Switch (Chip Heath and Dan Heath)

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard: Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Product Details

This is an excellent book, which I recommend that you read. My notes are reasonably short and only give a flavor of what is discussed. Filled with examples and stories, this is one book worth reading and thinking about.


  1. For something to change, someone somewhere has to start acting differently.
  2. Key metaphor for change
    1. Change is equivalent to riding an elephant and making the elephant go down a different path than the one that both you and the elephant have previously used.
    2. Each person when they are changing has a rational rider side and an emotional elephant side. You have got to reach both. And you have also to clear the pathway for the elephant to walk down. The three aspects are thus:
      1. Direct the Rider
        1. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. So provide crystal-clear directions
      2. Motivate the Elephant
        1. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion
        2. Engage people’s emotional side – get their elephants on the path and cooperative
      3. Shape the Path
        1. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem


Direct the Rider

  1. Find and follow the Bright Spots
    1. Bright spots are the things that are working; the successful efforts worth emulating
      1. “What’s working right now and how can we do more of it?”
    2. Understanding a problem doesn’t necessarily solve it; knowing is not enough
      1. Ask the “miracle” question:
        1. “If a miracle solved your problem, what would you be doing differently the next morning?”
        2. “What’s the first small sign you would see that would make you think the problem was gone.”
      2. Exception Question:
        1. “When was the last time you saw a little bit of the miracle, even just for a short time?”
        2. Think of the exceptions as “bright spots”
    3. Beware the problem focus
      1. What is the ratio of times you spend solving problems to the times you spend building on successes?
  2. Script the Critical Moves (Don’t think big picture, think in terms of small, specific behaviors)
    1. To avoid analysis paralysis, you need to direct the rider.
      1. Show him where to go, how to act, what destination to pursue
    2. Beware too many options
    3. Remember that the most familiar path is always the status quo
      1. Thus, you need to define the new path
      2. Ambiguity is the enemy; the new path must be clearly laid out
    4. A big problem does not call for a big solution. If you seek out a solution that is as complex as the problem, nothing will change
      1. Big problems are rarely solved with commensurately big solutions. Instead, they are most often solved by a sequence of small solutions.
  3. Point to the Destination (Change is easier when you know where you are going and why it is worth it)
    1. Beware SMART goals that usually are ambiguous and irrelevant
    2. Set a goal that hits people in the gut
    3. Create a destination postcard
      1. Picture of a future that hard work can make possible
      2. For example, BP and “No Dry Holes”
      3. Another example might be “No unhappy customers ever”


Motivate the Elephant

  1. Find the Feeling (Knowing something is not enough to cause change. Make people feel something.)
    1. “The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people, and behavior change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people’s feelings… In highly successful change efforts, people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought. John Kotter and Dan Cohen, The Heart of Change
    2. Most people consider:
      1. Analyze – Think – Change
    3. Instead, it should be
      1. See – Feel – Change
      2. When people fail to change, it is not usually because of an understanding problem. Yet, our first instinct in change is to teach them something
      3. There is a difference between knowing how to act and being motivated to act
    4. You need to get people to see and feel the need for change
  2. Shrink the Change (Break down the change until it is no longer scary, but appears manageable).
    1. Make people feel as though they are already closer to the finish line than they may have thought.
    2. Think of small wins – milestones that are within reach
    3. 5 Minute Room Rescue
      1. When faced with a large task, say, cleaning a very dirty house. Get started small. As an example, commit to doing 5 minutes of the task every day. The key is in getting started and building momentum
    4. “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur… Don’t look for the quick, big improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens- and when it happens, it lasts.” John Wooden
    5. Small targets lead to small victories, and small victories can often trigger a positive spiral of behavior.
  3. Grow Your People (Cultivate a sense of identity and instill the growth mind-set)
    1. To get people to change, appeal to their sense of identity
      1. Who Am I?
      2. What kind of situation is this?
      3. What would someone like me do in this situation?
      4. Play on the strong and positive identities of themselves that each person has
        1. This can be a good play especially for those with large egos
          1. “Kevin, as an excellent salesperson, how do you feel that an excellent / outstanding salesperson should and would act in this situation?”
    2. Growth Mindset v. Fixed Mindset
      1. Focus on a growth mindset which assumes:
        1. No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially
        2. You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are
      2. Realize that there are learning stages and practice stages
        1. Failure is a necessary part of change
        2. Our brains and our abilities are like muscles. They can be strengthened with practice.


Shape the Path

  1. Tweak the Environment (When the situation changes, the behavior changes. So, change the situation).
    1. Our behavior changes based on our environment
    2. Fundamental Attribution Error
      1. We tend to attribute people’s behavior to the way they are rather than to the situation they are in.
      2. To combat that, as leaders we need to realize, that “while we judge ourselves by our intentions, others judge us on our actions.”
    3. How can we alter the situation or environment so that people behave better
  2. Build Habits (When behavior is habitual, it is “free” – it does not tax the person. Look for ways to encourage habits.)
    1. Habits are behavioral auto pilots
    2. Use “action triggers” to change behavior
      1. Schedule something specifically by imaging a time and place where you will do it
    3. Think not:
      1. Why are these people acting so badly?
    4. Rather:
      1. How can I set up a situation that brings out the good in these people?
    5. Use the humble checklist to make behavior consistent and habitual
  3. Rally the Herd (Behavior is contagious. Help it spread).
    1. Peer pressure; use norms of behavior to rally the herd



Keep the Change Going

  1. Catch someone doing something right
  2. Change is not an event; it is a process
    1. So give encouragement during that process
  3. The “mere exposure’ effect – the more you are exposed to something the more you like it
    1. For example, the Parisians initially hated the Eiffel Tower
  4. Cognitive Dissonance
    1. People don’t like to act in one way and think in another
    2. 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 that they are acting
  5. Big changes can start with very small steps
  6. Small changes tend to snowball


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Business Acumen, Improve / Turnaround. Bookmark the permalink.

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