Switch: A Review

Chip and Dan Heath, who wrote the popular Made to Stick, have turned their attention to change management in their new book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

The book takes a look at why so many of us find change hard and — borrowing heavily from Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis — concludes that it’s because our brains are divided into two segments: emotion (the Elephant) and reason (the Rider). In order for change to happen at an individual or organizational level, the elephant and the rider must work together and be given a clear path to follow.

The authors provide a nine-point framework for change and use real-world examples to show the effectiveness of the theory. They also provide a number of case studies so the reader can practice using the framework and the book leaves one with a real sense that change — even painful and complicated change — is possible.

At many points throughout the book, the authors challenge traditional thinking about change management. We liked how they turned the typical focus on problem solving and trouble shooting on its head by encouraging change agents to focus on the “bright spots” and spend more time replicating success than minimizing failure. The end result is the same but we suspect that a focus on bright spots works much better with Generation X and Y employees (we’re Gen X and know we prefer it!) At times, the authors get a little cute and are too quick to dismiss some traditional management thinking in favour of a good line: “A trainer in California taught six elephants to stand in line and urinate on command, and they hadn’t even completed a Myers-Briggs.” It’s funny (we laughed out loud), but at times these bon mots undermine the book’s otherwise very solid content.

Switch is an engaging read  — much more engaging than so many books on change — and presents an elegant change framework that appeals on many levels. If you are a manager taking an organization through change or are simply contemplating change in your personal life, it’s well worth a read.

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