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Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Chapter 1: Three Surprises About Change

  • The first surprise is that to change a person's behavior, you've got to change that person's situation.
  • For individuals' behavior to change, you must influence not only their environment and their hearts and minds. But the heart and mind often disagree.
  • Your brain is two systems: The emotional side, which feels pain and pleasure, and the rational side, that deliberates and analyzes.
  • We can think of our emotional side as the Elephant, and our rational side as its Rider. When they disagree, the Rider is going to lose.
  • But the Elephant gets things done: it provides the drive and energy toward a goal. And the Rider has the weakness of over-analyzing and over-thinking things.
  • If you want to change things, you must appeal to both: The Rider provides the planning and direction, while the Elephant provides the energy.
  • Self-control is an exhaustible resource. When exhausted, the Rider does not have enough strength to control the Elephant anymore.
  • 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 second surprise is that what looks like laziness is often exhaustion. Change is hard because people wear themselves out.
  • The third surprise is that what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. If the Rider isn't sure of what direction to go, he leads the Elephant in circles.
  • If you want people to change, you must provide crystal-clear direction. Otherwise the rider will spin his wheels.
  • Distilling this into three parts: Direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path.

Part 1: Direct the Rider

Chapter 2: Find the Bright Spots

  • Bright spots, or successes worth emulating, solve the "not invented here" problem, where people have a knee-jerk, skeptical response to imported solutions.
  • In situations where change is needed, the Rider can see too many problems and spend too much time sizing them up, thereby dooming the effort.
  • Bright spots are your best hope for directing the Rider in such situations when you're trying to bring about change.
  • Solutions-focused therapists pose the Miracle Question: "If all your troubles were solved over overnight, what is the first small sign of this that you'd see in the morning?"
  • They then pose to the Exception Question: "When is the last time you saw a little bit of the miracle?"
  • By answering this question the client is offering up proof that he or she has already solved the problem, even in some circumstances.
  • The bright spot philosophy in a single question is to ask yourself, "What is working and how can we do more of it?"
  • The Rider's capacity for analysis is endless; even successes can look like problems to an overactive Rider.
  • Big problems are typically solved not by big solutions, but by a series of smaller solutions. This asymmetry is why the Rider's analysis can backfire so easily.
  • We must ask less of "What's broken, and how can we fix it?" and instead ask "What's working, and how can we do more of it?"
  • Our predilection for the negative creates a problem focus for our Rider; by focusing on bright spots we can create a solution focus.

Chapter 3: Script the Critical Moves

  • In times of change, the status quo is replaced with decisions; these new choices create uncertainty, which leads to decision paralysis.
  • Ambiguity exhausts the rider because it tugs on the reins of the Elephant, trying to direct it down a new path.
  • Uncertainty makes the Elephant anxious, and so it will insist on taking the default path, which is the status quo.
  • Change begins at the level of individual decisions and actions; scripting guides the behavior that you want to see in a difficult moment.
  • Scripting only the critical moves, instead of all moves, provides focus and makes it easier for people to change direction.
  • Don't assume the new moves are obvious. Translate aspirations into actions by clearly defining behavioral goals.
  • Conventional wisdom says that people resist change, people are stubborn and set in their ways; but clarity dissolves resistance.

Chapter 4: Point to the Destination

  • Good to Great showed that a "Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal," or BHAG, was a motivational goal that distinguished lasting companies from less successful ones.
  • In creating change, we want a destination postcard, or inspirational and vivid picture of the near-term future that shows what is possible.
  • By pointing to an attractive destination, the Rider applies his strengths to figure out how to get there, instead of getting lost in analysis.
  • SMART goals, or those that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely, address ambiguity and irrelevance, but lack emotional response.
  • SMART goals are better for steady-state situations than change situations, because the assumptions underlying them are that the goals are worthwhile.
  • When a big picture goal is imprecise, its ambiguity creates wiggle room for the Elephant to rationalize failure.
  • A Black & White goal, by contrast, is all-or-nothing, but uninspiring and scripts critical behaviors instead of creating a destination postcard.
  • B&W goals may be the solution for the potential for inaction on your team, or for silent resistance that may slow or sabotage your change initiative.
  • Your goal can be less unyielding, but marry your long-term goal with short term critical moves while providing a behavioral script.
  • Don't obsess about the middle, because it's going to look different once you get there. Look for a strong beginning and strong ending and get moving.
  • In summary, for the Rider, follow the bright spots, and give direction by sending a destination postcard and scripting critical moves.

