the narration and the use of well-chosen examples (not a surprise for repeat readers of Heaths) presents an seemingly convincing framework, one cannot help but wonder if there is a variation of what behavioral scientists call "confirmatory bias" in these discussions. Clearly, the savior of the St Lucian parrots or the Vietnam nutrition activist and the countless other examples mentioned by the authors didn't do what they did thinking they will end up as Exhibit A in an excellent book. They didn't have the benefit of the framework and yet succeeded. So, perhaps, picking and choosing these examples to fit a pre-defined conceptual framework, shortchanges the concept itself. Who knows how many people tried similar or identical methods and failed! That could indicate that it is very dangerous to attribute a success (or a failure) to suit one's preconceived notions of any conceptual framework. This is not necessarily a knock on the book itself, but one needs to be aware of the limitations of cherry-picked examples, particularly with no counter examples.
A more serious reader may have benefited from a rigorous debate on the framework itself or what I think was one of the fundamental premises of the authors (buried deep in page 154, "thats why it is so clumsy when people reach for incentives to change other peoples behavior"). A recent book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us seems to argue the opposite - incentives work and they work best in terms of motivating changes. Perhaps the truth is a composite of these two (and many other) viewpoints. To me, this differentiation, and the discussion on identity/consequences model alone is worth investing in this book.