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Switch is Sticky, Too April 30, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Reviews.
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Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is HardI have to give it to Chip and Dan Heath for sticking their necks out with their writing. In Made to Stick, they wrote about the elements of effective communication and thereby set the bar pretty high for anything else they plan to write. Clearly, though, they’re very capable of walking their talk, as evidenced by their latest book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

All things considered, Switch really amounts to yet another book on change management. But what it has going for it is that it’s easy and engaging reading — precisely because the Heath brothers put into practice what they wrote about in Made to Stick. Hence, they manage to describe a sensible and memorable framework for change management that may very well be effective.

The central metaphor of Switch is that any change effort can be likened to riding an elephant and directing it to a destination: it isn’t easy. Further, inasmuch as there’s a rational component to undertaking any change (the driver), emotions matter just as much if not more (the elephant), as does the underlying context or situation (the path). Thus the Heath brothers’ formula for change management is simple: Direct the rider. Motivate the elephant. Shape the path.

Now if that isn’t a sticky message, I don’t know what is.

Of course, it’s only a useful takeaway from the book if you’ve actually read it; otherwise you may get the impression that the book is simplistic and trite (it’s not). Switch is actually worthwhile reading precisely because it provokes careful thinking about the difficulties of change management. If you’ve ever wondered why some of the best laid plans to get people or organizations to change fail so miserably, this is the book for you.

That said, Switch has one flaw its authors readily acknowledge: while it is useful to deconstruct change into its rational, emotional, and contextual components, these are often intertwined and occasionally indistinguishable. In the context of the book, this is most evident in the case studies presented to illustrate how to put the Switch principles into action, where the discerning reader will readily note that matters pertaining to the rider may very well have more to do with the elephant or the path (the reverse being true as well). However, far from an indictment of the Heaths’ ideas, I say this just goes to show that reality is often messier than theory can allow for.

As with Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath have done us a great service by putting their ideas together in Switch. So remember:

Direct the Rider.

Motivate the Elephant.

Shape the Path.

And Switch.

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