Book Review: Switch – How To Change Things When Change Is Hard

Every so often, a book comes along that somehow boils really complex topics down to such a concise form that you wonder why no-one thought in that way before. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Dan and Chip Heath, is one of those books, combining theory from change management and persuasion in a clear, practical way that everyone should learn.

Switch outlines techniques for inspiring change , be it at work, at home or out in your community. Dan and Chip Heath break the topic down into three simple sections:

  1. Direct the rider
  2. Motivate the elephant
  3. Shape the path

The authors liken change management to an elephant with a rider. The rider is the logical, thoughtful part of the equation, responding well to reason, facts and long-term thinking. However, it only has limited control over “the elephant,” which responds to emotion and short-term gain.

Switch argues that, for change to be successful, both of these sides need to be convinced – if you only address one side of the equation you greatly reduce your chance of success. Meanwhile, along with the elephant and rider you should also consider the path they follow – the context in which the two operate. By tweaking the path (adjusting the environment for the subject of change), you can ease the difficulty of the change or perhaps even accomplish it through that alone.

Seems a little abstract, yes? Fortunately, from start to finish, Switch shifts easily back and forth between abstract concept and practical examples and tips. I saw many direct similarities between the examples used in Switch and those in Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persusaion, which I read directly before this. Switch is full of examples, both those based on scientific research and more anecdotal stories, which clearly illustrate the nine steps outlined within the book:

  1. Find the bright spots – focus on the success stories around your change, not the negative examples
  2. Script the critical moves – remove the opportunity for decision paralysis by making the key steps clear
  3. Point to the destination – describe a compelling goal to which people can relate and aspire
  4. Find the feeling – make an emotional connection
  5. Shrink the change – break the change down so it’s more digestible
  6. Grow your people – help to create a new identity to which people can relate, and shift towards a “growth mindset” that sees things in flux rather than fixed as they are
  7. Tweak the environment – make changes to surroundings and processes to point people in the right direction
  8. Build habits – change peoples’ habits to change long-term behaviour
  9. Rally the herd – understand the power of group dynamics (peer pressure, to an extent) and work with them

Whether you’re trying to help your son or daughter do better in school, trying to motivate change in your team at work, or trying to rally support to improve your community, Switch offers a practical, simple and easy-to-understand formula which provides a great framework for enacting that change.

What’s more, it does so in a friendly, entertaining style which I thoroughly enjoyed.

If you’re looking to enact any kind of change in your life, I recommend you read this book.

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.