Part 2: Motivate the Elephant

Chapter 5: Find the Feeling

  • When change works, it's because leaders are speaking to the Elephant as well as to the Rider.
  • Analytical tools work best when the parameters are known, the assumptions are minimal, and the future is not fuzzy.
  • The sequence of change is not ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE but SEE-FEEL-CHANGE, as you're presented with evidence that makes you feel something.
  • Trying to fight inertia and indifference with analytical arguments is a solution that does not match the problem.
  • We are bad at self-evaluation because it involves interpretation, and the Elephant tends to take the rosiest interpretation of the facts.
  • These positive illusions make change difficult because they make it difficult for us to get a clear picture of where we are and how we're doing.
  • The ambiguity in terms like "leader" or "team player" only enables our corresponding positive illusions.
  • Some may try to create a "burning platform," or crisis to convince people they're facing a catastrophe and have no choice but to move.
  • Negative emotions produce particular actions and facial expressions, and have a narrowing effect on our thoughts, providing focus.
  • Positive emotions "broaden and build" our repertoire of thoughts an actions: They broaden what we consider doing, through which we build resources and skills.
  • To solve bigger, more ambiguous problems, we must rely on positive emotion and encourage open minds, creativity, and hope.

Chapter 6: Shrink the Change

  • People find it more motivating to be partially finished with a longer journey than to be at the starting line of a shorter one.
  • That sense of progress is critical, because the Elephant is easily demoralized. It needs reassurance for the first step.
  • If leading a change effort, don't focus solely on what's new and different about the change to come; remind people what's already been conquered.
  • If people are facing a daunting task, and their instinct is to avoid it, shrink the change.
  • Make the change small enough that they can't help but score a victory. Progress will snowball, and you will motivate the Elephant.
  • You can shrink the change either by limiting the investment you're asking for, or by setting milestones within reach.
  • When you engineer early successes, what you are really doing is engineering hope, which is Elephant fuel.
  • Once people are on the path and making progress, it's important to make their advances visible. Such encouragement is self-reinforcing.
  • This also focuses attention on small milestones that are attainable and visible rather than the eventual destination, which may seem very remote.
  • A small win reduces importance, reduces demands, and raises perceived skill levels, each of which makes the change more self-sustaining.

Chapter 7: Grow Your People

  • Shrinking the change makes people feel "big" relative to the challenge. Or you can grow the people, giving them strength to act.
  • In the consequences model of decision making, we weigh costs and benefits and make the choice that maximizes our satisfaction.
  • In the identity model, we ask "Who am I?", "What kind of situation is this?", and "What would someone like me do in this situation?"
  • An identity model omits any calculation of costs and benefits.
  • Because identities are central to the way people make decisions, any change effort that violates someone's identity is likely doomed to failure.
  • If someone doesn't aspire to be the person who would make the change you're asking, then you must work hard so they aspire to a different self-image.
  • People are receptive to new identities, and identities "grow" from small beginnings. Start small and build momentum.
  • Even an ultimately successful quest is going to involve failure en route, and your Elephant really hates to fail.
  • People with a fixed mindset avoid challenges, feel threatened by negative feedback, and try not to be seen exerting too much effort.
  • People with a growth mindset believe that abilities are like muscles, and that they can be built up with practice.
  • Those with a growth mindset stretch themselves, take risks, accept feedback, and take a long term view. They can't help but progress in their lives and careers.
  • A growth mindset compliment praises effort rather than skill.
  • The business world implicitly rejects the growth mindset. You plan and then execute; practice looks like poor execution.
  • If failure is a necessary part of change, then the way people interpret failure is critical.
  • Although growth mindset seems to draw attention to failure, and even encourages us to seek out failure, it is unflaggingly optimistic.
  • It reframes failure as a natural part of the change process. People only persevere if they perceive falling down as learning, not falling.

