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Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard Hardcover – February 16, 2010
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Chip Heath and Dan Heath on Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
"Change is hard." "People hate change." Those were two of the most common quotes we heard when we began to study change.
But it occurred to us that if people hate change, they have a funny way of showing it. Every iPhone sold serves as counter-evidence. So does every text message sent, every corporate merger finalized, every aluminum can recycled. And we haven’t even mentioned the biggest changes: Getting married. Having kids. (If people hate change, then having a kid is an awfully dumb decision.)
It puzzled us--why do some huge changes, like marriage, come joyously, while some trivial changes, like submitting an expense report on time, meet fierce resistance?
We found the answer in the research of some brilliant psychologists who’d discovered that people have two separate “systems” in their brains—a rational system and an emotional system. The rational system is a thoughtful, logical planner. The emotional system is, well, emotional—and impulsive and instinctual.
When these two systems are in alignment, change can come quickly and easily (as when a dreamy-eyed couple gets married). When they’re not, change can be grueling (as anyone who has struggled with a diet can attest).
In those situations where change is hard, is it possible to align the two systems? Is it possible to overcome our internal "schizophrenia" about change? We believe it is.
In our research, we studied people trying to make difficult changes: People fighting to lose weight and keep it off. Managers trying to overhaul an entrenched bureaucracy. Activists combatting seemingly intractable problems such as child malnutrition. They succeeded--and, to our surprise, we found striking similarities in the strategies they used. They seemed to share a similar game plan. We wanted, in Switch, to make that game plan available to everyone, in hopes that we could show people how to make the hard changes in life a little bit easier. --Chip and Dan Heath
(Photo © Amy Surdacki)
From Publishers Weekly
The Heath brothers (coauthors of Made to Stick) address motivating employees, family members, and ourselves in their analysis of why we too often fear change. Change is not inherently frightening, but our ability to alter our habits can be complicated by the disjunction between our rational and irrational minds: the self that wants to be swimsuit-season ready and the self that acquiesces to another slice of cake anyway. The trick is to find the balance between our powerful drives and our reason. The authors' lessons are backed up by anecdotes that deal with such things as new methods used to reform abusive parents, the revitalization of a dying South Dakota town, and the rebranding of megastore Target. Through these lively examples, the Heaths speak energetically and encouragingly on how to modify our behaviors and businesses. This clever discussion is an entertaining and educational must-read for executives and for ordinary citizens looking to get out of a rut. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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If you deal with change in any aspect of your life -- this is an excellent book. If you think you *don't* deal with change -- you're probably not paying attention!
I can't say enough that it's not just some silly self-help book. It's a researched based, well written, convicting read for anyone who wants to change anything, whether you're a stay at home mom or a VP for a Fortune 500.
The book is organized into eleven chapters in three parts: Part 1, Direct the Rider; Part 2, Motivate the Elephant; and Part 3, Shape the Path. The titles come from a vivid metaphor by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt. In his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Haidt likens a person to a rider on an elephant. The rider is the rational side of a person: the part that tells him to eat better, exercise more, and stop procrastinating, for example. The elephant is the emotional side that doesn't want to work to lose weight or exercise and would rather stay put; let's say willpower vs. won't-power; but why should that be? Whatever is autonomous and ingrained by habit belongs to the elephant. The rider is theoretically in control, but it is exhausting to continually tug on the reins and direct the stubborn elephant. Eventually the rider relents and the elephant goes back to doing what he's always done. Sound familiar?
Before going much farther, you should know that two things separate Switch from so many other glib books about change: first, the book has a very solid psychological basis. Despite its accessible style, scores of major psychological findings and studies are reported and undergird the book's practical formulae for change. Second, Switch is not a self-help book. I have no doubt that the book could be used in this way, but it is really a book about how to change things. It is primarily directed toward organizational change, though its principles are much broader. And there are many surprises.
The first big surprise occurs in the very first chapter.
"We know what you're thinking -- people resist change. But it's not quite that easy. Babies are born every day to parents who, inexplicably, welcome that change. Yet people don't resist this massive change -- they volunteer for it. In our lives we embrace lots of big changes. So there are hard changes and there are easy changes. What distinguishes one from the other?"
And the surprises keep coming. Like the two researchers who dramatically and permanently got folks to reduce their saturated fat intake. Or the doctor who saved over 100,000 lives and counting in American hospitals on schedule (18 months) by getting thousands of doctors and organizations to change their practices. Or the American who went to Vietnam and changed the face of malnutrition. Or the student who saved an endangered species in a Caribbean country that didn't give two hoots about it.
What do all these stories have in common? For one, none of these change agents had the sufficient budget or authority to succeed; yet, they did. How? Every one of them gave clear rational direction to the rider by finding the bright spots, scripting the critical moves, and clearly pointing to the end goal. All of them motivated the elephant by emotionally connecting with it, and they shrunk the apparent change by carefully communicating progress. They refused to underestimate their people. Instead they provided them with a newfound identity that let them to grow into the challenge. But there was more.
As the authors note, many times what looks like resistance is really confusion or even the result of misaligned incentives. That's why the path needs to be shaped by making manageable changes to the environment, building sound habits, rallying the herd, and reinforcing the new habit until it becomes a way of life.
Well, maybe that sounds like a lot of work. I think it is. But speaking from firsthand experience, it will be a labor of love. And if your heart is not in the change and you do not think you can derive reward from the process, perhaps you are selling yourself short -- or, maybe you're the wrong person to lead the change and you should stop kidding yourself. And perhaps that is what I like most about this book. It does not promise a panacea. It tells it like it is without the jingoism that has become the substance of many change management essays. If you are leading organizational change, the book will provide a solid prescription for achieving lasting results because Switch uses real research, reports real experiences, and provides real guidance. Here, my recommendation is enthusiastic.