Book discussion: Switch! How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath

Overall I highly recommend this book. The points made in the book are backed up by stories and there are several examples supporting each one. The book is easy to follow and highly engaging so I was motivated to read the book all the way through to the end. I actually read it 3 times. The first time was a cursory review, the second I took some notes, and the third time I stopped frequently to make many notes for this review. I had to cut a lot of my material out of this review to limit the podcast to under an hour. The goal is 30 minutes. The podcast and these notes will probably not match 1:1 and that’s OK. In the future I plan to make the notes a blog post, so the podcast will not match it exactly.

Top level summary is that this book was written to help the reader make change in their life, others lives, or organizations. Much of the material found here agrees with and is in sync with other resources in which I have researched that overlap in topic and content. The Heath brothers break down the change components into 3 metaphors: a rider, an elephant, and the path.

The rider is your rational self. It analyzes and decides what to do. The rider is to direct the elephant where to go. If the rider can’t get the elephant to go where it wants. (You overeat, or sleep in) the elephant went against the rider. The problem with the rider, is it can over think things, spin her wheels and not make a decision of where to go. Think analysis paralysis. Also with lack of vision, the rider won’t have a clear goal and will direct the elephant in circles.

The elephant is your emotional self. It wants things now, easy, It is the “emotional self” that causes us to fail, because it doesn’t want to make the short term sacrifices for long term payoffs. It can also have enormous strengths like motivation, compassion, and sympathy.

The path can be described as the environment in which you operate. External environmental factors can influence your behavior. It is up to you to change how you react to these elements. You can create behaviors that will assist in changing behavior. Also people around you are also part of the environment, and they can be influenced as well, and influence you.

The trick to making changes, is to appeal to both, the emotional side and the rational side. A reluctant elephant or wheel spinning rider will get you nowhere. And clear the path of all obstacles so your rider-elephant team can reach the destination.


Willpower is a short supply of shear brute force of the rider. It is limited and replenishable on a daily basis. Willpower is the rider in a tug of war with the elephant. Rider can win only for short time. It’s only a matter of time before the bigger elephant tires the rider.
There was an experiment where people were asked to eat a food then make drawings. Cookie eaters had completed more drawings than radish eaters because the cookie eaters used less will power in the process of eating.
What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. We tend to take the default plan (not always optimal) because of decision fatigue.
Mental fatigue and use of will power can result in decision paralysis. Ambiguity and uncertainty causes anxiety which results in mental fatigue, which is cryptonite to the rider.

FOLLOW THE BRIGHT SPOTS. Investigate what’s working (success stories) and clone it. The story of Jerry Sternin and Save the Children (Chapter 2) tackling a problem with minimal help and meager resources moved beyond TBUs to help reduce malnutrition in Vietnam. TBU analysis—“True But Useless.” Bright spot nutrition. Eat 4x smaller vs 2x larger meals a day. Mix in crab and shrimp in kids food. Actively feed kids. Feed them when sick. Using cockpit example to discuss TBU from book Duhigg Smarter, Faster, Better. In the cockpit example WW2 fighters and especially modern jet fighter pilots are overwhelmed by too much stimulus input. Considering the wrong information and not considering the right information results in bad decisions and failure.
Concentrate on what people do differently to be successful. The idea isn’t to just think about the good things in your life or others, but to really analyze why they work so that you can reproduce it. First we imitate then we innovate. Also solutions-focused therapy. Solutions focused therapy doesn’t care about your past. Knowing is not enough. People focus on the bad more than the good. Marcus Buckingham talks about how parents focus on their kids failing grades and ignore their good grades. Rather the emphasis should be made on the kids strengths, which is where their good grades are. Focusing on strengths is like following the bright spots.

SCRIPT THE CRITICAL MOVES. Don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behaviors.

[1% milk and the four rules at the Brazilian railroad] Make it easy to make the right decision. Too many choices, or confusion will send us back to our usual habits. Bring a noble goal within reach of everyday life and make the decision clear without exceptions. that leaves no ambiguity. When you want someone to behave in a new way, explain that new way clearly, don’t assume the new moves are obvious. Cooking recipe example. The E-Myth Revisited, make it a franchise. Systematize your business and life. This is the operators manual.

