Nov 09, 2010

Book Review: Switch—How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Courtney Kaplan's picture
Courtney Kaplan
Principal, Program Planning

Okay, I’m outing myself. I’m somewhat addicted to understanding what creates lasting change and why it so often fails. In our business, there’s a certain amount of change we hope to inspire or create by design. We want to influence behavior. We want our clients or co-workers or customers to change how they interact with a product, service or team.

So, we spend a lot of time outlining processes, constructing arguments, demonstrating all that is wrong with the current situation and repeating ourselves in hopes that it will stick.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath try to outline the fundamentals of effective change illustrating success in even the most complicated of circumstances. They break it down by using an elephant, rider and path analogy. The rider is your thinking, rational brain which can have either smart, effective influence if it is has clear, simple directives or a puny pathetic whisper over the massive emotional self. (Did you know self-control is an exhaustible resource? We think we’re rational creatures, but we actually don’t have an unlimited stash of iron will… maybe that’s why you work hard all day then binge, flake, or zone out… the emotional self takes control and goes to town!) you have to engage other supporting factors to stay on track. Finally, the path, is just that. The patterns or roads we all repeatedly take (or can make) to support change. Here’s a summary of what stuck with me around each part:

Direct the Rider: Your thinking brain needs clear direction and defined objectives

  • Find the bright spots of what’s working. It’s easier to start with the momentum of existing successes. Hearing a laundry list of what’s broken and needs to change is overwhelming.
  • Script the critical moves by keeping it really simple. You’ll avoid decision paralysis (which, by the way, increases dramatically by adding just one additional option to any choice. Our brains get tired!)
  • Point to the destination: make “success” a black and white, simple, clear-cut objective.

Motivate the Elephant: Get the emotional self invested

  • Find the feeling behind your change by SHOWING something or engaging all the senses. Spreadsheets aren’t inspiring, but visualizing the problem… making it tangible… is motivating and exciting.
  • Shrink the change by recognizing what’s already working. Knowing that you're already doing something right is energizing and makes it feasible to do a little more.
  • Grow your people. Challenges happen. Don't be discouraged. How do we encourage each other to learn how to resolve those challenges and keep going?

Shape the Path: Create a way

  • Tweak the environment by making it easy or obvious, change the space.
  • Rally the herd by making your change the social norm, if someone thinks “we don’t all have to go/do/participate” then they feel its easy (and justifiable) to excuse themselves as well.

Our industry is the epicenter of new interaction design, new thinking, and communicating new ideas. This book helps outline some of the ways we succeed and offers some interesting insight into why we fail.

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