Switch – by Chip & Dan Heath

Switch – by Chip & Dan Heath

‘How to change things when change is hard’


This is a phenomenal book about creating change, any change at any level. They break it down into three elements:

1. Direct the Rider (make it crystal clear)

2. Motivate the Elephant (strong feelings, a NEED to change)

3. Shape the Path (Make it as easy as possible)

The rider can control the elephant for a very short period of short, but the elephant is big and strong and can overpower the rider at any point – that’s why you need all three things to effectively maintain a change.

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Here is a dot point summary of the book!


How to change things when change is hard


Ch1 – 3 surprising things about change

  • We know what you’re saying, people resist change, but its not quite that easy. Babies are born every day to parents who inexplicably welcome the change
  • The book says successful changes share a common pattern


  1. To change someone’s behaviour you have to change that persons situation
  • The problem is , often the heart and the mind disagree


E.g Clocky wants to wake up earlier and go for a run

  • The rational side wants to get up at 545
  • The other part , emotional side wants to cocoon in the sheets and the blankets,
  • We are schizophrenic


  • The tension between the emotional side and rational side is captured by the story of the elephant and the rider
  • Perched on top of the elephant, the rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader
  • But the riders control is precarious because the rider is small relative to the elephant
  • Anytime the 6 ton elephant and the rider disagree, the rider is going to lose, he is completely overmatched
  • The rider can tug at the reins and win temporarily, but he is never going to win


  • The elephant also has enormous strengths and the rider has crippling weaknesses
  • Emotion is the elephants turf, love , compassion, sympathy and loyalty


  • If you want to change things you have to appeal to both


  • If you reach the riders but not the elephants, team members will have understanding without motivation
  • If you reach the elephants but not the riders, they’ll have passion without direction


Paradox of Choice, AA page 9

  • Kids offered radishes and some were cookies
  • Self control is an exhaustible resource
  • Willpower is draining
  • When people try and change things, they’re usually tinkering with behaviours that have become automatic, and changing those behaviours require careful supervision by the rider
  • The bigger the change your suggesting, the more it will sap peoples self control
  • An unmotivated elephant can doom a change effort
  • If the rider isn’t sure what direction to go, he leads the elephant in circles
  • What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity
  • If you want people to change you need crystal clear direction


Direct the rider, motivate the elephant, shape the path


Direct the rider

Ch2 – find the bright spots


Story of Jerry Sternin

  • He worked for Save the Children in Vietnam
  • The government invited them in to fight malnutrition
  • Poverty was universal, clean water was unavailable


  • He did a quick study where he got all the mothers in teams and weighed every kid in the village and looked at the results
  • They found it was possible for a very poor family to have a well nourished child
  • ‘Then lets go and see what they are doing’, focusing on the bright spots
  • Bright spot mums were feeding kids 4 meals a day (same amount but spread across as the twice a day mums)
  • Turns out the twice a day meals, the kids couldn’t process the meal at one time
  • Added sweet potato greens and shrimp


  • The rider loves to contemplate, analyze, spin the wheels, make matters worse
  • His analysis is almost always at the problems than at the bright spots
  • How often do you catch your mate analyzing how the relationship is so well>


  • “What’s working and how do we do more of it?” instead of “What’s broken and how do we fix it?”
  • Of the 24 most common words in English, only 6 are positive.. Ashamed, bewildered, betrayed, great, happy etc


Ch3 – script the critical moves


  • The status quo feels comfortable and steady because much of the choice has been squeezed out
  • You have your routines, your way of doing things
  • For most of the day, the Rider is on autopilot
  • But in times of change, autopilot doesn’t work anymore
  • Choices suddenly, proliferate and autopilot habits become unfamiliar


  • The elephant will insist on taking the default path, the most familiar path
  • Because uncertainty makes the elephant anxious


  • Many leaders pride themselves on setting high level direction (ill set the direction and stay out of the details)
  • A compelling vision is critical, but not enough
  • The paralyzing part is precisely in the details


  • To make a switch, you need to script the critical moves
  • Clarity dissolves resistance