Part 3: Shape the Path

Chapter 8: Tweak the Environment

  • The Fundamental Attribution Error is our inclination to attribute people's behavior to the way they are rather than to the situation they're in.
  • What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem; that problem can be remedied by shaping the path.
  • Tweaking the environment is about making the right behaviors a little bit easier and the wrong behaviors a little bit harder.
  • You know you've got a smart solution when everyone hates it and it still works, or if it works so well that hate turns to enthusiasm.
  • When it comes to changing our own behavior, environmental tweaks may prove more effective than self-control.
  • The Haddon Matrix is a framework that decomposes accidents into pre-event, event, and post-event time periods.
  • Pre-event focuses on prevention, event focuses on minimizing the probability of damage, and post-event focuses on minimizing damage.

Chapter 9: Build Habits

  • One of the subtle ways in which our environment acts on us is by reinforcing or deterring our habits.
  • Good habits allow good things to happen without the Rider taking charge, which is good because his self-control is exhaustible.
  • An action trigger is when you've made the decision to execute a certain action when you encounter a certain situational trigger.
  • An action trigger preloads the next action; there is no cycle of conscious deliberation. You conserve the Rider's self-control.
  • By predeciding with an action trigger, you pass the control of your behavior onto the environment. You create an "instant habit."
  • Leaders who can instill habits that reinforce their teams' goals are essentially making progress for free.
  • The hard question for a leader is not how to form habits but which habits to encourage.
  • When creating a habit to support your change, it needs to advance the mission, and it needs to be relatively easy to embrace.
  • In shaping the Path, the humble checklist is a tool that combines the strategies of tweaking the environment and building habits.
  • Checklists educate people about what's best, showing them the ironclad way to do something.
  • Even without ironclad ways of doing something, checklists avoid blindspots in a complex environment, and provide insurance against overconfidence.

Chapter 10: Rally the Herd

  • In ambiguous situations or unfamiliar environments, such as during change, we all look to others for cues on how to behave.
  • In situations where the herd has embraced the right behavior, publicize it. Otherwise, publicizing will hurt, not help.
  • Rallying the support of others who could in turn influence those you hope to sway is an attempt to change the culture.
  • "Free spaces" are small-scale meetings where reformers can gather and ready themselves for action without observation by the dominant group.
  • Every culture is shaped by language. Incubating a new language with a new set of values can create an "oppositional identity."
  • If you want to change the culture of your organization, you must let the reformers come together in a free space.
  • You must also permit an identity conflict, or an "us versus them" struggle to happen. Think of it as organizational molting.

Chapter 11: Keep the Switch Going

  • Recognize and celebrate your first step on the path to change. And when you spot that movement, reinforce it.
  • Set a behavioral destination and then use "approximations," rewarding each tiny step toward the destination.
  • Reinforcement is the key to getting past the first step on the journey, but we are quicker to grouse than to praise.
  • Learning to find bright spots, or approximations, and reward them requires constantly scanning the environment.
  • Change is not an event; it is a process. And to lead a process requires persistence.
  • The mere exposure effect says the more you're exposed to something, the more you like it. This can help sustain change.
  • Cognitive dissonance says that once people have begun to act in a new way, it will be difficult for them to dislike the way they're acting.
  • As small changes snowball into big changes, inertia will shift from resisting change to supporting it.
  • People who change have a clear direction (the Rider), ample motivation (the Elephant), and a supportive environment (the Path).