Switch : Book Review & Critique

We’ve all faced moments in our lives when we have struggled with change. From personal battles of sticking to a New Years resolutions to diet and lose weight – to professional settings of trying to convince a client or boss on a new proposal. It is easy to place the blame on resistance and repeat the adage that ‘change is an uphill battle’, yet why is it that change seems easy for others?

In the New York Times Bestseller “SWITCH : How To Change Things, When Change Is Hard”, Chip and Dan Heath set up an easy to follow guidepost to take the stickiness out of transformative change that matter to us the most, whether your interest is in “changing the world or changing your waistline.”

The “Switched” Framework

To be successful in change, you need to tackle a 3-part challenge. We need to speak to our Rider (rational side), our Elephant (emotional side), and set The Path (clear the way for them to succeed).

The Rider directs the Elephant, but the Elephant is stronger and can easily overpower the Rider. This is why most diets fail — our Rational Rider can see the big picture of losing 10 lbs in 2 months, but our Emotional Elephant wants to eat ice cream today. One way to stop that from happening though is to throw out the ice cream, which sets The Path.

Direct The Rider. Being the Rational side, The Rider will resist change unless it has clarity. To direct this side we need things that are scripted, specific and proven.

  • Think of specific behaviors instead of big picture.
  • Know where you are going and why.
  • Figure out what is working and copy it.

Motivate The Elephant. As the Emotional side, The Elephant wants instant gratification and will overpower the Rider. What appears as laziness is usually exhaustion. To direct this side we need to bring in feeling, shrinking the change, and growth.

  • Empathize and show so you create an emotional connection.
  • Shrink the change by focusing on small and incremental wins.
  • Grow by creating an identity of mastery and purpose.

Shape The Path. The Path is the surrounding environment, and this can make a situational problem look like a people problem. To solve this, we need to take obstacles out of the way by tweaking the environment, building habits, and rallying the herd.

  • If something in the environment is inhibiting change, then remove it or change it.
  • Create check lists.
  • Help to spread behavior by making it viral.

Putting It Into Action

Heath & Heath have devised an easy framework to follow, and the book is filled with interesting real life examples of each concept. They also include ‘Clinic’ sections with real-world situations that challenge you to think about how to apply the Switch Framework, and also includes the authors suggestions.

One of the real strengths of the book comes down understanding what influences motivation, what inhibits action, and how to keep ourselves from feeling worn out. You might already be incorporating some of the steps listed above in your life to help with your own change efforts. For example – I create checklists that have very specific things I want to accomplish, and I break it up into small sections so I wont be overwhelmed or distracted by trying to tackle too many things. Looking at the list above, I’m using one concept from each section. The times when I have a hard time accomplishing items are when my action items are too general, when I have too many things I need to get done, or I allow myself to be distracted by the environment (like searching online).

Unintended Consequences

While this book is create to help with personal change efforts, and can be used to get ‘buy-in’ on projects or sticky problems, there is a dark side to it. As I was reading the book I couldn’t help but worry about the unintended consequences of transformative change efforts. What if a person goes through these steps, then rallies the herd to make something viral, and it ends up having a negative effect?

When we try to moderate people’s behavior, even though it might be with good intentions, we can end up with disastrous results. The main story that comes to mind from the book is about two health researchers in West Virginia that wanted to persuade people in the state to eat healthier. They decided to attack Whole Milk and saturated fat as the enemy – wanting to switch people’s behavior to purchase 1% Milk instead. To accomplish this they used shock campaigns, showing tubes filled with saturated fat and demonstrating that there is as much saturated fat in a glass of whole milk as there are in 5 strips of bacon. By correlating saturated fat with Whole Milk they were able to increase the market share of 1% Milk from 18% to 35% within 6 months, where it has held steady.

This might sound like a great win, but unfortunately the research points otherwise. There have been exhaustive studies pointing to the fat in Whole Milk and cheese in helping to aid in weight loss – and the old dogma of saturated fat is bad has been completely discredited. In fact, Harvard Medical School has the most well known ongoing long term heart study thru following the population of Framingham, MA since 1948. William Castelli M.D. – Framingham Director, is quoted as saying “The more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the lower the person’s serum (blood) cholesterol.”

We can place the blame there on the policy setting of Senator George McGovern, who believed in the ‘Lipid Hypothesis’ by Ancel Keys which pointed to a direct correlation between fat intake and heart disease. In the 1970’s Senator McGovern headed a Senate Committee that was determined to lower the cholesterol intake of American’s. Researchers and doctors argued that there was no evidence to support lowering cholesterol to prevent heart attacks, pleading that more research needs to be done before making announcements to the public. Senator McGovern’s response was “Well, I would only argue that Senators don’t have the luxury that the Research Scientist does, awaiting until every last shred of evidence is in”, with Senator Schweiker saying “Instead of discrediting the Committee’s report, the eggmen should be out developing hen’s that would lay low cholesterol eggs.”

The unintended consequences of this policy setting that was aimed at moderating people’s behavior and diets has resulted in the low fat craze, which in-turn increased carbohydrate consumption, and is directly related to the rise in obesity and diabetes.

Should You Buy The Book?

Even though I worry about the blowback that can be caused by using some of these practices, I think everyone should read this book. I really like the imagery of The Rider/Elephant/Path (as you can see from my sketch above), because it easily drives home the points and makes it memorable. There are also a lot of great anecdotal stories on how people have been effective at creating change in their lives and helping others.

By understanding our decision making processes, we can better empathize not only with others, but ourselves. Instead of having a defeatist attitude that you’re lazy or have no will power because you haven’t been going to the gym or sticking to your diet, you can now be armed with some great actionable items to help you along your path.

Have you used any of these practices before to make a transformational change in either your personal or professional life? Chime in and tell us your story!



One thought on “Switch : Book Review & Critique

  1. Eric,
    I enjoyed your review, and this looks like an interesting book. You point out what seems to be a reason for why change is so uncommon (or takes a while to implement) – both in individuals and organizations. Personally, I believe this is because persons (and organizations) are, for the most part, risk adverse and do not wish to see the positives of change and new thinking.

    The authors give some good ways for one to tackle personal objectives, and how to focus on the process. It does correctly point out that most people settle for the routine, or “good enough.”
    Yet overall, I think the book’s argument is overly obsessed with minutia and should look at the larger picture of change. One must have a personal desire to change in the first place, take the necessary steps to get there – and then we can gradually evaluate the outcome(s) of the proposed change.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s