The Heaths tell the story of America Latina Logistica (ALL), a newly privatized, cash-poor railroad in southern Brazil in the 1990s. CEO Alexandre Behring and CFO Duilio Calciolari came up with four rules—“(1) Unblock revenue. (2) Minimize up-front cash. (3) Faster is better than best. (4) Use what you’ve got.“—to govern the company’s investments. ALL’s engineers repaired old locomotives rather than buy new ones; they recycled rails from abandoned stations to repair damaged tracks. By having a clear checklist of priorities from top management, middle managers and front-line employees were able to make decisions that preserved the company’s scarce financial assets and made it profitable.
If you script the moves even mean guys can donate food more frequently than Good Guys Without the scripted moves. A jerk with clear instructions is much more charitable than a saint without instructions.
Cooking recipes are great examples of scripting the critical moves. They tell you exactly what to use, how much of it, how to prepare it, and how long to cook it.
Pilots use checklists prior to take-off. Your Ikea furnitures comes with instructions. (OK, maybe that’s a bad example LOL)

POINT TO THE DESTINATION. Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it. [“You’ll be third graders soon,” “No dry holes” at BP] Make it clear where you want to go. ex: I want to lose 10 pounds by Jan 3 2011 at midnight. That goal is clear. Google Map a route from where you are now to an ambiguous place you are not sure where it is – that is not easy to do on the computer, or in life. You need to know the exact destination. This is a vision statement. You can modify as you go if needbe – this is called a “pivot”.

SMART Goals – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely. SMART goals can help you point to the destination.
DUMB Goals – Dreaming, Uplifting, Massive courage, Barely attainable. DUMb goals can help motivate the elephant.
SMART goals are better for steady state rather than change situations. DUMB goals are good for change because they offer challenge and motivation.
Motivate 1st graders by telling them they will be 3rd graders. Treat them as scholars. Big hairy audacious goal. Destination postcard. Imagine goal, should have an emotional component.


FIND THE FEELING. Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something. [Piling gloves on the table, the chemotherapy video game, Robyn Waters’s demos at Target, accountant guy Attila] To change, we need an emotional reason to change. The emotion can be fear, love, sympathy, anything, but we all have to buy into the change with our emotions. This is like listening to your pumped up mix tape. Many people feel this is all they need to do to change, then they fail. This step is important but only one of many tools need to make change last. The elephant causes you to eat, drink, skip gym. Work gloves appealed to the elephant in the executives vs a presentation. Words vs picture vs demo. Less fat, drink low fat milk, buy low fat, whole milk = 5 strips of bacon.

SHRINK THE CHANGE. Break down the change until it no longer spooks the Elephant. [The 5-Minute Room Rescue, procurement reform, carwash ticket with 8 punches vs 10] When you realize how close you are already, you are motivated to keep going. Make the first few steps in the right direction big ones so there is motivation to keep going. Dave Ramsey-a financial guru, advises to pay off the smallest debt first, not the one with the highest interest, because when the debt is paid off, you feel like you have accomplished something great, and it motivates you to keep going. Celebrate the first steps of the change. Swiss cheese method vs salami slice divide and conquer your problem – this is closely related to the rider’s analysis paralysis and being overwhelmed not knowing where to start on a problem.

GROW YOUR PEOPLE. Cultivate a sense of identity and instill the growth mindset. [the parrot on the island, saving it from extinction] the more people you have on board making the change, it will make the other people feel the positive peer pressure to change. Make people want to identify with your group. You don’t want to be the one person that doesn’t pick up after your dog. It is a lot easier to tell a group of people to do something differently when 50% or more of the people have already agreed or made that change.

