Switch (Click the cover to buy the book)

My library system recently hired a new Deputy County Librarian.  One of the first things she’s done is lead a focused training for managers that’s based on the book Switch by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.  I think the idea behind this training is that we’ll need to make changes system-wide if we’re to avoid making incredibly painful cuts.  Since making change is often very difficult, we need to be able to lead our staff when the time to act comes.

Our first reading assignment was to read the first 98 pages.  This section of the book focuses on surprising information about change, and “directing the rider.”  For those not in the know: the prevailing metaphor in this book is the idea of an elephant, a rider, and a path.  The elephant represents our emotional side, the rider is the intellectual side, and the path is the path they’re on.  The rider can control the elephant for a while, but he cannot keep it up indefinitely.  And really, if the elephant truly wants to do something, the rider cannot really stop him.  So, to effect change, you must appeal to both the rider and the elephant while shaping the path that they’re on.

Sounds simple enough, right?  I can see how simple it is.  I can also see how it might be difficult to do.

OK, so think about the times when you’ve successfully made changes in your life.  One of the biggest changes in my life has to do with my health.  You’re all familiar with the story that my mom had a really bad stroke in November 2008.  That was also the month that the County hosted a health fair, where employees could get cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, BMI screenings and more.  I was already devastated by my mom’s stroke.  I could see myself heading down that same path.  I didn’t know where to start to make the changes necessary, but I figured the health fair was a good place to get an idea.  The people at the health fair said that my numbers were all really good except for my BMI.  All I really had to do was improve my BMI and then I’d be the picture of health.  That was my switch.

  • Elephant – Scared of being like mom, scared of being unhealthy, really wants to do something to fix it
  • Rider – Initially paralyzed by too many options, but later given a doable goal (healthy BMI)
  • Path – Keep good numbers –> lose weight –> avoid being like mom

So far it’s been pretty good.  Of course there are ups and downs, but the switch has worked well overall.

Other things from the section I’ve read so far:

  • Laziness is often exhaustion – the rider has focused so hard on controlling the elephant that they can’t do it any more.
  • Resistance is often due to a lack of clarity – Be specific about what you’re changing and why the change is necessary
  • Focus on the bright spots (successful efforts worth emulating) and find out why it’s working there.  Replicate it elsewhere.
  • Big problems don’t need big solutions
  • Make a template for needed activities; script the critical moves
  • Too many choices create decision paralysis – people will almost always retreat to the most familiar habit
  • Focus on what you CAN change with the resources available – all other problems are TBU (true, but useless)
  • People want to fit in with each other – behavior is contagious; change the behavior change the people
  • Script the beginning and the end; the middle will shape itself
  • Create a “destination postcard” – a vivid picture of the goal for the near-future

I don’t really have a specific reason for writing this post.  I think it’s acting more as a brain dump for me.  These kinds of books are often interesting but I don’t tend to read them unless someone “makes” me.

Do you have any “must reads” for change management and/or self improvement?  Why do you like those particular titles so much?

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