Monday, June 27, 2011

Switch: How to change things when change is hard

Switch: How to change things when change is hard
By Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

I loved the Heath’s first book, Made to Stick, and I used the illustration I found in their book (about tapping out the beat of a song like “Jingle Bells” and then predicting the accuracy of getting another person to know what song was being conveyed by just the beat alone) in a speech I gave as well as in the revision of my textbook.  That book is well written, and it is, indeed, what prompted me to review their new book, Switch.  (The illustration is a great example of what it requires for speakers to know that they are accurately and precisely conveying their ideas to audience members.)

You can sometimes gauge the substance, depth, or seriousness of a book by the resources on which the author(s) depend in their writing.  In this 264-page book, there are about 24 pages of notes, and the resources appear well-selected, academic, and thorough.  Impressive!

“Chip Heath [from the back flyleaf of the book] is a professor at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University,” and “Dan Heath is a senior fellow at Duke University’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE).  Previously, he was a researcher and case writer at Harvard Business School.”

The book depends for its basis on this fact: “. . . the brain has two independent systems at work at all times.  First, there’s what we called the emotional side.  It’s the part of you that is instinctive, that feels pain and pleasure.  Second, there’s the rational side, also known as the reflective or conscious system.  It’s the part of you that deliberates and analyzes and looks into the future” (p. 6).

The Heaths go on to borrow from Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Happiness Hypothesis in which “Haidt says that our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider.  Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader.  But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant.  Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.  He’s completely overmatched” (p. 7).

With all that information offered, the Heaths now draw their conclusion regarding change: “If you want to change things, you’ve got to appeal to both.  The Rider provides the planning and direction, and the Elephant provides the energy.  So if you reach the Riders of your team but not the Elephants, team members will have understanding without motivation.  If you reach their Elephants but not their Riders, they’ll have passion without direction.  In both cases, the flaws can be paralyzing.  A reluctant Elephant and a wheel-spinning Rider can both ensure that nothing changes.  But when Elephants and Riders move together, change can come easily” (p. 8).

The three-part framework the Heaths suggest that can guide readers in any situation includes 1) directing the rider (give the rider crystal-clear direction), 2) motivating the elephant (get it on the path and cooperating by engaging its emotional side), and 3) shape the path (make change more likely, no matter what’s happening with the Rider and Elephant).  (See pages 17-18.)

This is a well-written book full of engaging stories that are drawn directly from the research.  Through the stories and the way the book is organized, the Heaths don’t just draw you in and along, they continually show you what it (the stories and research and insights) mean to you.  It is their conversational style, their lack of academic pretension, their ability to distill and make immediate and useful the results of scores of studies, that make this an enjoyable book to read — and for those seriously interested in change, or how to change business, how to make changes in your own behavior, or, even how to make changes in the world, their suggestions hold water.

This book is available at Switch: How to change things when change is hard

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