You will have initial feelings of excitement,hope, and optimism, but once started you will begin to feel depressed and like a failure, but if you persist and persevere you will make steady progress and come out in the end with a great feeling of accomplishment. If you know this right up front, it actually creates a positive feeling, not a depressing one. Expect to feel that way before you even start, so you are ready for it.
We will struggle, we will fail, and we will get knocked down, but throughout we will get better, and we succeed in the end. It reframes failure as a natural part of the change process. Expect that failure is an acceptable part of the process. Setting the expectations as such will help increase motivation when failure occurs and also prevent procrastination.


TWEAK THE ENVIRONMENT. When the situation changes, the behavior changes. So change the situation. Sometimes what is perceived as a people problem is actually a situational problem. [Throwing out the phone system at Rackspace, 1-Click ordering, simplifying the online time sheet] Remove every barrier to make the path easier to travel. Throw away the junk food in the house and have healthy snacks onhand. Think of Amazon’s 1 click ordering. The less everyday steps you have to take to accomplish a goal, the more chances you will do it. We will all eat way too much popcorn if we are given it in a big bag. Try giving the popcorn in smaller bags and people will eat less popcorn. Environmental tweaks beats self control every time. Clocky is a runaway alarm clock you must chase to turn it off. In Vietnam when soldiers were addicted to heroin and cocaine they came back to the States and surprisingly most stop using. The best time to quit smoking is when you’re on vacation, not when you’re at home. The reason being is that when your home you have all the triggers and cues there that caused you to smoke. Create safe places at work for people to discuss ideas. This means allowing the employees to discuss alternate viewpoints without being criticized or reprimanded or judged. You have to create a safe place in the work environment if you want to see actual change occur. This is in agreement with Simon sinek and his philosophy of leadership. Breast cancer center. Radiology, doctor, biopsy, councilor, all under one roof. Make patient centric. Don’t make patients go here and there and waiting long times.

BUILD HABITS. When behavior is habitual, it’s “free”—it doesn’t tax the Rider. When you have to resist a temptation, you burn willpower. Making good habits automatic is like being on autopilot. Look for ways to encourage habits. [Setting “action triggers,” eating two bowls of soup while dieting, using checklists] when we are on autopilot we don’t have to work so hard at everything. Choose habits that are easy to execute and that are sustainable. Systematize life to run on autopilot, auto deposit paycheck in bank, auto pay bills, home automation devices, Roomba vacuum cleaner. Technology makes for great systematizers. However there are many manual processes that can be systematized like how you do laundry or wash dishes, yard work, cleaning the house, and more.

RALLY THE HERD. Behavior is contagious. Help it spread. [“Fataki” in Tanzania, seeding the tip jar] You will imitate the actions of the people around you, especially in unfamiliar situations. Elephants will go with the herd. If you want to change, or help someone else change, hang around people that have already implemented that change in their life or at least excited and motivated to make that same change. You will want to be on the team. You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. People follow the lead of others, particularly at times of change when situations are new or ambiguous. Hotel towel reuse went up dramatically when people were told that others like them were already recycling.

Expense reports example.
Desired behavior: file expense reports on time.
Direct rider- find bright spots, the 62% who file reports on time.
Script critical moves- see confusion of laggards, cheat sheet expense codes.
Motivate elephant- nag notes have no teeth. Tell everyone that Maria needs your help.
Shape path-
Tweak environment. Template the report, auto fill common fields.
Rally herd- tell how ? of people hand in reports on time.
Explain new way. Example how milk works and food pyramid doesn’t.
Script the critical moves. High school students said spend just 10% more of your disposable income locally. That increased the tax revenue by 7 million dollars.

Action triggers.

Rewarding good behavior is much more effective than punishing bad behavior. The book used an example of giving a monkey a mango for riding a skateboard. Before you know it you’ll have a mango bloated monkey ready to do a halfpipe on a skateboard.

Someone can be dysfunctional in one area and a high performer in another. Can have successful habits and be brilliant one way and clueless in another. Example is

Attack the problem on all fronts. Direct the rider AND motivate the elephant AND clear the path. Try to apply as many techniques as possible to solve your problem and implement the change. Not all methods and tools will apply to each situation. Find the ones that do and use them to your advantage.