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Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard Hardcover – February 16, 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 820 customer reviews

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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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 305 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; 1st edition (February 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385528752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385528757
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (820 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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
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Format: Hardcover
"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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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