Elephant, rider and path

Book review for “Switch: How to change things when change is hard” from Chip & Dan Heath (Random House Business, 2011, 320 pages)

“Switch” addresses the question of why we experience change as hard, in person and in business. The book is entertaining, easy to read and educational.

The authors Dan and Chip Heath describe in “Switch” what has to be considered in order to enable change: Each of us has an emotional elephant within us as well as a rational rider. Both must be reached to enable the change. At the same time, the path must be shaped for the elephant and rider to move easily forward. The idea of ​​the emotional elephant and the rational rider has its origin in the psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Happiness Hypothesis”.

The challenge of change is often due to the fact that the rider and the elephant do not agree: we are rationally aware that something has to change. However, if the emotional elephant does not feel addressed or disagrees, we will not move a bit. (Even if the rider sits on the elephant with reins and shouts out loud.) However, if we manage to address the elephant successfully, the elephant’s strengths are also evident: e.g. perseverance, loyalty, real instinct.

To enable change, according to to the book, three things have to be taken into consideration: direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path.
Each of these aspects is discussed in more detail in the book.

For steering the rider, we should e.g. look at what works already and try to scale that. (In contrast to a lengthy analysis of the problems without advancement.) To motivate the elephant, we should e.g. find an emotion that is related to the change and / or that deals with the change in small, sequential steps or intermediate goals. (Big changes trigger greater resistance and corresponding demotivation.) To shape the path, it helps e.g. to optimize or adjust the environment, conditions or situation of those involved.

In numerous examples, the authors describe how this can be realized: A company manages to reduce expenses considerably by optimizing the number and purchase of different working gloves. This is not done by a rational statement of costs in a presentation. No, the responsible person stacks the 424 (!) different pairs of working gloves with price tags on the conference table of the decision makers and thus achieves not only the rational rider but also the emotional elephant: “So many different gloves. That’s crazy.”

Other success stories: Two health researchers manage to increase the market share of low-fat milk by making advertising messages very clear. A program to help malnourished children in Vietnam reaches 2.2 million people in 265 villages in just a short time, resulting in 65% of children being fed sustainably better. The program takes existing structures that already work successfully and scales them.

Although the book is written in a typical American entertaining style, the book is for anyone who has to do with change. Since reading the book, I better understand why changes in companies do not go easy – Mostly because only the rider is addressed.

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