Switch: How To Change When Change Is HardBeing a big fan of Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick, I received their new book titled Switch as a Christmas present from my new sister-in-law. Chapter one was so good that I’m having trouble making myself not breeze through and really let these genius ideas marinate. I encourage you to read chapter one online for free. Just be ready to run out the nearest Barnes and Noble later that day.

The Heath brothers are known to drill their points with sticky stories. Go figure. But I want to highlight their main points and framework that can create change in organizations, your personal life, or even the world. So let’s dig into the key concept that the book is based around. Humans have two systems that are constantly working independently from each other. We have a emotional side and rational side. The emotional side is what I call your gut feelings that feels pleasure and pain. A persons’ intuitive instinct. Your rational side is a persons’ conscience system that analyzes situations. We need both to make good decisions.  See my pervious blog post on Gut Feelings Vs. Wikinomics Mashup: The New Traditional Way of Business for more information on why we need both. Below is a list of surprises that people normally misunderstand about change. Don’t forget to check Dan Heath’s podcast Switch For Marketers.

3 Surprises About Change

1. To change someone’s behavior, you’ve got to change their situation.  You’ve got to influence not only their environment but also their hearts and minds.

Switch uses Jonathan Haidts’ analogy of the Elephant and the Rider extracted from his book, The Happiness Hypothesis.  Our emotional side is the Elephant and our rational side is the Rider.  Heath brothers continued in writing,

Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely overmatched.

If the Rider and Elephant disagree, then we have a problem. Even though the Rider can temporarily get the Elephant to submit by tugging on the reins, similar to a person’s willpower, the Rider will eventually exhausted.

Self-control is an exhaustible resource.


If people exhaust their self-control then they are exhausting the mental muscles needed to think creatively and continue when frustrated or fail. These are same mental muscle a person needs to make a big change. Change is hard because people wear themselves out, not because they are lazy.

2. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.

Of course if the Elephant isn’t motivated to change, then change isn’t going happen.  But the Rider also has to be sure in what direction to steer the Elephant or he will just lead him in circles.

3. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.

Knowing these three surprises of change can help tackle the switch you want to make in your life, business, or society. From a marketer point-of-view, we might want to change customers’ attitude of your company and buying habits. Below is the basic three-part framework the Heath brothers expand on throughout their book. You can also download a more detailed outline copy in PDF format here. I suggest read the first chapter or if your in rush, listen to this great podcast below. Enjoy!

Switch For Marketers Podcast by Dan Heath

[audio https://runyoncm.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/switchformarketers.mp3]

Direct the Rider. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. So provide a crystal-clear direction (Think 1% milk).

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 crucial that you engage a persons’ emotional side —get their Elephant on the path and cooperative (Think of the boardroom conference table full of gloves).

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 (Think of the effect of shrinking movie popcorn buckets).

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