Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard - by Chip Heath, Dan Heath


Everyone 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. In short, you must do three things:

DIRECT the Rider (What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. So provide crystal-clear direction.)

  • FOLLOW THE BRIGHT SPOTS. Investigate what's working and clone it. [Jerry Sternin in Vietnam, solutions-focused therapy]

  • SCRIPT THE CRITICAL MOVES. Don't think big picture, think in terms of specific behaviors. Ambiguity is the enemy. Clarity dissolves resistance. [1% milk, four rules at the Brazilian railroad]

  • POINT TO THE DESTINATION. Change is easier when you know where you're going and why it's worth it. ["You'll be third graders soon," "No dry holes" at BP]

MOTIVATE the Elephant (What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. The Rider can't get his way by force for very long. So it's critical that you engage people's emotional side--get their Elephants on the path and cooperative.)

  • FIND THE FEELING. Knowing something isn't enough to cause change. Make people feel something. [Piling gloves on the table, the chemotherapy video game, Robyn Waters's demos at Target]

  • SHRINK THE CHANGE. Break down the change until it no longer spooks the Elephant. Starting an unpleasant task is always worse than continuing it. Implement micro-milestones. [The 5-Minute Room Rescue, procurement reform]

  • GROW YOUR PEOPLE. Cultivate a sense of identity and instill the growth mindset: We will struggle, we will fail, we will be knocked down--but throughout, we'll get better, and we'll succeed in the end. [Brasilata's "inventors," junior-high math kids' turnaround]

SHAPE the Path (What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. We call the situation (including the surrounding environment) the "Path." When you shape the Path, you make change more likely, no matter what's happening with the Rider and Elephant.)

  • TWEAK THE ENVIRONMENT. When the situation changes, the behavior changes. So change the situation. [Throwing out the phone system at Rackspace, 1-Click ordering, simplifying the online time sheet, "sterile cockpit"]

  • BUILD HABITS. When behavior is habitual, it's "free"--it doesn't tax the Rider. Look for ways to encourage habits. [Setting "action triggers," eating two bowls of soup while dieting, using checklists]

  • RALLY THE HERD. Behavior is contagious. Help it spread. ["Fataki" in Tanzania, "free spaces" in hospitals, seeding the tip jar]


  • Recognize and celebrate that first step. Something you've done has worked. You've directed the Rider, you've motivated the Elephant, you've shaped the Path--and now you're moving. When you spot movement, you've got to reinforce it. Learning to spot and celebrate approximations requires us to scan the environment constantly, looking for little rays of sunshine, and it isn't easy. Our Riders, by nature, focus on the negative. Problems are easy to spot; progress, much harder. But the progress is precious.

  • Change isn't an event; it's a process. The mere exposure effect: the more you're exposed to something, the more you like it. Cognitive dissonance works in your favor. People don't like to act in one way and think in another. So once a small step has been taken, and people have begun to act in a new way, it will be increasingly difficult for them to dislike the way they're acting. Similarly, as people begin to act differently, they'll start to think of themselves differently, and as their identity evolves, it will reinforce the new way of doing things. These forces aren't contingent on change efforts being successful in the early going; these aren't the reinforcing spoils of achieving "small wins." Rather, they kick in automatically as time goes by. So, although inertia may be a formidable opponent in the early goings of your switch, at some point inertia will shift from resisting change to supporting it.


PROBLEM: We should be doing something, but we're getting bogged down in analysis.

ADVICE: 1. Don't overanalyze and play to the weaknesses of the Rider. Instead, find a feeling that will get the Elephant moving. 2. Create a destination postcard. That way, the Rider starts analyzing how to get there rather than whether anything should be done. 3. Simplify the problem by scripting the critical moves: What's your equivalent of the 1% milk campaign?

PROBLEM: The environment has shifted, and we need to overcome our old patterns of behavior.

ADVICE: 1. Can you create a new habit so the Rider doesn't constantly have to wrestle the Elephant? 2. Set an action trigger. Preload your decision by imagining the time and place where you're going to act differently. 3. Use Natalie Elder's strategy of creating a routine for the morning that eliminates the old, bad behavior. 4. The old pattern is powerful, so make sure to script the critical moves, because ambiguity is the enemy.

PROBLEM: I'll change tomorrow.

ADVICE: 1. Shrink the change so you can start today. 2. If you can't start today, set an action trigger for tomorrow. 3. Make yourself accountable to someone. Let your colleagues or loved ones know what you're trying to change, so their peer pressure will help you.

PROBLEM: I know what I should be doing, but I'm not doing it.

ADVICE: 1. Knowing isn't enough. You've got an Elephant problem. 2. Think of the 5-Minute Room Rescue. Starting small can help you overcome dread. What is the most trivial thing that you can do--right at this moment--that would represent a baby step toward the goal? 3. Look for Path solutions. How can you tweak your environment so that you're "forced" to change? 4. Behavior is contagious. Get someone else involved with you so that you can reinforce each other.

PROBLEM: People were excited at first, but then we hit some rough patches and lost momentum.

ADVICE: 1. Focus on building habits. When you create habits, you get the new behavior "for free" (think of the stand-up meetings), and you're less likely to back-slide. 2. Motivate the Elephant by reminding people how much they've already accomplished (like putting two stamps on their car-wash cards). 3. Teach the growth mindset. Every success is going to involve rough patches. Recall the IDEO example, which warned people not to panic when the going got tough.

PROBLEM: It's just too much.

ADVICE: 1. Shrink the change until it's not too much. Don't give the Elephant an excuse to give up. 2. Start developing the growth mindset. Progress doesn't always come easily--achieving success requires some failures along the way. Don't beat yourself up when those failures occur.