Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Just read Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. After reading it, if are leading change of any kind or will at any time in the future, you need to read this book.

The Heath brothers look at the idea of an elephant and a rider to show how change happens, how it is reacted to and why it is reacted to that way. The rider represents our analytical side or analytical people. They are interested in data, the why behind change and how it will play out, the plan. The elephant is the emotional side, the feelings, the impulsiveness to a change. The elephant asks, “How will this change affect me?”

What they pointed out that was really interesting was the idea that people often react to change and the problem is not a people problem but a situation problem, an environment problem. What they showed through a variety of studies and examples is that often to make change happen, you need to change the environment that  people reside in.

One of the leadership principles that often gets overlooked that they talked about was looking for bright spots. Often leaders, especially in churches, we look for what is not working and try to change that, and that is the focus of our change. What if instead, we looked for what is working, the bright spots and look at how to replicate that. As the Heath brothers said, “Anytime you have a bright spot, your mission is to clone it.”

In the midst of change, uncertainty will arise at some point. In those moments, that is when the people in your church or organization will retreat to what they know. That is why clarity is so important. That is why you need to appeal to the head (the rider) and the heart (the elephant) to keep them on track, to keep them on the path as the writers point out.

What was probably the most helpful was the idea of scripting moves. When making a change, changing a culture, adding something to a church, tell people what is expected, what will the new world look like once the change is complete. The authors pointed out, “The details is where people get hung up and fall off track.” Ambiguity is the enemy of change. Or the flip side, “Clarity dissolves resistance.” Describe for people what your church will be like when the change is complete. Paint a picture. Tell them how you will get there, what it will feel like on the way. Sometimes, prepare them for failure or what will seem like failure. Often, change efforts use the sequence of analyze-think-change, which rarely works. Instead, use see-feel-change.

Often what trips up leaders in making changes is the herd, the crowd. If you get the crowd, you win the change because people follow the crowd, as behavior is contagious. The authors point out “We imitate the behaviors of others, whether consciously or not.”

Here are a few other things that jumped out:

  • For anything to change, someone has to start acting differently.
  • What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.
  • If you want people to change, you must provide crystal clear direction.
  • The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people, and behavior change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people’s feelings.
  • To keep the elephant motivated, people must get a sense of progress. Without progress, people will get demoralized.
  • The rider needs direction, the elephant needs motivation.

As I said, this is a book definitely worth picking up. I was able to read it on the plane the other day, so a fast read with a ton of nuggets in it.