Switch: How to change things when change is hard
International best-selling authors Chip and Dan Heath believe there are three surprises about change: what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem; change is hard because people wear themselves out trying to change their ingrained behaviours; and what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. Mostly, they believe that for anything to change, someone has to start behaving differently.
The Heaths’ change framework is based on psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s analogy that explains the two competing systems at work in our mind. Haidt calls our rational side the ‘rider’ who works on logic, and our emotional side the ‘elephant’ who acts instinctively. The rider of the elephant may seem to be in control, but if the rider and elephant disagree about which direction to go, the much stronger and larger elephant will win.
For anything to change, someone has to start acting differently”
Chip and Dan Heath
If you want to drive change, your job is to reach both sides of the brain, and clear the way to help people succeed, focussing on these three elements
Direct the rider – they provide the planning and direction
- Follow the bright spots – investigate what’s working and clone it. Save the Children’s Jerry Sternin was asked to fight malnutrition in Vietnam. He knew that poor sanitation, poverty and unclean water were the reasons, but this fact was ‘true but useless’ – too big for one person to change. Instead, he travelled to rural villages and asked the mothers to weigh and measure children and identify if any of the poorest families had any well- nourished children. Their positive findings made him realise that lessons from these families could be replicated. Simple steps, like feeding smaller amounts of food more regularly, and adding freely available sweet potato greens and shrimp from rice paddies, made a big difference. He then helped the mothers organise cooking groups for villagers, giving very specific instructions about what to do. Six months later, 65% of the children were better nourished and stayed that way and the programme eventually reached 2.2 million people
- Script the critical moves – don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behaviour. An American public health campaign was hugely successful because it focused on one easy thing – buying low fat milk – instead of a vague message to eat healthily
- Point to the destination – change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it. To cut oil exploration costs, BP introduced a ‘no dry holes’ vision. It was a painful, specific goal that cut out wasted efforts in drilling where no expert really expected to find any oil. Their old approach of weighing up the probability against the possible income had skewed their decision making and allowed room for people to hide. The new clear direction emboldened front line staff to resist demands from the top, and tripled their overall success rate
Motivate the elephant – they provide the energy to make it happen
- Find the feeling – Knowing something isn’t enough – you need to make people feel something. A new manager at retailer Target was able to radically change staff’s unfashionable and copycat approach to neutral colour clothes buying by creating colourful displays of clothes, M&Ms and even Apple computers to generate an emotional reaction to the pops of colour. Target went on to become bigger than all its rivals through its design-led approach
- Shrink the change – break down the change until it no longer spooks the elephant – give encouragement at every smaller step on the journey
- Grow your people – cultivate a sense of identity and instil the growth mindset. Brazilian can manufacturer Brasilata calls all its employees inventors and asks them all to sign innovation contracts. This approach not only motivates employees but leads to successful new product development as well as cost cutting ideas
Shape the Path
- Tweak the environment – when the situation changes, the behaviour changes, so change the situation. Amazon’s 1-click ordering massively simplified online buying resulting in significant growth in turnover
- Build habits –look for ways to encourage new habits. Using something as simple as a checklist for doctors inserting intravenous lines in a Michigan hospital nearly eliminated infections and saved around 1,500 lives
- Rally the herd – behaviour is contagious. Seeding a tip jar in a café will send signals about what is normal behaviour and encourage more customers to tip
While the Heath brothers may have identified a pattern that all successful change follows, they stress that leaders of change do not have to be CEOs or governments with power and resources. Just by directing, motivating and shaping the path, we can all make change happen.
About the authors Chip Heath is a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and consults for clients ranging from Google to Gap. Dan Heath is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University. He has a Harvard MBA and co-founded publishers Thinkwell.
Together, they are the authors of three international bestsellers: Switch; Made to Stick; and Decisive. More resources are available from: http://heathbrothers.com/
“Witty and instructive…The Heath brothers think that the sciences of human behaviour can provide us with tools for making changes in our lives—tools that are more effective than ‘willpower,’ ‘leadership’ and other easier-said-than-done solutions. … With Switch they have shaped a path that leads in a most promising direction.” The Wall Street Journal
“Dan and Chip Heath have done it again…Any leader looking to create change in his organization need not look beyond this little book. It is packed with examples and hands-on tools that will get you moving right away. And it is really a fun read.” BusinessWeek.com
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Author: Dan Heath, Chip Heath