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!



Book Review: StrengthsFinder 2.0

Whenever we work on enhancing ourselves, we always look at the deficiencies – I’m not a great public speaker so I’ll make sure to do x presentations this year, or I’m not great with design programs so I’ll sign up for an adobe course. Those are uphill battles that require a strong resolve and a lot of commitment. Why do we put ourselves through that?

Maybe it all started when we were younger. We received praise for what we did well, but more attention was placed on what we failed or were mediocre at. Parents look at a report card and say “Good job on the A- in Science, but you really need to work harder on that D in English … lets get you a tutor and you should stay after school for extra sessions.” Why not send that child to science program after school or in the summer?

A lot of emphasis is put on becoming better in things that we are not good at it and/or not interested in, and very little time is spent on nurturing our strengths. Does that really make a lot of sense? Decathletes may be the best all around athletes in the world, but it is extremely rare for them to be at an elite level in anything. I bet you know Usain Bolt, but do you know Decathlon WR holder?

We should strive at becoming remarkable.

StrengthsFinder 2.0 is about understanding what your strengths are, and how to nurture them and use them to your advantage. This is done through an online test that asks 180 comparison questions that will list your 5 unique ‘themes’ or strengths in the order of which you’re strongest at.

The book itself is worthless. Out of the 174 pages, the first 31 give you a background of why you should know your strengths, about the test, and to help get you in the right mindset. The rest of the book is just fluff goes into detail about all 34 themes. This doesn’t matter because:

1) You can download that all off the website as a pdf file

2) We’re only worried about our Top 5 strengths, not everything else.

Unfortunately, you need to buy the book to get the access code listed in the back in order to take the test online. The results are downloadable as a pdf as well, which includes personalized insights based on your answers, some questions to increase your awareness, and then a worksheet for you to create an action plan.

That said – I highly suggest this book. The results I received, in order of preference were:

  • Strategic
  • Ideation
  • Futuristic
  • Activator
  • Command

These results match both my MBTI (ENTP) and Belbin (Plant), which are profiles that are highly innovative and idea generators, thinking of possibilities and the future.

The purpose of knowing your strengths is that you can then feed them more, and also find ways to use them at your job and make your work more enjoyable. The action plan is a nice way to plan how to use and enhance your strengths, and personalized insights lets you reflect on how you use your strength. I’ve taken a lot of psychometric type tests over the past few years so this was nothing new, but I would definitely suggest it to anyone who is unsure of their strengths or is unhappy with their job and looking for ways to become energized.