The five co-authors of Change Anything: An interview by Bob Morris

Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler are associates in the VitalSmarts firm, “An innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, VitalSmarts helps teams and organizations achieve the results they care about most.” They have also collaborated on four business bestsellers: Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, Influencer, and most recently Change Anything.

Here are mini-bios:

Kerry Patterson is a co-founder of VitalSmarts who has co-authored three New York Times bestselling books as well as designed the company’s line of award-winning training programs. He received the prestigious 2004 BYU Marriott School of Management Dyer Award for outstanding contribution in organizational behavior. He also did his doctoral work in organizational behavior at Stanford University.

Joseph Grenny is an acclaimed keynote speaker, three-time New York Times bestselling author, and co-founder of VitalSmarts. A consultant to the Fortune 500, he has designed and implemented major corporate change initiatives on every major continent for the past 20 years.


David Maxfield is a leading researcher and frequent conference speaker on topics ranging from dialogue skills to performance improvement. The author of the immediate New York Times bestseller, Influencer, he did doctoral work in psychology at Stanford University, where he studied personality theory and interpersonal-skill development.


Ron McMillan is a three-time New York Times bestselling author and a sought-after speaker and leadership consultant. As the co-founder of VitalSmarts, he has consulted with leaders ranging from first-level managers to corporate executives on topics such as leadership and team development.


Al Switzler is a renowned consultant and world-class speaker who has directed training and management initiatives with dozens of Fortune 500 companies worldwide. In addition to his consulting work, he co-founded VitalSmarts and authored three immediate New York Times bestselling books.


Morris: Before discussing Change Anything, a few general questions. When and why did you and your co-founders start VitalSmarts?

Ron McMillan: My co-founders and I came together in 1990 – so we’ve been together over 20 years. Our mission at VitalSmarts is to increase humanity’s capacity to change for good. We believe that practical application of good social science can enable organizations to be substantially more effective at adding value to the world, can make workplaces more humane, and can empower individuals to achieve much more of what they want from life. That’s what VitalSmarts is trying to accomplish.

Morris: Please explain the process by which you began to collaborate on a series of four books. Also, how has the division of labor been determined?

Kerry Patterson: Like most authors, we didn’t start as authors. In our case, we initially formed a partnership aimed at delivering corporate consulting and training offerings.

After forming the team and developing our training products we finally decided to write a book. As you might guess, five authors offers the blessings of synergy and division of task, as well as the possible nightmare of not being able to agree on the content or create a common voice.

Here’s how we encourage the one and reduce the other. After we’ve studied and developed the content of our training products, we sit down and create a detailed writing outline for the upcoming book. We then assign out chapters, write them, pass them back and forth, give them an overall edit to ensure voice continuity, and send the first draft to our editors. We then make more changes, pass it around again, retouch for voice and continue this process until we decide the product is finished.

Morris: For those who have not yet read Change Anything, what is “the new science of personal success”? In which respects is it scientific?

David Maxfield: I lead our research team at VitalSmarts and the Change Anything Labs. We work with the very best of current social scientists – people like Albert Bandura, who was my advisor from Stanford, Dean Karlan at Yale, Toni Yancey at UCLA medical school, Brian Wansink from Cornell, and many others. Before writing Change Anything, we studied the change attempts of more than 5,000 people—focusing on those we label “Changers.” These Changers are individuals who once faced enormous personal challenges, but wrestled them to the ground and have remained successful for at least three years. From our study of the Changers and decades of social science research, we discovered willpower has very little to do with one’s ability to change. There are actually six sources of influence that shape our actions and those who develop strategies within all six sources are ten times more likely to change.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while completing research and then the manuscript? Please explain.

David Maxfield: People often talk about how long it takes to change. A head-snapping revelation we discovered is that “time” is not the variable that matters. Change is not about time; it’s about the number of influences working for or against you. Imagine you are on the losing side of a tug of war—if it’s just you and your willpower on one side and all six sources of influence lined up against you, then more time won’t help.

On the positive side, once you’ve taken the blinders off, seen the influences that are currently keeping you stuck, and brought all six sources of influence over to your side, then dramatic changes happen quickly.

Morris: What is the “Willpower Trap”? How best to avoid it or escape from it?

