RESISTANCE MEETS ITS WATERLOO
Switch is a book about change. Its authors – brothers Chip and Dan Heath – claim the content is applicable to change in all situations, individual, organizational or societal. It does as it claims, but the emphasis is less on societal as perhaps the theories have been less applied on a grand scale, and despite its full title of Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard it does make the process seem simple with plenty of stories, anecdotes, ‘clinics’ and most importantly applicable information.
The Heaths believe that successful change has a pattern. Crucially, they assert that change comes as a function of the state created and the environment in which people, companies, departments, et cetra are placed. This is wholly different from the more traditional ‘change’ books, which emphasize creating and articulating a crisis or urgency.
Firstly, however, the authors remind us that there is the matter of the heart versus the mind or one side of the brain (the rational side) versus the other (the emotional side) and the latter is often stronger. It is a variation on the selfish id versus the conscientious superego. About now most would agree that the emotional side is the unsavoury one, but the book is steadfast that the notion is inaccurate. In fact, the emotional side – which the authors adopt from another book as ‘the elephant’ – is the one that gets change done. It is also the side of ‘drive.’ One needs both the elephant and the rational ‘rider.’ Having only one of the two is like possessing passion without direction or having understanding without motivation.
The outline for a ‘switch’ the authors offer becomes:
1- Direct The Rider
a. Find The Bright Spots
b. Script The Critical Moves
c. Point To The Destination
2- Motivate The Elephant
a. Find The Feeling
b. Shrink The Change
c. Grow Your People
3- Shape The Path
a. Tweak The Environment That Requires Change
b. Build The Habits That Support It
c. Rally The Herd
Direct the Rider – what seems like resistance is a lack of clarity. Clarity dissolves resistance. Be specific. Borrow words and use analogies. One has to Find The Bright Spots and stay away from ‘archaeology.’ In other words, the focus has to change from problems shift to solutions. This is noteworthy because conventional wisdom has it that to change or improve an understanding of the root causes for failure or inadequacy are necessities. Next is to Script The Critical Moves by showing how to change. Point To The Destination suggests a vision is needed to inspire. Change requires a script and not just high level direction. Ambiguity is the enemy. The change agent needs to be specific.
Motivate the Elephant – what is seen as laziness on the part of the people is actually sheer exhaustion. As such, the rider cannot always get his way. Change agents need to Find The Feeling for everyone, which means people’s elephant side responds to emotional convincing. As James Bond has said, “Made you feel it, did he?” The onus, furthermore, remains on the person seeking to change. That person must Shrink The Change and Grow The People. These are equally important and should be simultaneous. The onus is not on everyone whom is being asked to change. Everyone has heard the clichéd ‘raise the bar’ phrase. On page 129 the authors again show a taste for being different. They assert that ‘raising the bar’ is exactly the wrong instinct. Instead, it is more sage to lower the bar i.e. shrink the change or if not grow one’s people instead. One example provided is of a demonstration of different kinds of gloves piled onto a table to make a point tangible and visual.
Shape The Path – what looks like a person problem is actually a situation problem. Instead of solely focusing on the person’s Rider and Elephant it is important to Tweak The Environment and Rally The Herd. In the latter case because humans respond to peer pressure or, as the authors put it, peer perception. Speaking of Shaping The path the authors suggest it is very simple and very effective to create check lists. Yes the humble check list! Humans have a limited capacity for change as the mental muscles tire. The key is for everyone to realize that this is not synonymous with laziness. It is exhaustion getting in the way.
One reason the book is a likely success is that it is easy to consume and features stories, anecdotes and studies. Here are several points, which the book elaborates on:
• Do not dot on TBUs – things that are True But Useless. See above regarding avoiding archaeology.
• On page 82 the authors show more disloyalty to conventional thoughts. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) goals are found lacking by the authors. The book insists SMART lacks emotional resonance. As such, SMART is suitable for steady state situations and not for change goals. The key is behaviour level execution: marrying goals with short-term moves because it is impossible to script medium-term moves.
• As mentioned above a prerequisite for change is often said to be creating a crisis or a ‘burning platform. ’ Switch reports that this type of situation is good only for quick actions and not for lasting organizational change. This is due to its inherent negativity. What works better instead is a happy emotion as they innately broaden hope and creativity.
• The accepted script for taking action is Analyse>>Think>>Change. The authors believe it should be See>>Feel>>Change. Notice again the emphasis on the visual and emotional side of things.
• Somewhat reminiscent of Daniel Pink’s impressive Drive the authors sink their teeth into, what they believe, is the two models for decision making. The first is about consequences. It assumes a rational being. The second is identity (which could be cultivated). This is when people ask themselves ‘who am I?’ or ‘What would someone like I do?’ Humans, per the book, use the latter decision-making process to determine whether they would be a Republican or a Democrat to cite one example the book uses.
• The authors insist that it is crucial to at all times maintain a growth mind-set for it implies success. Success is not guaranteed by genetics. A static mind-set will lose regardless. The growth mind-set is melodramatically presented through an example on page 173 where mid-20th Century IBM CEO Thomas Watson – after whom the Watson computer is named – would summon an executive who had lost the company ten million in then dollars and instead of firing the man would keep him on because the man had just been given a very expensive education!
• Leaders who shape the path and lead change should be coaches and not score keepers. Moreover, specific behavioural prescriptions are what is needed and not merely grand vision devices and statements.
Switch is a fine book and reads easily. Its references to and quotations of various books and scholarly studies are appreciated. The authors place the onus on the environment and the methodology as opposed to the oft wrongly maligned individuals. There is not much could criticize here. As with any business book hindsight is 20/20 and whether the theories the authors leverage are ever invalidated is a concern. A couple of examples the authors use come across as suspect, but frankly they do not disprove the overall notions and are a small part of the book as a whole. As noted, the authors are insistent that a ‘good’ environment is a cure for many things. The authors note that twenty percent of American soldiers in Vietnam were drug addicts, while half had tried a drug or the other. In a survey, 1% of soldiers claimed they were drug users when in the better environment of the United States. Could the authors and we really take what the soldiers said as gospel? In other words, was it actually a more wholesome environment that drastically diminished drug usage or were the soldiers giving the answer they were expected to give? Speaking of gospel, the book non-chalantly throws in the following good habits: jogging, praying, brushing our teeth… and soon comes a particular beef of mine. One culture seeing its own morality and values as better or superior to another. While the prevention of AIDS in Africa is definitely a laudable goal and those engaged in the fight are praiseworthy the authors and a US organization also pass judgment on Tanzanian older men having sex with younger women and try to end the practise on which they report. Shaping or exporting cultural norms, history shows, are arrogant and often lead to disastrous consequences. The authors would do well to remove the implied inherent hubris.
Switch is a good read on the subject of change instillation and, for better or worse, mostly different from more conventional transformation management books.