Switch: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: July 8th, 2011 by bobmorris

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Crown Business (2010)

Several Sticky Insights

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. In 2004, in his position as a doctor and the CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), he had developed some ideas as to “how to save lives – massive numbers of lives” and his ideas were so well-supported by research that they were indisputable and yet “little was happening” until he spoke at a professional meeting and proposed six very specific interventions to save lives. Within two months, more than 1,000 hospitals had signed up. Eighteen months later, to the day (June 14, 2006) he had previously announced that he’d promised to return, he announced the results: “Hospitals enrolled in the 100,000 Lives Campaign have collectively prevented an estimated 122,300 avoidable deaths and, as importantly, have begun to institutionalize new standards of care that will continue to save lives and improve health outcomes into the future.” He had directed his audience’s Riders (i.e. hospital administrators), he had motivated his audience’s Elephants by making them feel the compelling need for change, and he had shaped the Path by making it easier for the hospitals to embrace the change. The Heaths offer more than a dozen other prime examples (e.g. Jerry Sternin in Vietnam, the Five-Minute Room Rescue, “Fataki” in Tanzania) that also demonstrate how the same three-part framework resulted in the achievement of major changes elsewhere despite great difficulty.

Near the end of the book, the Heaths summarize the key points they have so thoroughly made while explaining to their reader how to make a switch. “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.” By now, the Heaths have explained how others have directed the Rider, motivated the Elephant, and shaped the Path. They conclude their book with a Q&A section during which they advise how to resolve twelve problems that people most often encounter as they fight for change. They suggest, and I agree, that this advice “won’t make sense to anybody who hasn’t read the book.” The same can probably be said about much of what I have shared in this review.

Although, in my opinion, this is one of the most important business books published during the last several years, no commentary such as mine can do full justice to it. It simply must be read and read carefully, preferably then re-read carefully. Otherwise, it makes no sense to visit www.switchthebook.com/resources to obtain additional information and assistance. Invest your time and attention now. Trust me, they will be abundantly rewarded.

 

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