Skip to content

Switch – How to change things when change is hard. A Book Review

I love to read or listen to books. Some books I forget immediately, some I just listen and never go back, some I take extensive notes. However, from time to time, I find a book that is not only entertaining and inspiring, but one worth studying.

“Switch” is one of these books.

The elephant and the rider

The main idea behind the book and the way much of its content is organized and based is the “elephant and the rider” metaphor. Similar metaphors were popular from ancient to modern times – from Plato to present days, with the main idea being comparing the mind of a person to an animal and its rider.

The elephant is the doer. A huge animal, you need to find ways to motivate it and it will do the work.

The rider is the planner. The one that is giving directions – it’s kind of your rational self.

The trick here is – and you have probably guessed it already – the elephant is huge and from time to time, it will just do whatever it wants and no rational direction will change that.

The rider is not without flaws as well – it will sometimes try to change the direction too much, so nothing can be done.

Great metaphor, now what is this book about?

“Switch” is a book about change. The whole title reads – “Switch. How to change things when change is hard”.

Like other Chip and Dan Heath books, it introduces a model and what this model says is that for any change to succeed, you need to approach it from three directions, or it will likely fail. Those three directions are:

  • Direct the rider
  • Motivate the elephant
  • Shape the path

If just one of these is missed, your chances go down.

Let me give you an example.

A PowerPoint presentation (direct the rider) is not enough. Even if the goal and message are clear and people understand it well if they are not motivated any change initiative will fail. People will soon go back to “the old ways” and there is not change.

Motivation is crucial as well. Without direction, it will be too chaotic to produce good results.

Without an idea of a path – a way to get where you want, you are also likely to fail. I think about it as: I need to get the elephant and its rider on top of a mountain. There is a clear goal and say motivation is also quite high. It’s a steep mountain on this side however and elephants cannot climb rocks. There is however also a trail that goes around the rocks on the side of the mountain, so you can use that – shaping the path to the top.

You do see how you need to attack all three.

The book is quite entertaining and features a lot of stories, focusing on ways to address issues and introduce a change that features these three elements and combinations of them. Many of these come from the author’s own experience. It is easy to follow and relate, which is a huge plus. I own both the audio and Kindle edition, both are great.

This is not all. After you read it, you can go to the Heath brothers website and there are some additional resources there – a one-pager with the model, guidelines on how to use it in different situations, and much more!

The resources refer heavily to the contents of the book, so if you are thinking “I could just go get the summary” don’t – there is no point and you will miss a great read.

Chip and Dan Heath not only wanted a book, but they also made it easier for people to follow and apply it (oh wait, shaping the path!)

So if that all sounds interesting – find the book, read it, listen to it, go the website and try to apply some of the learnings. Not only it’s helpful, but you are going to enjoy it a lot. If you like the format, you may try other books from the same authors as well.

Thank you for reading!