Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard – by Chip & Dan Heath

Not all change is difficult.

We change all the time, voluntarily, in many different ways – we get married, we start a family, we take up a new job or a new role, we change ideas…

just think of much you changed in the last 10 years!

Based on this insight, the question is: what are the characteristics of successful change?

Chip and Dan Heath set out on a quest to find what works to make change easier, at any scale – individual, organizational, societal.

And in doing so they dispel 3 big myths about change: that some people are just hard to change, it is in their nature; that people are lazy, and that is why they do not change; that there is a “resistance” to change.

To illustrate their findings, the authors borrow Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the Elephant and the Rider: the conscious, analytical part of ourselves is like a rider perched on top of an elephant, the adaptive unconscious.

The rider has the ability to plan, to analyze, to make rational choices – but it also has the tendency to spin its wheels and over-analyze, and it stands no chance guiding the elephant with brute force, at least not in the long run.

The elephant gives us drive and power, but it is easily distracted by short term rewards.

The authors use this simple metaphor as a framework to make sense of some useful strategies for change, based on research and illustrated with vivid, “sticky” stories – these strategies are grouped in 3 sections:  how to “direct the rider”, how to “engage the elephant” and how to “shape the path”.

I am a Solution-Focused practitioner, so I was very happy to see Solution-Focused Brief Therapy featured in this book. It appears, together with Appreciative Inquiry, in the section about Directing the Rider, in the chapter “Find the Bright Spots”.

As the authors themselves point out, an effective approach to change involves all 3 dimensions (rider, elephant, path), and sometimes this distinction is pretty fuzzy.

I believe Solution-Focus interviewing protocols to be a case in point:

– when we, as Solution-Focused practitioners, ask exception-finding questions, we “find the bright spots” (chapter one)

– when we, as Solution-Focused practitioners,  ask for concrete, behavioral details about what works, we help clients “script the critical moves” (chapter two)

– when we, as Solution-Focused practitioners, ask the Miracle Question, we “point [the rider] to the destination” (chapter 3) and we also help the elephant “find the feeling” (chapter 4)

– when we, as Solution-Focused practitioners, ask “what would be the smallest sign that…” we “shrink the change” (chapter 5)

– and since all the questions in the Solution-Focused therapy or coaching protocols are interactional, i.e. are aimed at focusing the client’s attention on the situation, we do help in “shaping the path“.

The more I practice Solution-Focus, the more I am impressed by how effective it is.

Yet, despite the empirical nature of the work that led to the creation of Solution-focused interviewing protocols and despite the research supporting it,  people have a hard time believing it can work. And that is because of ingrained assumptions about change. The authors did an excellent job in showing that there is a different way to think about change. And for that, I am very grateful to Chip and Dan Heath.

3 thoughts on “Switch – my Amazon Review

  1. Nice post Paolo! I like the analogy; rider / elephant / path. I also like that it’s a behemoth creature with a mind of it’s own ;) I like to think that we change all the time..sometimes in spite of our diligent efforts not to. I also think this is a good thing. Even though some of your (OK most!) discussions on this topic swoosh over my head, what I do manage to grasp onto resonates with me. Thank you :) G

  2. Thank you, Gina!
    And yes, I agree with you… we change all the time.
    All we have to do is to notice it, and to take note of the most useful changes…

  3. Pingback: Solutionsurfers Brief Coach Training starts next week! | BriefCoachingSolutions

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