Consider a piggy bank. People pay in order to make it harder for themselves to get at their own money. Why? Because we all struggle to control our desires – we eat the cream cake, we buy the shiny gadget, we hit snooze instead of going out for a jog. If changing yourself is hard, then changing an organisation – with its own culture, vested interests, and routines – can seem impossible. Dan and Chip Heath provide a practical framework to help with both problems.
At the core of Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard is a simple metaphor:
Our emotional side is an Elephant, and our rational side is its Rider. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-tonne elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose… If you want to change things, you’ve got to appeal to both. The Rider provides the planning and the Elephant provides the energy.
Add the need to ‘Shape the Path’ by tweaking the environment and harnessing peer-pressure, and the Heaths’ model is complete.
The Rider (rational mind) can’t make the Elephant move, but can provide direction. The Elephant can quickly build speed and momentum – but can get spooked, and needs the Rider to tell it where to go. A path pointing in the right direction makes everything easier – for Rider and Elephant.
Switch is – like so many popular business books – full of stories. Business school case studies, psychology case notes, and business biographies are organised to support the book’s framework. Some of the stories will be familiar to readers of similar books (Malcolm Gladwell anyone?), but this doesn’t detract from Switch’s impact. Do the stories prove that the framework is correct? No, and they don’t aim to. This book provides a very practical framework – a way to think about, and to organise attempts at change. The metaphor, and framework, doesn’t aim to be correct, but rather useful. We think that it is.
Direct the Rider
Follow the Bright Spots
Seemingly intractable problems leave us unsure as to where to start. The answer is to look at what’s already working, and do more of it. So, if a product is selling badly ask: Are any sales representatives selling a lot? What are they doing? Are a few customers buying in large amounts? Why?
Script Critical Moves
Given clear instructions, students thought of by their peers as selfish were more likely to donate to charity than students thought of as kind but given vague instructions. Persuade people to lose weight and nothing happens because they don’t know where to start. Tell them to switch to low-fat milk and they comply, and lose weight. Offer prospects dozens of options and service levels and they become paralysed by indecision. Create a clear next step or single option and they buy.
Point to the Destination
The rational mind likes to analyse. Harness this energy by stating a clear destination and encouraging the ‘Rider’ to ‘figure out how to get there’. The destination needs to be appealing, and it needs to be unambiguous – ‘Top 5 industry ranking’, not ‘better industry reputation’.
Motivate the Elephant
Find the Feeling
It’s usually easier not to change than to change. It’s possible to accept – rationally – that a plan of action makes sense, but that doesn’t mean that anything will actually happen. Emotional impact is needed to get the ‘Elephant’ moving. The examples of this in Switch involve practical, physical, demonstrations. Inefficient procurement practices? Create an exhibit of every type of safety glove purchased labelled with the price paid, to bring the problem to life.
Ever finished a presentation to see a room full of nodding heads, but months later nothing has happened? Maybe the right prop would create the momentum needed.
Shrink the Change
Looking for substantial change? Don’t ask for everything in one go – it’s too daunting. Instead, break things down into bite-sized chunks. These smaller things seem achievable, and early success can then help build momentum. The value of momentum is so great that some (unorthodox) debt-counsellors recommend clearing small debts first – regardless of the interest rates charged on each debt. Combine this with scripting of critical moves and create clear – but easy – next steps to set change in motion.
Grow Your People
People act according to their sense of what people “like them” would do. So, appeal to – and build – a sense of identity to steer action. Telling hotel guests that others reuse their towels makes them more likely to reuse their own. Call all employees “inventors” to boost innovation. Either use existing identities, or if necessary, create new ones, perhaps by seeking very small commitments that can then be exploited as people attempt to remain consistent.
Shape the Path
Tweak the Environment
Sometimes small things get in the way of change. Obstacles can be imperceptible – and it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that people are somehow flawed and stubbornly refusing to change. Software might not be used because the interface is bad; customer service might be slow because phone queuing systems help to isolate support reps from unhappy customers; nurses might administer drugs incorrectly because they are distracted by others. Change the environment – and change will happen. Make the nurses wear high-visibility jackets when dispensing medicine so others know not to disturb them; lose the call queuing system; change the software interface. ‘What looks like a “character problem” is often correctible when you change the environment.’
There’s a certain amount of overlap in the Switch model. How does one build habits? By scripting critical moves and tweaking the environment. Why should one encourage habits to form? Because deciding what to do takes effort – acting from habit is easy. So, take the decision away by planning what to do in advance. Always call an established customer after you take a coffee break. Ask patients to state when they will exercise next week so the choice is already made.
Rally the Herd
Help desirable behaviour spread by using publicity, peer influence, and by promoting the right labels for undesirable behaviour. Get ideas into the media or just the company newsletter (“designated driver” was planted in TV shows by a Harvard academic). Publish league tables of performance so that individuals are motivated to improve. Make extensive use of labels to describe deviant behaviour – to make it easier for people to talk about the change you are trying to promote.
Switch and Sales Presentations
Sales presentations call for action – and some sort of change – on the part of the prospect. Although Switch is most typically focused on self-improvement or organisational change, the lessons can be adapted for use in sales.
For those writing sales presentations, the take-away advice from Switch boils down to the following:
- If asking for significant change – e.g. selling a new category, or a project requiring significant investment – demonstrate the need for action in a way that engages emotion
- At the same time, explain rationally the benefits of the vision that you are selling
- Make sure that that next step you ask for is crystal clear – and easy to achieve. It’s always possible to build on this later by asking for further action
- Eliminate overwhelming choice – reduce offerings so that prospects can make a decision on what to buy
- Utilise peer-pressure to sell – by appealing to professional identify and by showing the prospect what others – like them – are doing
- Find out why some reps sell better than others and re-use the sales messages that are working well; similarly, find out why some customers buy in case you offer benefits you aren’t aware of.
Should I read it?
Switch is an interesting book – well worth the easy read. The categories overlap somewhat. A few of the stories feel like they are in the wrong place, and one-or-two seem tired. The central metaphor feels helpful – but remains unproven. This is a book focused on action – not theory. If you want to change yourself – your organisation – or others – this is a wonderfully accessible place to start.
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