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Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

By Chip and Dan Heath

Published 2010

ISBN: 9780385528757

–Review by Douglas Balzer


   Insightful, Switch gives us a deeper understanding of how critically important the change process is for building any church, community or culture. By far, it is one of the best books I have in 2017. The notes I have taken from this particular book are extensive, and I plan to use the content in direct application within the context I am working.

   So, change. It is something we live with daily. In fact, our world is radically changing in significant ways that are catching people off guard all the time. Consider the scope and rate of change these days, as recently as the 1960’s, almost fifty percent of all workers in the industrialized countries were involved in manufacturing or helping to manufacture products. Now, however, as few as one-sixth of the workforce is involved in the traditional manufacturing roles of producing products. Over two-thirds of the U.S . employees work in the services sector, and information has become our most important resource. The lives of people have changed. Many without realizing the significant transitions while others cannot help but see clearly the transformation of every aspect of societies around the globe. Much of the conflict and strife that is seen throughout the world is due to changes being more than societies are able to adapt too. I don’t want to go too far into this rabbit hole, but suffice it to say the change has affected every society, church, community, and culture. For many, it is hard to accept let alone adapt.

   Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath, insightfully works to answer the question of What makes change so hard to accomplish. I found the book to be an enjoyable read and as I state at the beginning insightful. Part of the reason the authors are successful is their use of metaphor to communicate the message of the book. There are three primary metaphors used in the book, the rider, the elephant, and the path. Interesting trilogy, forming a trifecta that creates an environment for self-awareness, how do I, we and us fit into this story.

   Before we can discuss the trilogy, there is something we need to be aware of according to the authors, and that is our primary obstacle to change is the conflict that is built into our brain. Our brain is controlled by two minds that are in competition for control, the rational and the emotional minds. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to change. Surprise! But here is where the authors bring in the metaphors to sculpt the images for us. The rider, the elephant, and the path trilogy give an explanation of what is transpiring within the human psyche and how to motivate ourselves and others towards the change.

   The rider works to control the six-ton elephant down the path to where the rider wants to go. The rider is your rational and analytical mind. The elephant, well, it is your emotional mind. The path, it represents the emotions that drive the change is desired or result in sabotage. The rider may have decided on a rational plan of action, but the elephant doesn’t feel the urgency or good about the action, and the path (the environment) doesn’t seem to accommodate the riders directions. The rider (rational mind) only has so much ability to control the six-ton elephant (emotional mind). It becomes the perfect storm. Now, there are strengths and weaknesses for each, the rider, and the elephant. Hopefully, most of us will be familiar with the situations where our elephant overwhelms our rider which affects the path. If you are not, I suggest reading the book. The direction of the discussion within the content of the book illustrates the three components are critical to influence and achieving change. The goals you set are produced from the rational/analytical mind (rider), combine that with the emotional mind (elephant), and the environment (path) context in which you want to effect change.

Implementing change is like riding an elephant: choose a direction, give your elephant some peanuts, and stick to an easy path.

     There are three parts to guide you in any change according to the authors. First, direct the rider: what often looks like resistance is likely a lack of clarity, so, provide crystal-clear directions. What is amazing about the rider is the ability to analyze issues, but often it overanalyzes problems to the point of analysis paralysis. Second, figure out what motives the elephant: be sure to engage peoples emotional side. It is important to understand when we are contemplating change; it is the elephant that gets things done. Third, shape the path (environment), learn to distinguish between what is a people problem and what is often is a situation problem, so take time to look and know the environment (context) you are working in to bring about change.

   One thing is clear in the content of the book is if you want to make the journey to change easier for the rider and the elephant, create an attractive image of the near future. The image must appeal to the rider and the elephant. Let’s be honest it is easier to direct the elephant in the desired course with powerful emotions. Use inspirational images that evoke positive emotions like desire. Knowing it is the elephant that gets things done we need to be aware that the elephant is sensitive to emotions. Therefore, it is best to implement small changes first. By reaching small goals, the elephant gains hope and confidence and allows for more gradual changes.

   Now, I have been exhausting the metaphor a bit, but I like it. Chip and Dan use the metaphors efficiently in the book. Since I am running out of room here, there are three key items the authors focus on we should have as takeaways. Here they are –

  • Your head and heart need to be in agreement/aligned.

The problem is this: Often the heart and mind disagree. Fervently.

It causes confusion between the rider and the elephant if they are not in sync. If we want to see positive changes come in our lives, churches, communities, and societies, we need to align both powers to make sure they pull in the same direction.

  • Allow yourself to fail.

Failing is often the best way to learn, and because of that, early failure is a kind of necessary investment.

It is worth repeating because it is hard to internalize. The Chip and Dan reinforce this concept.

  • Value action over knowledge.

Knowledge does not change behavior. We have all encountered obese doctors and divorced marriage counselors.

You do not become a guitar player simply by reading a book; you need to practice, practice and practice. You need to take action and get the guitar in your hands daily if you want to master playing the guitar.

   I hope you pick up this book and read it. It is simply inspiring, and if we connect it with our desire to be cooperating with God to transform lives and churches, it is a good resource to read that leads to a deeper understanding of the process of change and how critically important it is. If you want to learn how to align your heart and mind to create a path towards change then here is the crux – give the people/church clear information that will emotionally motivate them with clear, specific action steps. Flip the switch on.