Every day, we encounter systems that would benefit from change—from our personal finances to our work place to our country’s health care. In Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (Crown 2010), authors Chip and Dan Heath present a useful framework for making changes, using the analogy of a rider (willpower, the rational mind) sitting on top of an elephant (energy, emotions) moving down a path (the environment). The rider and the elephant may be in conflict about a long-term goal (e.g., healthy eating) vs. a short-term goal (e.g., a bag of chips); sometimes the rider maintains control, and sometimes the much larger elephant careens ahead. The path can also play a role in whether the change is successful. Switch provides a framework for directing the rider, motivating the elephant, and shaping the path.
The book is peppered with interesting anecdotes from a range of fields. Though most are based on organizational change, there are also examples of how the framework can be used for personal improvement. The authors include a number of “clinics” to allow readers to think through what they would do in a particular situation before reading about the results. Though their analogy may be overused at times, it is nevertheless a compelling read and applicable to anyone with a personal change goal or an interest in improving the systems we all interact with every day.
Anne Renz, MPH, is a project manager at Group Health Research Institute.