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Book Review: Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

switch.jpgI am a huge fan of the Heaths' first book, Made to Stick, so it was a no-brainer to pick up Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, especially because it dealt with "change." Change is a difficult thing for most people. This has always been hard for someone like me to understand because I'm never satisfied with the status quo. I've either been gifted or cursed with the ability to see every change as the possibility of something even better. (Gifted in that it makes my life personally easier, but cursed in that I'm never satisfied with the here and now.)

Unfortunately, my optimism about change always made it difficult for me to comprehend why others are so fearful or reluctant. This is why the big lesson I took away from Switch is that if I want the change to happen, it's entirely up to me to set the stage to show others how and why they should make the change. How does one do this? According to Chip and Dan Heath, in order to bring about change, you need to do three things: Direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path. 

The Heath brothers derived these analogies from Jonathan Haidt's book, The Happiness Hypothesis.

Haidt said that our emotional side is an Elephant, and our rational side is its Rider. The Rider, perched atop the Elephant, holds the reins and seems to be the leader. The Rider's control is precarious, though, because he's so tiny relative to the Elephant. Anytime the 6-ton Elephant disagrees with the direction, the Rider is going to lose. He's completely overmatched.
How does this work?  The Heaths have plenty of examples, both large and small. 

One that stands out was the 1 percent milk campaign. In order to get people to eat healthier, two health researchers tried an approach that followed the Heaths' outline. Earlier approaches included a complicated food pyramid (i.e., "eat x amount of grains"). The researchers instead focused on a single element.  They "directed the rider" by demonstrating that drinking 1 percent milk could reduce fat intake while still maintaining calcium. They "motivated the elephant" with facts like 1 glass of whole milk = 5 strips of fatty bacon, and some other gross-out stats about grease and fat. They then "set the path" by prompting people to buy 1 percent milk next time they were in the store.

What they did was subtle. Rather than chastising folks to change their eating habits or giving them complicated charts to follow, they simply gave them an easy task: Next time they were in the store, pick up 1 percent milk.  In this sense, they were adjusting people's purchasing behavior rather than their drinking behavior (as most people will drink anything that's easily found in their refrigerator). As a result, in the target area, they doubled the number of people drinking 1 percent milk.

Another example that was memorable was the large manufacturer who was purchasing 400-plus types of gloves at different prices for its factories around the world. It wasn't until one individual collected samples of all of those gloves and tagged them with their prices and dumped them all on the conference room table that the company realized how much waste was happening. Sure, a spreadsheet had told them the same thing, but it didn't mean as much without the visual to motivate the elephant. 

Switch is a typical business book in that it has one main concept and then lots and lots of examples illustrating how it could play out in various scenarios. In this case, it worked because some examples will be more compelling than others to different individuals.Yet, the big lesson is that making change is hard; but before you sit down and admit defeat, try following the Heaths' formula and see if you can make people "switch."

Daily Dose Bottom Line:  Switch is definitely one of my top picks for 2010.  Sometimes the most frustrating thing about being an entrepreneur is when you find yourself saying about prospective customers: "Why can't they just see what an improvement this would be?"  But this is when we need to remind ourselves that it's up to us to help them see what we see.

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