Book Review: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard (Heath & Heath)

Recommended to me because of their useful analogy of: “The Rider” (logic and reason), “The Elephant” (emotions and relationships), and “The Path” (the environment and context), this book is a great source of inspiration, reminders and ideas for initiating change, for change management and it provides tools & language to support and lead others through change.

You would be interested in this book if…
1) You needed inspiration for how to manage or launch change in your school
2) You need to ‘refresh’ your leadership toolkit with great language to support your teams through change
3) You were looking for examples of successful change campaigns
4) You needed to reframe a current change initiative to inspire others

Reframing Change:

The authors do a good job right off the bat to frame change and why change is difficult. They draw on similar analogies and ideas of change that I’ve seen from Grant Lichtman and John Kotter, and remind the reader that change is perceived of, welcomed and received differently by different people:

The world doesn’t always want what you want. YOu want to change how others are acting, but they get a vote…To change behaviour, you’ve got to direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path. (Heath, pg. 18)

The Rider & The Elephant:

…Our emotional side is an elephant and our rational side is its Rider. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the 6 ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.

They use this analogy well to explain why people reject change for a number of reasons, despite knowing and understanding that the change will be good, positive and add value to their lives and / or organization.
– “Not Invented Here” – an imported solution, or change agent
– “Snowflake” – our situation is so unique and special, these methods of change don’t work here
– “Urgent Response Required” – the Rider is set into motion to change but only when it is too late
– “If it ain’t broke…” – The status quo has a long history of success, it is familiar and working, if we mess with it now, we change the recipe and then, who knows!

These are all very real responses to change; however, the authors have more than a few ideas on how to connect with the Rider, and motivate the Elephant in the same direction.

How to Direct the Rider:

(1) Script the Critical Moves: ensure there is clarity of purpose and of next steps. This removes ambiguity, which is exhausting to the Rider
(2) Look for Bright Spots: observe, carefully, and look for places where change is already occurring, these are places that will teach you about your organization, and how people and systems are already ripe for change
(3) Point to the Destination: The Rider needs to know where they are going, “… and for that to happen, you need a gut-smacking goal!” (pg. 81) This will allow the Rider to release themselves from over-analysis, and get moving on the doing!
(4) Destination Postcards vs. SMART goals: This is one of my favorite parts of the book, so I’ll quote directly:

Destination Postcards do double duty: They show the Rider where you’re headed, and they show the Elephant why the journey is worthwhile…[they are] pictures of a future that hard work can make possible. (Pg. 82)

How to Motivate the Elephant

(1) SEE-FEEL-CHANGE: “Trying to fight inertia with indifference with analytical arguments is like tossing a fire extinguisher to someone who is drowning. The solution doesn’t match the problem.” (Pg. 106) Here they borrow from John Kotter: make the change visible, connect it to an emotion, and that will create the foundation for launching change.
(2) See change differently: The authors make the point that we are VERY poor self-evaluators; that we have serious blindspots, and suffer from the Fundamental Attribution Error; therefore we need to see change from various different perspectives, and connect with the WHY that others might have to make change, not just our own reasons.
(3) Broaden and Build your language repertoire: There are about 80% more negative words in the English language than positive; therefore, use language like “experiment”, “joy”, “play”, “creativity” and other words that can inspire curiousity and exploration, thus making change more inviting.
(4) Shrink the Change: “If people are facing a daunting task [and change is always daunting to some!] and their instinct is to avoid it, you’ve got to break down the task…making it small enough that they can’t help but score a victory.” (Pg. 134)

Change is an Identity Shift

In the final chapters of the book, the authors explore what I think is one of the most powerful actors on change: how might we inspire others to identify as “innovators” and / or “change agents”, and / or “action researchers”, and not just as a “teacher”. This shift in identity can be incredibly powerful.

Identity is going to play a role in nearly every change situation. Even yours. When you think about the people whose behaviour needs to change, ask yourself whether they would agree with this statement: “I aspire to be the kind of person who would make this change.” If their answer is ‘yes’, that’s an enormous factor in your favour. If their answer is no, then you’ll have to work hard to show them that they should aspire to a different self-image. (Pg. 156)

The cite a few examples of how a change leader can support shifting identities within their teams and organizations, and some are truly inspiring, and some are a little manipulative; however, both work: “Once you start seeing yourself as a concerned citizen, you’ll want to keep acting like one…” (Pg. 161).

But that is not the gold in this book, no. The real gold is in how they wrap this all up with the IDEO approach:

(1) Embrace a growth mindset: creative confidence, embracing ambiguity, and believing that you are, indeed, a life long learner; this will buffet you and your team against failure and ambiguity
(2) Use a project mood chart: IDEO can predict when, in a change project, people will feel low and defeatist, and then confident and hopeful.

It’s a U-shaped curve with a peak of positive emotion, labelled “hope”, at the beginning of the project, and second peak of positive emotion, labelled “confidence”, at the end. In between the two peaks is a negative emotion valley, labelled “Insight” (Pg. 169

Shaping the Path for the Rider and Elephant

When change initiatives are launched, there is much hope; however, once it is in the valley of ‘insight’, change managers traditionally turn to the stick, or the carrot to keep the project moving forward. This is a very common response because it is natural in many ways, and comes to leaders naturally; however, it is often the wrong one.

But when we remove the excuses from the people (They are lazy, because I told them to do it already! or They are stubborn and prefer to live in the dark ages!), we can see how the context, the environment, and even the technology gets in the way of change. How might we reduce challenges in the environment to smooth the pathway for the Elephant and Rider?

Environments reinforce habits, they trigger responses. So how might we develop habits the serve the mission? The answer these authors came up with is less than inspiration, but so simple and elegant, it might just inspire you: “The Checklist”.

Creating habits of mind, requires the mind to be engaged in the change. Change is new, so the mind needs reminding – enter the checklist.

As you try to make a switch, the hardest struggle will be to maintain your motivation, to keep your Elephant on the road. This puts a huge burden on your Rider, who has to rein in the Elephant when it strays…We’ve seen supportive habits, and action triggers that allow you to pre-load difficult decisions. Even a simple checklist can make a difference [because it removes the Elephant, and its just the Rider and the Path]. (Pg. 223)


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