Switch – How to change things when change is hard

Read the following sentences and decide whether you agree or disagree with each of them.
1. You are a certain kind of person and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
2. No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.
3. You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are cannot really be changed.
4. You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.
If you agreed with items 1 and 3, you are someone who has a fixed mindset. If you agreed with 2 and 4, you are some who has a growth mindset.
Written by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard” is a book about personal and corporate change. The Heath brothers use a very effective analogy in their book. This likens the mind to a rider and our body to an elephant. Taking the above exercise into account, if you found that you have a fixed mindset, it means that the elephant in your body is stronger than the rider. In the morning, our minds say we have to get up, but our body tries to lure us to stay in the bed. At dinner our minds say we have to stop eating, while our body tempts us to keep eating. At the office our minds say we have to keep working, whereas our bodies entice us to take a break. The elephant is six tons and the rider is only about 100 kilograms. In this example, it is very difficult to control the elephant for the rider.
The metaphor of rider and the elephant is not limited to personal matters; the same metaphor is also used for organizational issues. Although a customer-focused, agile and democratic organization is far more desirable, it is can be difficult to be transformed such an organization. Acting slowly when making decisions and generally leaving the responsibility of the decision to the boss is much easier and this is what we are usually accustomed to in management.
The Heath brothers give very interesting examples of change in their book.
Milk is the single largest source of saturated fat in a typical American’s diet. In fact, calculations reveal something remarkable: If Americans switched from whole milk to skim or 1 percent milk, the average diet would immediately drop the level of saturated fat to levels recommended by the US Department of Agriculture. So how do you get Americans to start drinking low fat milk?
People will drink whatever is around the house — a family will plow through low fat milk as fast as whole milk. So, in essence, the problem was even easier than anticipated: You don’t need to change drinking behavior. You need to change purchasing behavior. What behavior do we want to change? We want consumers to buy skim or 1 percent milk. When? The answer is simple: When they’re shopping for groceries.
Researchers Bill Reger and Steve Booth-Butterfield launched a campaign in two communities in West Virginia, running spots on local media outlets (TV, newspaper, radio) for two weeks. In contrast to the bland messages of most public-health campaigns, the 1 percent milk campaign was punchy and specific. One ad trumpeted the fact that one glass of whole milk has the same amount of saturated fat as five strips of bacon. At a press conference, the researchers showed local reporters a tube full of fat — the equivalent of the amount found in a half-gallon of whole milk. Researchers monitored milk sales data at all eight stores in the intervention area. Before the campaign, the market share of low fat milk was 18 percent. After the campaign, it was 41 percent. Six months later it still held at 35 percent. This brings us to the final part of the pattern that characterizes successful changes: If you want people to change, you must provide crystal-clear direction.
The Heath brothers offer a model of change: To change behavior we have to direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path. We can direct the rider by setting a goal, and we can motivate the elephant by using visual evidence and proof. Finally, we can shape the path by changing procedures. In the case of low fat milk, the target was low fat milk consumption. The motivation factor was the emphasis that “one glass of whole milk has the same amount of saturated fat as five strips of bacon” and the new path was about making low fat milk easily accessible on the shelves at markets. 12 December 2010
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One comment on “Switch – How to change things when change is hard

  1. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Health (2010) gives readers an ihsignt on how to make changes in every environment. Although all environments are different (individual, business, social, etc.), Chip and Dan propose that all change, no matter what environment you want it to occur in, work in the same way. Behind the whole premise of the book is the idea that “for anything to change, someone has to start acting differently” (4). Once a leader is present or chosen, they have to initiate the change by changing the way they act and changing the current situation. Change is best initiated through a three-prong process: directing the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shaping the path.The Rider is known as our rational side, the analyzer, the long-term thinker, who has the ability to think past the present moment. On the other hand, the Elephant is our emotional side, which is instinctive, has no ability to think long-term, and chooses the paths that will be rewarded with instant gratification. In any situation, when the Rider and Elephant are trying to make a decision together, the Elephant almost always prevails because there is an instant reward. While this is not a new phenomenon, that as humans our emotions rule our actions and that instant gratification, especially in today’s society directs our actions, I think the authors have the right idea with using these human characteristics to define how change needs to be approached. Too often, we approach change with our Elephant brain, the dreamer, who thinks we can change everything all at once. As a wellness professional, this book opened my eyes to the fact that change needs to be approached in small pieces, not just telling people to get “healthier”.Resistance to change is often viewed as negativity from an individual, but instead Heath and Heath advise it is instead the lack of clarity about how to approach a situation that looks like resistance. In order to direct the Rider, they suggest finding bright spots and scripting out critical moves for those we wish to change their actions. By finding the bright spots, like the mothers in a low-income town who are able to provide their children with appropriate nutrition, and analyzing how they are able to do so. With these success stories, a leader can then take what they have learned works in an environment and share it with others in the same environment. Once the bright spots are found, the leader needs to spell out exactly how the participants should act. This shows people that it will work and makes it seem easier.Like many things, motivation is essential to success. As a result, motivating the Elephant needs to occur next. Individuals may look lazy when you ask them to make a change, but the authors point out that these individuals are actually exhausted. Interestingly, as we saw with the cookie experiment in which the researchers asked some participants to sit in a room with cookies and only eat radishes, humans have a limited supply of will power or energy to put up with battling choices, like choosing not to eat the cookies even though tempted. For this reason, we need to be aware that overwhelming individuals with multiple decisions will exhaust them and they will break down. Another important portion of motivating the Elephant is the idea of shrinking the change. By simply shrinking the amount of change a person needs to make, by giving them a “head start” in a competition for example, they will be more motivated to make the change and keep trying because they have already completed part of their journey.To help your employees “live a healthier life”, as a manager, you can tweak the environment in which you expect them to do so. If the vending machines and cafeteria still have all snack foods with no nutritional value, how can you expect your employees to eat healthier? I agree with Heath and Heath, that the culture and environment of an organization is essential to the success of change within the people in your company. In addition, building habits within the environment is an important part of shaping the path. By changing the environment, we can either reinforce good, or deter bad habits.The perspective that the authors of Switch take to explain and show how to create change in any environment is positive and clear. Although most of the information is not new phenomena, it may not be on the top of our minds and is definitely not used a majority of the time because our Elephant’s beat out our Rider’s. Whether this book is being used as a self-help book, management training book, or an academic book, Chip and Dan Heath were able to lay out three simple approaches to making change and providing enough framework and various examples for why these approaches work. I would rate Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Health and Dan Health a 4.5 out of 5 stars. Compared to other self-help or how-to books, this book is simple, yet deep, and provides enough evidence that leaves the reader feeling inspired and changed.

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