Switch – my Amazon Review

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.

Switch: don’t solve problems, copy success!


Dan & Chip Heath wrote a book that I love: “Made to Stick”.

It is a pleasure to read. It is very informative. It is science-based.
Moreover, it is congruent: the way the book is written and organized reflects what the authors preach.
That, my friends, is a very rare thing.
The insights contained in the book are one of the cornerstones of my Persuasive Communication workshop.

Now there is even more exciting news: Dan & Chip Heath discovered Solution-Focus!!
They wrote a new book about Solution-Focused practices and Positive Deviance – the book is called Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard and goes on sale on February 16.

Fastcompany.com published some excerpts.

Here is one, introducing Solution-Focus Therapy:

Consider the story of school counselor John Murphy and one of his students in Covington, Kentucky. Bobby was a ninth grader who was constantly late for class, rarely did his work, was disruptive, and sometimes made loud threats to other kids in the hallways. Bobby’s home life was just as chaotic; he’d been shuffled in and out of foster homes and special facilities for kids with behavioral problems.

In a traditional counseling session, the therapist digs around for explanations — why are the patients acting the way they are? But Murphy was no traditional therapist. He practiced something called Solutions-Focused Brief Therapy. During his sessions with Bobby, he ignored the child’s problems and focused instead on how to remedy them. Here’s a brief exchange from one of their sessions. Notice how Murphy starts by trying to find a bright spot.

Murphy: Tell me about the times at school when you don’t get in trouble as much.
Bobby: I never get in trouble, well, not a lot, in Ms. Smith’s class.
Murphy: What’s different about Ms. Smith’s class?
Bobby: I don’t know, she’s nicer. We get along great.
Murphy: What exactly does she do that’s nicer?

Murphy wasn’t content with Bobby’s vague conclusion that Ms. Smith is “nicer.” He kept probing until Bobby identified that Ms. Smith always greeted him as soon as he walked into class. (Other teachers, understandably, avoided him.) She gave him easier work, which she knew he could complete. (Bobby is also learning disabled.) And whenever the class started working on an assignment, she’d check with Bobby to make sure he understood the instructions.

Ms. Smith’s class was a bright spot, and as we’ve seen, anytime you have a bright spot, your mission is to clone it. Using Ms. Smith’s class as a model, Murphy gave Bobby’s other teachers very practical tips about how to deal with him: Greet Bobby at the door. Make sure he’s assigned work he can do. Check to make sure he understands the instructions.

Over the next three months, Bobby’s rate of being sent to the principal’s office for a major infraction decreased by 80%. He also made striking progress on day-to-day behavior. Before solutions-focused therapy, his teachers typically rated his performance as acceptable in only one or two out of six class periods per day. After solutions-focused therapy, he was rated as acceptable in four or five of the six periods. Bobby is still not a model student. But he’s a lot better.

Read more excerpts here!!

I can’t wait to get the book!

h/t: Paul Jackson