Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

by | Feb 15, 2012

Change is not necessarily scary, but our ability to change our routines and practices is made more difficult if our rational and irrational minds are not in sync. So say the authors of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. When we want to be swimsuit-season ready yet we give in to overeating anyway, the answer is to find the balance between our internal compelling forces and our rationale. The authors tell anecdotes detailing different methods employed to bring about modifications ranging from small, personal habits to corporate change on a grand scale.

Chip and Dan Heath, the authors, explain that successful changes of any sort share many commonalities. Because change is difficult, people may become exhausted before its completion, therefore never successfully making the change. What has historically been considered laziness is often plain physical and mental exhaustion.

A lack of clarity in the process is another hindrance to change. Change is best instituted when crystal clear, step-by-step direction is provided. Frequently what appears to be resistance is a lack of direction.

In a persuasive narrative, the Heaths combine research in psychology, sociology, and other fields to explain how we can introduce changes in our personal lives, as well as in a corporate setting regardless of our position. Switch shows that successful changes follow a pattern which can be used to make the changes that are important to us, no matter if our interest is in changing our waistline or the world.

“The Rider,” “the Elephant,” and “the Path” are metaphors the authors employ to illustrate our rational side, emotional side and the surrounding environment where change will ultimately occur. The ultimate goals of the person initiating change are to direct the Rider which will motivate the Elephant and influence the Path. By accomplishing all of these at one time, dramatic changes can occur.

In reality, the emotional Elephant is difficult for the rational Rider to control. We have all been derailed from a sane, logical goal by a headstrong, emotional component. In addition, by breaking change down into simple, manageable steps, it can be accomplished in small, measurable doses.

Suggestions include:

  • study what is working and figure out why, rather than focusing on what’s not working
  • identify if the problem is the people or the process
  • appeal to peoples\’ emotions, not their logic (this may not always work, especially if you’re dealing with an analytical person, but it’s worth a try)
  • have a very clear goal and clear steps to attain the goal
  • use achievement prompts to encourage new behavior


In the end the authors explain, “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.” There is a Q&A section at the end which presents the most common problems encountered in instituting change and their solutions.

This is an excellent, useful book that explains how to manage change in a non-threatening way. It’s easy to read, full of valuable facts and practical examples, and it employs case studies, which are often real-life examples, to demonstrate how change was launched successfully and not successfully in a variety of settings.


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