Recently, I got my hands on a great book and I can’t resist sharing it with you. Many thanks to Lynne Texter, who made us read it.
Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath operates on a premise that changing a behavior or a set thereof will lead to better outcomes for an organization. While this is true, the authors do not discount the role of emotion in the process. The book attempts to persuade the reader by using a metaphor of a rider directing an elephant along a path. The rider is a rational mind, the elephant stands for emotional aspects of human personality and the path is the desired set of steps necessary to make a behavioral change.
Working professionals will love it
The book is suited for working professionals with limited time and attention spans. Offering bite-sized examples and drawing immediate conclusions, it helps the managers to adopt the desired behavior quickly and relatively painlessly.
Even though the book offers specific examples for easy adoption, it binds them to already known concepts of public opinion tinkering. The Fataki example takes advantage of peer pressure and message stickiness as seen in Malcolm Gladwell’s work Tipping Point to shift the perception of young girls so they do not start “sugar daddy” relationships. While the concepts of making small changes, appealing to both reason and rationality and making sure the message spreads are not new, they are presented in a holistic package a regular manager can understand. It is the compelling power of the narrative and simple writing style that would motivate working professionals to pick up the book.
Good for personal development
In terms of personal development, Switch can yield interesting results. It can be used to adapt one’s behavior and lead to emotional happiness. Given that the book ostensibly discards what the authors label as “archeology” – looking below the surface and finding motives propelling behavior – adhering to the authors’ dictum may lead to disastrous results. For example, if the reader seeking self-help does not know who he is underneath his or her social mask, he or she would build the path according to social norms, set an elephant on it and direct the rider to arrive very efficiently at a completely wrong destination. It is an imperative to proceed with caution when using this book as a self-help device.
A must-read for marketers
Switch can be utilized as a good material for the marketers and communicators. As they learn to work with attitudes and behaviors, they can test run them at their own organization and later put them into practice in their campaigns. For example, the internal communications manager can help reform the customer service department, like Heath and Heath describe in their Rackspace example or start working on building a new identity from within their company, just like Brasilata did when it rewired the way the employees perceived themselves. It went from aluminium cans producers to inventors and has stayed on that level ever since. Nowadays, the customers are thrilled with Rackspace’s customer service and Brasilata features on the top of the list of Brazillian firms to work for.
It is not necessary to have the essentials in social psychology or persuasive communication to understand the writers’ points. On the other hand, the readers will have the best utility out of the book when aware of principles of reciprocity, scarcity or liking (read Cialdini to understand these principles), because these are the concepts that can also motivate the elephant, even though the authors have not explicitly stated it.
Chip and Dan Heath have settled for an explanation that reinforcing the right behavior after the switch has occurred is a way to induce a long-term behavior change. Perhaps there are more useful and more efficient means of creating and sustaining a long-term change than the ones outlined by the authors. Without knowing the answer, one thing is for certain; the academic and professional work should keep challenging the limits of effective change management and this book will help them to do so.