Al Switzler: The Willpower Trap is the false assumption that our ability to make good choices stems from nothing more than our willpower. As soon as our willpower runs thin, we shop trying to change altogether. We have a lot less control over our behavior than we think we do; however, we do have great control over the things that influence us. Successful changers spend less time trying to “gut it out” and more time wisely aligning the six sources of influence that control their behavior.

Morris: You urge those who read Change Anything to “be the scientist and the subject.” Please explain.

Al Switzler: Those who are both the scientist and the subject study themselves, their unique circumstances, desires and environment, and then create a multifaceted change plan specifically tailored to them. They then observe what works and what doesn’t and take corrective action along the way. By conducting short-cycle-time experiments, skillful changers have the ability to turn bad days into good data. Rather than being upset, discouraged or even depressed by their setbacks, they see their missteps as useful data points and then use them to adjust their plan to re-align themselves on the path to success.

Morris: Six influences are identified and discussed. With a few sentences for each, please express its essence.

Ron McMillan: “Love what you hate”: We struggle to change because bad habits feel good while good habits feel bad. Skillful changers use powerful tools to change their impulses. For example, you can motivate yourself by visiting your “default future” – the life you’ll have if you continue your bad habits.

“Do what you can’t”: If change is taking too much will, it’s probably because you lack skill. Change gets far easier when you learn the skills you need to make and keep new habits.

Sources 3 and 4, “Turn accomplices into friends”: Bad habits are a team sport—we usually have accomplices who motivate our vices. Peer pressure and the influence of friends and family is extremely powerful in influencing behavior change.

“Invert the economy”: You can increase your motivation by rewarding yourself with the money you will save by changing your behavior. Or “Put Skin in the Game” by putting the money you would have spent on your bad habit at risk if you fail to keep your commitment.

“Control your space”: Making physical changes to your environment that make good behavior easier and bad behavior harder increases your ability to change.

Morris: What are the defining characteristics of a “Skillful Changer”?

David Maxfield: Change is less about personality as it is about scientific inquiry. Individuals who are successful in not only achieving their goals but also in maintaining them over time are both the scientist and the subject in their own mini-experiment. That is, they study themselves, their unique circumstances, desires and environment, and then create a multifaceted change plan specifically tailored to them. They then observe what works and what doesn’t and take corrective action along the way. By conducting short-cycle-time experiments, skilful changers have the ability to turn bad days into good data. Rather than being upset, discouraged or even depressed by their setbacks, they see their missteps as useful data points and then use them to adjust their plan to re-align themselves on the path to success.

Morris: What does it mean to become “stuck” at work? How best to get unstuck”?

Joseph Grenny: We define “stuck” as a condition where you’re exerting enormous energy and effort and not getting what you really want. At work, many of us have career-limiting habits. We continue to show up to work, but an inability to change one or two self-limiting habits keeps us from being as influential, effective or recognized as we want to be. We’re stuck! The best way to get unstuck is to find a way to change how we behave in just a couple of crucial moments. In Change Anything we help people recognize the crucial moments that are key to getting unstuck at work. Then we teach them how to create a change plan that increases the odds of getting unstuck tenfold.

Morris: In part III, you cite several quite different areas in which you demonstrate how real people have integrated all of the strategies and tactics of the new science of personal success”: career success, weight loss, financial fitness, addiction recovery, and relationship renewal. Here’s my question. However different these areas may be in most other respects, what do they share in common in terms of risks and rewards?

Joseph Grenny: That’s a great question! We chose those five areas to demonstrate how Change Anything helps people profoundly increase their capacity to change because collectively these five problems account for the lion’s share of the pain and disappointment in the world. Of course there are other habits or areas of achievement people care about as well, but we hope these suffice to demonstrate that those who know how to think about personal change can literally change in most any area of life.

Morris: Of all that you learned while involved in the collaboration to write the book, what do you consider to be most valuable. Why?

Kerry Patterson: When you first come together as a creative team it’s not long until you realize the wisdom in working in teams rather than working alone. More people have more ideas. With time, you also gain an appreciation for the math of synergy. In partnerships you not only add ideas one upon the other, creating a more massive output, but often you build off each others’ ideas and stumble upon notions and precepts that none of you alone would have ever created.

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You are cordially invited to check out the resources at these websites:


Joseph Grenny

David Maxfield

Ron McMillan

Al Switzler

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