Sthitipragnya Dash


Sthitipragnya Dash


‘Switch’ by the Heath brothers turns out to be an highly engaging book about the dynamics involved in the whole arduous, multifaceted and complicated process of change.  The book is a functional testament of how the desired change can be brought out when situations, habits are typically rigid and hard. How would one successfully change him or herself?  How can a leader go about leading the change? Switch is a blend of business experiences, academic research, and productivity tools and measures of how we can lead the change ourselves.

Heath brothers believe that it is the understanding of human behavior that can provide us with the paraphernalia for making changes in our lives, and leading the changes too. The instruments that the authors explain are very fundamental and derivable from our daily lives; there is nothing immoderate. They transmit their ideas by narrating stories about everyday people and organisations that have been able to undertake major changes, even while facing preposterous situations.

In this book, Heath brothers break the myth of the brain being a monolith. They proclaim that the brain has two mutually independent systems within it. First is the emotional system which is instinctive, it feels pain and pleasure. Second is the rational system which is the conscious practical one. In Switch, these two systems are referred to as the elephant and the rider. This analysis was originally opined by Jonathan Haidt in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis. He says that the rational side, which is the rider, is perched atop the elephant, i.e., the emotional side. But the rider’s grip on the elephant is very feeble because he is relatively smaller than the elephant. And when these two go in opposite directions in disagreement, the former is going to lose. To instill change and then sustain it, one has to appeal to the emotional side of the mind as well as its analytical rational side. ’Knowing something isn’t enough to change. Make people feel something. Trying to fight inertia and indifference with analytical arguments is like tossing fire extinguisher to someone who’s drowning. The solution doesn’t match the problem’, write Dan Heath and Chip Heath.

So, to bring about a sustainable change, Heath brothers recommend to first ‘Direct the Rider’, then ‘Motivate the Elephant’ and finally ‘Shape the Path’.

1 rider-elephant-and-path

Directing the Rider

2 RiderDirecting the rider involves first identifying the ‘bright spots’ and cloning what has been successful. The authors bring out this point brilliantly by quoting the example of Jerry Sternin, who worked for Save the Children International, and was successful in reducing the chronic malnutrition amongst the children in Vietnam in the early 1990s. Instead of designing extravagant programs, Jerry’s team identified the bright spots – practices that the mothers of well nourished children were using with the same amount of resources. He and his team only captured these bright spots and shared them with the mothers of undernourished children. By doing this, Sternin and his small team, who were already on a shoestring budget, were able to reach out to 265 villages; which was a significant leap from just 14 villages they could focus on initially.

Once the bright spots are identified, the Heath brothers recommend scripting of the critical moves, i.e. prescribe concrete actionable steps to change. The authors then argue that to build the momentum of change, it is important to give people a flavour of how they would feel once they get their arms around the change by pointing towards the destination. To give the clarity of why and worth of a change, Heath brothers suggest giving  ‘destination postcards’ – a vivid, graphic, interesting imagery of what the destination would look like once you’ve made the changes required.

A teacher in Portland, Bart Millar, used this idea to get his boisterous back benchers in time to the class. He placed a used, but comfortable and inviting couch in the front row of his history classroom. Soon, the backbenchers competed to arrive early so that they could earn the special, comfortable seat.

Motivating the Elephant

3 ElephantThe next step is Motivating the Elephant; Heath brothers say that ’Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something’. According to them, a successful change metabolism would take place when it is SEE – FEEL – CHANGE; and not ANALYSE – THINK – CHANGE.

A great example of it happened at The Target Company, which was lagging behind in trends in the 1990s, when Robyn Waters joined the company as the ready to wear trend manager. Clothes that the company sold were neutral coloured like khakis, whites, blacks or tans; the idea of brightly coloured clothes was detested there. Waters saw the potential in selling colours, but she first had to get her merchants excited about them. It was a tough ask as the merchants being number driven, reviewed past year sales and argued that the colors had not been sold. The Heaths called this a classical example of Rider’s appeal not working because the data rebutted Water’s position. Water had to then think about something more creative so as to appeal to the emotional minds of the merchants. She brought large glass jars filled with water, put M&M bars in these, and the emergent show of sparkling bright colors appealed to the senses of the merchants. Waters also showed them how the customers were choosing the colors of their cars and their computers; she brought in the samples of Apple’s IMac computers which had lime green and various other pop colors. The merchants then saw her point. She brought colours to The Target Company by motivating the Elephant in the merchants and showed how a leader could actually get her team to not only adapt and incorporate the desired change, but also believe in that change.

The next key precept from the book is shrinking the change. The Heaths say that the Elephant can very easily get demotivated, derailed and upset, which is why it needs the invigoration and push from the very first step of the change. But shrinking the change is only to make it easy to ‘grow your people’. The authors say that ‘In times of change we need to remind ourselves and others, again and again of certain basic truths’. Our brains and abilities are like muscles that have to be strengthened by practice.

To demonstrate how to grow the people, authors cite a case of conservation of rare parrot species – the St. Lucian Parrot, which was facing extinction 2000. Paul Butler, a college student, played the role of the most unlikely conservationist; he mobilised the residents of St Lucia to protect the rare parrot specie by instilling a sense of pride about that bird living amidst them. He did not shrink the change, rather he grew the people. The key learning here is that you may shrink the change, but to make people feel the transformation and instill the feeling of why the change is what would bring about a long yielding result.

Shaping the Path

4 PathThe other vital psychosomatic principle that the authors highlight in Switch is that our outside environment, world has a great significance in controlling our actions even more than we harbor suspicion about. If the mise-en-scène around is not right then all the probity and rectitude will be defeated. So, the book proposes shaping the path as the as the final leap in the mechanism of change.

To shape the path, it is important to first begin with tweaking of the environment by altering the situation, which would result in altering the behaviour of the individual.  Many smokers do not smoke when they are on a vacation, away from where they normally would smoke, because there is a change in their environment wherein they don’t get the urge to smoke. A situational control is essential. The authors say that what often looks like a ’character problem is correctible when you change the environment’. And a simple tweak in the environment can lead to dramatic transformations or changes in behaviours. Building habits could be done by maintaining checklists that would help the Rider keep the Elephant on track if it goes astray, and continue to motivate him. Lastly, to shape the path, Heath brothers recommend rallying the herd i.e. spreading the good work done in bringing about the change. The constant articulation of the desired change has to be shown better, so as to rally the herd towards successful change.



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