Summary Written by Chris Taylor

The Big Idea

Change: The Path

"Change is hard because people wear themselves out. And that's the second surprise about change: What looks like laziness is often exhaustion."- Switch, page 12

Think of willpower like a muscle. You lift a certain amount of weight the first time, but after a few repetitions, you’re physically unable to continue. Most of us don’t think of will power in the same way, but it’s true. Have you ever noticed how tired you are during times of complex or extended change? Physically tired. From change. It’s because your rider is working overtime, trying to steer a skittish, uncertain elephant in a new direction. Your rider gets worn out when dealing with prolonged periods of newness. Luckily, there are things you can do to make the process easier on the rider and the elephant. Simply, articulately and with a great sense of humour, the Heaths’ outline many of those tactics. We’ve chosen a couple for you:

Insight #1

Action Triggers

"...action triggers can have a profound power to motivate people to do the things they know they need to do."- Switch, page 210

“Action triggers” are planning specific times and places for change. “After I read the sports section of the newspaper, I’m going to work out for 30 minutes”, would be an example of an action trigger. Even simple planning like this will greatly increase your likelihood of change. We’ve all had days that disappeared; days where we were “planning” to complete some task. What the Heaths’ highlight in Switch is that the likelihood of completing said task increases the more specifically you plan the timing and location. We’ve discussed visualization in past articles – I believe Action Triggers are really micro-visualizations. What task have you been putting off? Can you plan a specific time and place for its execution? Take two minutes at the end of this paragraph and create an action item for it.

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Insight #2

It's not a people problem...

"Tweaking the environment is about making the right behaviors a little bit easier and the wrong behaviors a little bit harder."- Switch, page 183

If you want to bypass the whole “rational/emotional-wrestling-match” element of accomplishing change (and sometimes you can), try focusing on the environment. Dan and Chip write about one manager for Nike who dramatically improved her relationships with her direct reports by moving her computer monitor. Amazing, but true. It turns out that her monitor was directly between her and the person sitting across the desk from her. Being a busy person, she found it more “productive” to check (and often respond to) emails while speaking with her staff. By tweaking the seating arrangement and moving her monitor out of view, her staff felt more appreciated and the working relationships reached new heights. Sometimes it’s the little things that can make all the difference.

The little story above raised an interesting point – often the “big problems” are solved with small and simple solutions. The Heaths’ explore this phenomenon in significant detail in Switch and find it to be true time and time again; there is an inverse relationship between the size of the problem and size of the solution. I’m calling it “Heaths’ Law”, and it’s worth keeping in mind the next time you reach for a complex and time consuming solution to a problem. There’s often a simpler way to fix it, and there’s a good bet it has to do with providing knowledge, motivation or a small tweak to environment.

My only complaint about the brothers Heath is that they don’t write enough books. Their style(s) is effective, engaging and highly entertaining. While humour has definitely meandered its way into mainstream business books in the last 5 to 10 years, Dan and Chip lead the way with their wit and clever asides. While Switch is a tremendous accomplishment in its own right, it’s also a second solid step in what (I hope) will be a long and illustrious career for both these gentlemen. Entertaining and actionable, Switch and Made to Stick are about as good as it gets.

Read the book

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Chip And Dan Heath

Chip Heath is the Thrive Foundation of Youth Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. He is the co-author of “Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard,” which debuted at #1 on the “New York Times” and “Wall Street Journal” bestseller lists. The Heath brothers previously co-wrote the critically acclaimed book “Made to Stick,” which was named the Best Business Book of the Year, spent 24 months on the BusinessWeek bestseller list, and has been translated into 29 languages, the last of which was Slovak.

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