“Switch How to Turn Things Around When Change Is Difficult” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath Business Book Review

The Heath brothers, business experts, published their new book, titled “Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard” (Broadway, 2010), in February. The authors address changes at the individual, organizational, and societal levels. Change engages the emotional and rational side of the brain. The Heath brothers identify the overwhelming emotional element as the Elephant. The rational decision-making component is secondary and sits on top of the Elephant as the Rider. When there is a conflict between the two, the Horseman is inherently the underdog. To bring about lasting change, the Elephant and the Rider must come together. Having a clear direction is also key. Below is an example of each of the nine principles contained in the triad for achieving long-term change. It should be noted that the change framework benefits anyone without a great deal of authority or resources.

DIRECTING THE RIDER – Analytical and rational thinking.

Find the bright spots. In 1990, an international organization that helps needy children accepted an invitation from the Vietnamese government to reduce malnutrition. They won six months to make a difference. The short timetable denied the end of poverty, the purification of water and the construction of sanitation systems to address hunger. The organizers traveled to a rural town and met with the mothers. Despite widespread malnutrition, some children were thriving. Why? The team searched bright spots-Successful efforts worth emulating. They found that the bright mothers fed their children four times a day (easier on the children’s digestive systems), compared to the mothers. both standard. Another finding among several was that bright moms added shrimp and crabs from the rice paddies to their children’s meals. Cooking classes originated with brilliant mothers teaching other mothers how to prepare healthy meals for their children. The mothers already had the emotional component (Elephant) – natural concern for their children. They needed direction (Rider) not motivation. Six months later, 65 percent of the village children were better fed and still were.

Write the critical moves. The doctors studied the case of a patient with chronic arthritic hip pain. His options were to perform drastic hip replacement surgery or to administer a single, unproven drug. They chose the drug 47 percent vs. doing hip surgery. Another group of doctors studied a similar case with two unproven drugs presented as an option. Here, only 28 percent of doctors chose one of the prescriptions. The remainder selected hip surgery. The results of the study are shown decision paralysis. Too many options test the strength of the Horseman; and he will always return to the status quo. Change creates uncertainty and ambiguity. Any successful change requires the translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behaviors. Write down the critical moves (not all the moves, but the key moves). In the earlier studies, the critical guideline of “Use invasive options only as a last resort” would have led to more physicians choosing the drug option. Clarity dissolves the Horseman’s resistance.

Point to the Destination. In the mid-1980s, the research department of a popular investment firm ranked an embarrassing 15th in its ability to generate income for banks. Top executives recruited a new leader who became general manager and coach. He announced that he expected analysts to initiate at least 125 conversations with clients a month. He promoted a team environment; require analysts to cite the work of their colleagues at least twice during presentations. He also stated that the company would crack the Top 5 of the leading investment magazine. He didn’t just script the critical moves (make 125 calls, cite colleagues’ work); he also created a destination postcard- a vivid picture of the near-term future that shows what might be possible. In three short years, the firm jumped from fifteenth to first place. When describing a compelling destination, it lessens the Rider’s ability to lose himself in analysis paralysis.

MOTIVATE THE ELEPHANT-Emotional, Instinctive.

find the feeling. In the late 1970s, a state Department of Juvenile Services (DYS), an agency that focuses on delinquent children; He reviewed his operations. Nonprofit organizations, including group homes and halfway houses, replaced juvenile prisons. DYS’s chief accountant ran his division with an iron fist, earning him the title of Attila the Accountant. Expense reports submitted with a single error, such as a date omission or miscalculated subtotal, were returned to the offending nonprofit for correction. The organizations operated on a shoestring budget and payment delays jeopardized their ability to serve children. Frustrated, Attila’s colleagues invited him on a field trip to visit some participating nonprofits. He witnessed first-hand its operational and financial challenges; and he returned to the office a changed man. He was still authoritative but less fussy about expense reporting, which allowed nonprofits to get paid faster.

reduce change. A local car wash ran a promotion using loyalty cards. One group of customers received an 8-stamp card, which earned them a free car wash once it was full. Another set of customers received a 10-stamp card, with 2 stamps already completed, moving them 20 percent toward their goal. Several months later, only 19 percent of 8-stamp customers had earned a free car wash, down from 10 percent. 34 percent of the initial leading group, who also got their fastest free car wash. The authors state that people find it more motivating to be partially finished with a long-term goal than to be on the verge of starting a shorter one. How could you bring together your family, co-workers, community, etc. to achieve a long-term goal by highlighting what has already been accomplished for completion? To motivate an uninspired Elephant, reduce the change.

grow your people. In 1977, the Saint Lucia parrot faced extinction. The island’s natives underestimated the bird, some even eating it as a delicacy. There was no clear economic case for saving the parrot. Conservationists knew that an analytical case to protect the bird would fail. Instead, they implemented an emotional appeal. Their goal was to convince the people of Saint Lucia that they were the kind of people who protect their own. They wanted the people of Saint Lucia to take pride in their unique island species. The Saint Lucia Parrot Campaign included t-shirts, bumper stickers, and locally recorded songs about the parrot. The animal became part of the national identity of the natives. In 2008, conservationists noted that no Saint Lucia had been caught shooting the parrot in fifteen years, resurrecting the species from extinction.

SHAPE THE WAY – Provides clear direction.

Adjust the environment. The airline industry is governed by the “clean cockpit” rule. Any time an aircraft is below 10,000 feet, either climbing or descending (the most accident-prone times), no conversation other than flight-related is allowed. At 11,000 feet, the crew can talk freely. An IT group adopted the cleanroom principle to advance a major software development project. His goal was to reduce the development time for new products from three years to nine months. They established “quiet hours” Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings before noon. It gave coders a sterile booth, allowing them to focus on complex snippets of code without being interrupted. Ultimately, the group achieved its nine-month development goal. What seems like a people problem is often a situational challenge. People have a systematic tendency to ignore the situational forces that shape other people’s behavior. Simple route adjustments can produce dramatic behavior changes.

Build habits. One of the subtle ways our environment influences us is by reinforcing (or discouraging) our habits. Habits are important because they are a behavioral autopilot. They allow good deeds to happen “for free” without testing the Rider’s self-control, which is exhaustive. To change yourself or others, you need to change your clothes. Forming a habit involves environmental and mental influences. “Action triggers” are effective in motivating action. They preload a decision and are most useful in sticky situations when the Rider’s self-control is strained. Action triggers create “instant clothing”.

Gather the pack. A hotel manager tested a new sign in the hotel restrooms. He simply stated that “most hotel guests reuse their towels at least once during their stay.” Guests who received the sign were 26 percent more likely to reuse their towels. They took cues from the pack. In ambiguous situations, we all look to others for clues about how to behave. Change situations often involve ambiguity along with their inherent unfamiliarity. To turn things around, you need to pay attention to social cues. They can warrant a change effort or condemn it. Lead an elephant down an unknown path and it’s likely to follow the herd.

The authors acknowledge that change is not always easy. When change works, it tends to follow a pattern. People will change with clear direction, ample motivation, and a supportive environment. The rider, the elephant, and the road must all align to support the change. Visit the authors at http://www.heathbrothers.com.

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