Switch – Chip Heath and Dan Heath

About two weeks ago I was sitting by myself at a cafe reading, when a man comes up to me and asks “What do you think of the book?”

I was reading Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s book Switch: How To Change Things When Change is Hard. “It’s pretty good.” I said.

“How much have you read?” He asked.

“I’m just starting chapter eight.”

“Yeah, I had to put the book down after six chapters.  We all got that book at work and were asked to read it, and we all stopped.  It’s too repetitive.”

I guess this book isn’t for everyone, but my example also shows a couple of things.  Firstly, it’s interesting that a company would have everyone in a team read a book on change – indicating that they are looking for change.  Secondly, the fact that they didn’t finish the book, shows that change is hard, as laid out in the book.

The Heath brothers use the metaphor of the brain comprising of two sides – the Rider (logical) and the Elephant (emotional).  This metaphor is carried through the book and is a useful way to remember how to affect change.

The book is structured into three sections, each one suggesting specific behaviors you can follow:

I. Direct the Rider:
– Find the bright spots
– Script the critical moves
– Point to the destination

II. Motivate the Elephant:
– Find the feeling
– Shrink the Change;
– Grow your people

III. Shape the Path:
– Tweak the environment
– Build habits
– Rally the herd

I appreciate the Heaths’ writing style.  There were many well-chosen examples illustrating the points they made and the change framework they established upfront, not a surprise for repeat Heath readers.  However looking at the examples, it looks like they have been chosen to fit a pre-defined framework, rather than the framework coming out of the researched examples.  It is also clear that the examples themselves were not following the framework to create success, it happened organically.

What we don’t have the benefit of is quantitative research to see how many people have tried the framework and succeeded versus failed at change.  This is one of the limitations with cherry-picked examples and no examples of failure, from which we could also learn.

In my estimation, this book is probably 100 pages longer than it needed to be.  Though I found the stories of interest, many are so specific that the lesson does not translate to a much broader stage.  It may have been more useful for the examples to illustrate fewer points than trying to cover such a wide territory.

Towards the end, the book mentions change as related to becoming a parent and this absolutely puts everything into perspective:

“Take becoming a parent.  If you think the organizational change you’re contemplating is wrenching, forget about it – it can’t hold a candle to the amount of change required by having kids… When change happens, it tends to follow a pattern.  We’ve got to stop ignoring the pattern and start embracing it.”

Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch is a solid business book that helps you to see another perspective of change.  I would recommend this book to avid business book readers, but for those who read less, this would be lower on the priority list.  7.5/10.

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