Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

May 26, 2023

May 12, 2023




Book Review

"Switch" by Chip and Dan Heath offers a concise formula for managing change. It addresses both the analytical and emotional aspects of decision-making, providing tactics to engage the analytical "Rider" and motivate the emotional "Elephant" to work together. The book emphasizes starting with small changes and leveraging prior successes to drive larger transformations."

Who should read this book: Entrepreneurs, Marketers, Managers, Educators, Parents

The following review also appeared on Venturebeat’s Entrepreneur Corner.

One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs have is managing change – for prospects, customers, and employees.Using research studies and integrating ideas from top authors with related insights, the Heath brothers, authors of the best-selling “Made to Stick,” have woven a concise, actionable formula for managing change and illustrated it with real-life stories to drive the message home. It is simple and powerful.

“Switch” addresses two parts of the decision-making process: analytical and emotional (the Rider and the Elephant).  It is a good way to understand why people behave as they do, address both parts of the process and achieve change.

The Authors’ Big Ideas

Making change happen is a three-part challenge. The more you address each part, the more successful you will likely be:

  • The Rider (our analytical self). Give clear guidance to the Rider to address his tendency for analysis paralysis in any change situation.

  • The Elephant (our emotional self).  No action or change takes place unless our emotional self is bought in, motivated, has clarity and is not ‘spooked’.  He is slow to move but steadfast when put in motion.

  • The Path. Most change problems are about situations, not people – and these can be controlled. Create a path that minimizes friction while reinforcing the needs of the driver and the elephant, and you can make big changes happen more easily.

Big changes start small is a recurring theme of the book. Our ‘riders’ have a tendency to believe that big changes need big solutions. We often shoot ourselves in the foot before we even start.

Tactics that work with the rider include:

  • Finding bright spots – Narrow in on something that works – then copy and promote it.

  • Scripting critical moves – Our ‘riders’ love to analyze, rather than take action.  A carefully scripted starting action breaks this log jam.

  • Pointing to the destination – With a vision of the end goal, our ‘riders’ stop debating and start thinking about how to make it happen.

The elephant and rider have to work together, though. Otherwise, the elephant is immovable, and the rider becomes exhausted. Motivating and removing ambiguity for the elephant is critical.

Important tactics include:

  • Finding the Feeling – The elephant works on emotion, so make people feel something to take action.

  • Shrinking the change – Elephants get scared of unachievable goals. Break the problem into small steps and show that you are already making progress.

  • Minding the environment – People are much more affected by their surroundings than we would expect.  To keep the elephants marching in the right direction, do not make radical changes. Instead, tweak the environment – making the change as easy as possible.  Amazon’s 1-click shopping made online buying easier and Rackspace became more customer-oriented by getting rid of its call waiting system, forcing customer support to pick up the phone quickly.

  • Building Habits – Habits that reinforce the change increase your chances for success.  Use ‘action triggers’ – environmental landmarks that trigger a change. You can lay out your clothes the night before so that you are ready to work out in the morning, or clear your email while drinking your morning coffee, for example.

  • Rallying the Heard – Get the group moving in a direction and it will keep supporting itself (although the social dynamics can be tricky).  To make a revolutionary change, your change leaders need free space to meet in private and develop their own language.

How to apply this book

Change is a constant in my portfolio companies and in our organization.  Perhaps the most insightful part of “Switch” is the idea that big changes start small.

One of the reasons bootstrapped companies are often successful with little capital is that they often look to prove their value initially and profitably on a limited scale, then grow profitably from that point by replicating their success.  By highlighting their prior successes – their bright spots – and focusing where they can be most effective (and capital efficient) they build momentum to eventually make big changes happen.

Javier Rojas

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