Beyond the Tipping Point

By Pelin Kesebir | June 30, 2010 | 0 comments

A review of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Switch is an energizing, empowering book on how to bring about change in ourselves and others, whether your goal is to start eating healthier, make your team at work more efficient, or encourage your neighbors to recycle.

Broadway Business, 2010, 320 pages

Brothers Dan and Chip Heath—the latter a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, the former an entrepreneur and business consultant—will be familiar to readers of their first book, Made to Stick. Like that book, Switch offers practical and convincing ideas, written in lucid and entertaining prose.

The entire book is structured around a metaphor first proposed by University of Virginia psychology professor Jonathan Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis. Haidt likened our emotional, instinctive side to an elephant and our rational, analytical side to the rider of that elephant. The elephant hungers for instant gratification, and the rider has to rein in those impulses. The Heath brothers argue that in order to make change in our lives, we need both the drive and energy of the elephant and the planning and direction of the rider. For a successful change effort, we need to direct the rider and motivate the elephant.

Building on that insight, Switch lays out ways to make the rider’s job easier, like by giving it very specific directions. For instance, if you want people to eat a healthier diet, do not give them the vague and complicated Food Pyramid; tell them to purchase one percent milk instead of whole milk. The book also explains how to motivate the elephant, such as by breaking down a goal to render it less intimidating. When it comes to the dreaded task of house cleaning, for instance, they cite a clever self-help technique called the “Five-Minute Room Rescue,” invented by home-organizing guru Marla Cilley, which asks you to spend just five minutes clearing a path in your worst room.

The Heaths also stress the importance of environmental factors in shaping our ability to produce change in our lives. The book makes a persuasive case that tweaking our environment can be an unexpectedly potent catalyst for bringing about change, whether you want to lose weight (“use small plates and small glasses”), get more tips as a barista (“seed the tip jar”), or make your customers purchase more stuff from your online store (e.g., Amazon’s one-click ordering).

For readers reasonably familiar with books written on change, or the so-called “change management” literature, few lessons from the book will come across as ground-breaking. What is novel and striking about the book, though, is the skilful way by which the authors fit together all the pieces of the puzzle and make them stick with their powerful elephant-rider-path metaphor. If your goal is to bring about change on an individual, organizational, or societal level, Switch offers enough inspiring stories to convince you that change is possible, while providing the specific tools to help you on your path.

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About The Author

Pelin Kesebir, Ph.D., is a social psychologist who is currently a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Her research explores different aspects of existential human motivation and their implications for individual and societal well-being.


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