"Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard"
by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Reading history and reviews
Finished on 8th May 2011In "Switch", Chip and Dan Heath present a set of tactics that can be used to overcome obstacles to personal and cultural change. At the book's core is the idea an individual's psyche can be divided into an emotional side (characterised as "the elephant") and a rational side (characterised as "the rider"): the key to successful change is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each, by using appropriate strategies to ensure you get the best from each.
At the highest level they break this down into three broad areas. The first two are to "direct the rider" (analysing the situation to find things that are already working, figuring out specific key changes that need to be made, and providing a clear picture of how to get there) and "motivate the elephant" (giving the case for change a strong emotional charge that engages people at a gut level, shrinking the change so that it looks less threatening and more achievable, and encouraging people so that they feel the change is something that they both want and can actually achieve). The third area ("shape the path") is creating environments and habits that encourage and sustain the change process.
Along the way the authors present numerous case studies which illustrate and reinforce the particular points that they want to make. While the style is sometimes rather breathless and Gladwell-esque, these are often very effective and memorable, and do make the book extremely readable. There are also "clinic" sections dotted through the chapters with various scenarios which the reader is encouraged to try and apply the ideas to, which are useful but might have been better pushed to the end of each chapter. One potential drawback of featuring so many illustrative anecdotes is that the general rules get a little overwhelmed and lost in so much detail, whereas ultimately their change recipe is actually quite simple and elegant. Fortunately they include a very nice one-page bullet-point summary at the end which is well worth copying to refer back to.
Having not tried to apply these ideas to a real-world change yet I can't really say yet how effective they might be, although I suspect that anyone looking for a magic bullet for change will be disappointed: change can be an intrinsically difficult process and requires both perseverance and imagination. However as a clear, readable and entertaining guide, "Switch" does provide a good framework for understanding where obstacles to change might come from and how to best direct your energies to overcome them.