Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard

Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is HardMaking change work can be major work.

When change has to occur, how do people manage themselves? If change is required for a group of people, how do you manage the emotions that come with it?

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, is the new book from Made to Stick authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  It addresses change and the change process associated with it.

By luck I received a free advance copy through being on a distribution list of listeners to Chip and Dan’s presentation at the Search Engine Strategies San Jose expo last year.  So I figured a book review was in order.

Elephant And Driver Must Be One So That The Struggle Of Change Can Be Won

Switch draws inspiration from an analogy in the book “The Happiness Hypothesis” by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt.  In Happiness, Haidt equates the operation of the human mind to an elephant and a driver who sits on top.  The elephant represents the emotional side, while the elephant driver is the rational side.  Both aspects have strengths and weakness.

Our emotions can overwhelm our rational thought (i.e. the reason for the elephant-driver metaphor; the elephant is bigger than the driver), while relying solely on rational behavior can “overanalyze and over think things … Chances are you know the people with Rider problems … your colleague who can brainstorm for hours but can’t ever seem to make a decision.” Switch dedicates itself to change processes that manage both aspects — direct the rider & motivate the elephant — along with a third segment, Shaping the Path, that details the steps once driver and elephant are mastered.

Readers will be able to tell that the Heaths applied a great deal of thought in balancing familiar material with originality. Switch is not a Made To Stick II (thankfully we’re talking about a book, not a movie sequel — Son of Stick? The Stickiness Strikes Back?).  Stick readers will mostly likely treat the new material as a natural evolution of the first book. They will read pages on how to remove ambiguity from enacting change, for example, and clearly recall Stick’s paragraphs of concreteness without a full deja vu feeling.  Where Made To Stick explained what makes a idea survive, Switch takes a more granular step in explaining how we individually adopt ideas, managing the influences in the process.

Examples That Are Made To Stick

The narratives remind the reader that “the brain has two independent systems at work at all times.” Examples intrigue the imagination, such as the description of Clocky, a MIT student-created alarm clock that moves around as its alarm goes off and forces once-awake users to chase it to shut it off:

“The beauty of this device is that it allows your rational side to outsmart your emotional side. It’s simply impossible to stay cuddled up under the covers when a rogue alarm clock is rolling around your room.”

With regards to changing behavior, one must “shrink the change” to a manageable size.  A football example with a quote from Bill Parcells shows how he shrinks the change:

“We establish a clear set of goals that are within immediate reach….When you set small visible goals, and people achieve them, they start to get it in their heads that they can succeed.” Switch goes on to identify how to select small wins — “(1) They’re meaningful and (2) They’re ‘within immediate reach’, as Bill Parcells said.”

Switch translates its theories to business settings. For example, the book states that:

“… businesspeople think in two stages: You plan, and you execute. There is no “learning stage” or “practice stage” in the middle. From the business perspective practice looks like poor execution … but to create and sustain change, you’ve got to act more like a coach, less of a scorekeeper.”

Corporate examples, such as the story of Target manager Robyn Waters, show what results from a balanced elephant and rider.  During the department store chain’s transition to a fashion discounter, she encouraged Target merchants to offer stylish products. She invoked the elephant by demonstrating stylish products, while speaking to the drivers in the organization through proven results:

“Since Target had an analytic number-driven culture, publicizing the early results were critical. Waters could point to “heroes” in the organization who’d take a risk and succeeded.”

Managing our “driver and elephant” brains also include surroundings. Tweak the Environment covers how a person should not simply blame people, but also account for the situation: “What looks like a person problem is often a situation problem.” The Heaths advocate small tweaks – “even small environmental tweaks can make a difference” – and examine “action triggers” – the associations of one action to another – to address habits.  Occasional clinics pull the segments together in situations set in organizations. Relating a business process to everyday happenings bring the idea to “script the change” into a living concept that, well, sticks in your mind.

Switch makes the psychology behind its thesis accessible.  It demystifies the basic psychological conflicts that can lead to poor choices or derail the most complex business team. It makes its points using narrative, yet the stories are rooted in scholarly sources. It explains in straightforward terms.  Great books broaden a reader’s world outlook, and the Heaths broaden outlooks very well. They do it with an optimistic tone that strengthens their points and the utility of their concepts.

Be It Individual Or A Group, Change Is Possible

Overall I found Switch an excellent starting point to discuss change in a professional or organization.  Not only does it stand well on its own for learning how to manage and infuse change into a given situation, Switch can compliment other books on change in specific instances, such as Web Analytics 2.0 (reviewed here), where web analytics professionals must convince management of data-based results. Change ain’t easy, so to speak, but Switch makes the process of change easy.

Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.