Switch by Chip and Dan Heath - Notes

“ Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives? ”

This is the question the book attempts to answer. If you are in the role of a change agent, then this is a must read! It’s heavily based on The Happiness Hypothesis

The Happiness Hypothesis

The brain has two independent systems at work at all times.

Your brain is like an elephant with a rider perched on top. The Rider provides the planning and direction, the Elephant provides the emotional energy. To create change the Elephant and Rider must cooperate.

Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose, he is completely overmatched.

Why change effort often fails

When change effort fails, it’s often the Elephant’s fault. This happens because the Rider simply can’t keep the Elephant on the road long enough. If you want to change things, you’ve got to appeal to both.

Change requires sacrificing short-term pay off for long-term. When people try to change things, they’re usually tinkering with behaviors that have become automatic and changing those behaviors requires careful supervision by the Rider. The bigger the change you’re suggesting, the more it will sap people’s self-control.

Change is hard because people wear themselves out. What looks like laziness if often exhaustion. Self-control is an exhaustible resource!

Three key surprises about change

1. People problems are often situation problems. The environment has a large influence on the behavior of our Elephant and Rider.

2. Laziness is often rider exhaustion. Our rider can only tug the reigns of our elephants for so long until it’s arms get tired. Self-control is an exhaustible resource!

3. Resistance to change is often lack of clarity. Being told to “eat healthier” is vague (and mostly useless), but “Drink low-fat milk!” is simple and actionable.

The Switch Framework

1. Direct the Rider

Provide crystal-clear directions so the Rider doesn’t spin his wheels.

Find the bright spots - Find what’s working and clone it. It helps solve the “Not invented here” problem. “What’s working, and how can we do more of it?” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet, in the real world, this obvious question is almost never asked. Instead, the question we ask is more problem focused: “What’s broken, and how do we fix it?”

Script the critical moves - Don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behaviors. The status quo feels comfortable and steady because much of the choice has been squeezed out. People have their routines, their way of doing things. And most of the day the Rider is on auto pilot. However, in times of change, autopilot doesn’t work anymore, choices suddenly proliferate, and those autopilot habits become unfamiliar decisions. Change brings new choices that create uncertainty. Decision paralysis is yielded by both options and ambiguity.

Point to the destination - Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it. We want a goal that can be tackled in months or years, not decades. We want a destination postcard - a vivid picture from the near-term future that shows what could be possible. Sometimes a big-picture goal can be imprecise and create ambiguity. So if you’re worried about this possibility, you need to squeeze out the ambiguity from your goal. You need a black-and-white goal, an all-or-nothing goal.

2. Motivate the Elephant

Get the elephant onboard with the Rider’s plans, so that the Rider doesn’t have to tug on the reigns all day.

Find the feeling - Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something. In almost all successful change efforts, the sequence of change is not ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE, but rather SEE-FEEL-CHANGE.

Shrink the change - Break down the change until it no longer spooks the Elephant. People find it more motivating to be partly underway in a longer journey than be at a starting gate of a shorter one. So one way to motivate them it to be make people feel as if they’re closer to the finish line than they might have thought.

Grow your people - Cultivate a sense of identity and instill the growth mindset. People who have a growth mindset believe that abilities are like muscles - they can be built up with practice. With a growth mindset, you tend to accept more challenges despite the risk of failure. You’re more inclined to accept criticism, because ultimately it makes you better. You may not be as good as others right now, but you’re thinking long-term. You’ve got to embrace a growth mindset and instill it in your team. A growth mindset compliment praises effort rather than natural skill: “I’m proud of how hard you worked on that project!” You’ve got to act more like a coach and less like a scorekeeper.

3. Shape the path

Create an environment that puts both the Elephant and Rider on the right path.

Tweak the environment - When the situation changes, the behavior changes. So change the situation. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. Design an environment in which undesired behaviors are made not only harder but also impossible.

Build habits - When behavior is habitual, it’s “free” - it doesn’t tax the Rider. Habits are behavioral autopilot, and that’s why they’re such critical tools for leaders. Leaders who can instill habits that reinforce their teams’ goals are essentially making progress for free. A good change leader never thinks, “Why are these people acting so badly? They must be bad people.” A good change leader thinks, “How can I set up a situation that brings out the good in these people?” The hard question for a leader is not how to form habits but which habits to encourage.

Rally the herd - Behavior is contagious. Surround yourself with others exhibiting the behavior you want. Spread your desired behavior to others.


ISBN Date Read Rating
0385528752 06/29/2015 8 / 10