Ch4 – point to the destination

  • Chrystal Jones wanted to make her 1st grade students kill it
  • She could create great lesson plans an activities (script the critical moves) but how to show them where they are heading


  • The way she pointed to the direction to them was

‘ By the end of this school year, you’re going to be 3rd graders’

  • Tailor made for there psyche a they are cooler, smarter and bigger


  • When you describe a compelling destination, you’re helping to correct one of the riders great weaknesses, the tendency to get lost in analysis
  • You need a gut smacking goal, one that appeals to the rider and the elephant


  • Destination postcards show the rider where your headed, and they show why the journey is worthwhile


Needs to be black or white goal

  • g if you set the goal of no more than one glass of wine per night
  • There will be a time when your elephant craves more than one and boundaries will get fuzzy
  • You will honour your one glass rule by filling it to the top or calling it an average and smashing 7 in one night
  • You need it to be ‘no wine ever!’… Or ‘no more cheetos’
  • Leave no where to hide


  • Marry your long term goal with the short term critical moves


Motivate the elephant

Ch 5 – find the feeling



  • Negative emotions tend to have a narrowing effect on our thoughts, 
  • if your body is tensing up as you go through a dark alley, your mind isn’t going to wander over tomorrows to do list
  • Positive emotions make us broaden and build


Ch6 – shrink the change

  • If your leading a change effort, you are better off not looking at what is new and different about the change to come, instead make an effort to remind people of what has already been conquered
  • If you want to get the elephant moving, you need to shrink the change
  • To get the elephant to do its duff, you need to assure that the task wont be so bad


Limit the investments you are asking for

E.g housecleaning

  • Focus on one part of one room

Look its just 5 minutes, how bad can it be


John Wooden UCLA Coach 

  • When you improve a little each day, big things occur
  • It wont be a string of unbroken wins
  • No one can guarantee a win, but the goal is to be wise about the things you can control


E.g don’t ask a couple to stop fighting

  • Ask the husband to give the wife a good morning kiss every day


Ch7 – grow your people

  • We are not just born with an identity, we adopt identities throughout our lives
  • Identity is going to play a role in almost every change situation
  • When you want them to change, do they hold the identity “I aspire to be the kind of person who would make this change”
  • If the answer is yes, then it is enormously in your favour
  • If the answer is no, then it is hard to go against their self image


  • When you fight to make your switch, especially ones that involve a new identity you are going to have ‘salsa moments’
  • Any quest you embark on is going to involve failure
  • You cant learn salsa without failing, but the elephant, really hates to fail
  • You need to create the expectation of failure


  • Mindset has the biggest part to play
  • People with the growth mindset believe abilities are like muscles, they build with practice
  • Fixed believe traits are fixed and your born with it
  • Growth compliments effort rather than natural skill


  • “We will struggle, we will fail, we will get knocked down, but throughout we will get better and will succeed in the end”


Shape the path

Ch8 – tweak the environment

  • Tweaking the environment is about making the right behaviour a little bit easier and the wrong behaviours a little bit harder
  • Lay out the clothes to job before you go to sleep
  • Self manipulation works


Ch9 – build habits

  • Environments shape habits
  • In the Vietnam war 20% were addicted and only 1% when they got out
  • Use action triggers
  • Focus on the easier habit, like laying out the clothes on your bed


Ch10 rally the herd

  • In ambiguous situations we look for other people how to behave
  • In change situations, by definition are unfamiliar
  • If we are leading an elephant down an unfamiliar path, chances are it will follow the herd.
  • This is why barmen seed tip jars at the start of the night


Timesheets e.g

  • When the norm is for you, then it is worth mentioning


Ch 11 – keep the switch going

“A long journey starts with a single step” is wise, but a single step doesn’t guarantee a long journey

  • When you spot movement you’ve got to reinforce it
  • Be savvy to reinforce the bright spots when they happen


  • At the start, inertia is a formidable opponent
  • At some point the inertia will shift from resisting change to supporting it
  • Small changes snowball into big changes


1600 words



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