Home Phone

‘Switch – how to change things when change is hard’

Sensei Book Review ‘Switch – how to change things when change is hard’ – by Chip & Dan Heath; Published 2010 – ISBN 9781847940322


This book is an easy read as it is packed full of stories and written very much for the pragmatist learner to enjoy. It is however written through the eyes of the US based authors so the stories do have a strong US flavour and mind-set. The change framework they use throughout the book is a metaphor. The Rider; The Elephant and The Path. Put simply ‘The Rider’ can change ‘The Elephant’s’ course but it takes real effort and without motivating the elephant eventually the elephant will win through sheer size and momentum. ‘The Path’ is the route the elephant has to take and like all animals including humans it will take the path of least resistance.

The Rider

This is the person initiating the change in the metaphor. The book uses lots of examples to demonstrate how clarity is the key and how uncertainty makes the elephant (the people subject to the change) nervous. In truth there is very little new in this section but the stories are compelling and can be used to demonstrate the need for a compelling vision of success, simple catch phrases and the need to start by ‘catching people doing it right’ – or finding the bright spots as they call it in the book. The biggest problem to overcome is to get the rider to actually make and take decisions rather than over analyse. The other challenge is to stop fixing things all the time and counter the bad is stronger than good bias that we all seem to adhere to. Three A’s and a C lets focus on the Continuous Improvement.

The Elephant

Find the feeling and motivate the elephant in a way that resonates with them – you have to appeal to the identity of the target audience and engineer hope – ‘hope’ is elephant fuel! Start a change with small change to build momentum and wherever possible give people a head start e.g. 2 stamps already in a card where 10 gets you a free coffee for example.

Shape the Path

This section has lots of clever examples showing how tweaking the environment makes the desired change easier. For example putting a ‘cool couch’ at the front of a school class only available to sit in for those who are first to arrive in class. This deals with the ‘cool’ boys who like to be late. Build habits and rally the herd are good metaphors to finish the book with.

In summary a book that is worth the read for those leaders looking to initiate change in their organisation.

Malcolm Follos, Sensei UKE