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We all want, or need, to change from time to time. Sometimes it’s minor tweaking. For others, it requires massive transformation.
Most of us know all too well how easy it is to give up, to conclude it’s not worth the effort. Our desire to change can run the gamut from losing weight, eating healthier and getting fit to running a profitable business and being a better manager.
The authors of best-seller Made to Stick have some solid advice to deliver.
“Big changes can start with very small steps. Small changes tend to snowball. But this is not the same as saying that change is easy,” write authors Chip Heath, a professor at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, and Dan Heath, a senior fellow at Duke University‘s Center for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship.
The Heath brothers have researched the topic at length. They read “tons of books while writing Switch” and pulled from studies conducted over decades in psychology, sociology and other fields to shed light on how we can make successful changes.
What they manage to smoothly do is synthesize it all into a formula that makes sense. Along the way there are great anecdotes.
For example, they begin with an experiment by Cornell University researcher Brian Wansink where moviegoers were given free stale popcorn in various size containers. The findings: Taste doesn’t matter. Size does. People with large buckets of popcorn eat more popcorn than those with medium buckets. Bigger container equals more eating. Bottom line: Want to lose weight? Start with plate control. Consider eating from smaller plates.
The duo write about change at every level: individual, organizational and societal.
“When change works, it tends to follow a pattern. The people who change have clear direction, ample motivation and a supportive environment,” the Heaths write.
The basic problem: “The brain has two independent systems at work at all times,” they explain.
“First, there’s what we call the emotional side. It’s the part of you that is instinctive, that feels pain and pleasure. Second, there’s the rational side, also known as the reflective or conscious system. It’s the part of you that deliberates and analyzes and looks into the future.”
In essence, the rational mind wants change. The emotional mind wants comfort.
The tension between the two is captured best by an analogy used by the University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis. And the brothers openly adopt this as their model. Haidt contends that “our emotional side is the Elephant and our rational side is its Rider. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader, but the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small compared to the Elephant.”
Most of us are all too familiar with situations where the Elephant overpowers the Rider. You’ve experienced this if you’ve ever overslept, pigged out, skipped the gym or refused to speak up in a meeting because you were nervous.
Changes often fail because the Rider simply can’t keep the Elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination. The Elephant’s hunger for instant gratification is the opposite of the Rider’s strength, which is the ability to think long-term. The Elephant is the one, though, who gets things done, provides the energy. The Rider provides the planning and direction, but can be a wheel-spinning, over-thinker.
If you plan to change things. you need to appeal to both the Rider for planning and direction and the Elephant for the energy and passion. The bottom line: Change comes easily when they move together.
To get things done, the Heaths offer a three-part framework that can guide you in any situation where you need to change behavior.
•Direct the Rider. Provide clear direction. What looks like resistance to change is often a lack of clarity. Don’t think big picture. Specify manageable immediate steps in the right direction. Point to the destination and explain where you’re going and why it’s worth it.
•Motivate the Elephant. Connect on an emotional level, to keep the Elephant moving forward. Find the feeling. Cultivate an identity. We can’t simply think our way into a new behavior. Shrink the change, so it doesn’t spook the Elephant.
•Shape the path. If you want people to change, make the process easier.
For example, a manager wanted to communicate better when her employees met with her. She moved her office furniture so she had a meeting area and wasn’t tempted to glance back and forth at her computer screen during those meetings. She tweaked the environment so she had no choice but to connect better with the people who came to see her.
“This framework is no panacea,” the Heaths concede, but it’s surely a start.
While you’ll find Switch displayed in the business and economics section of your local bookstore, clearly it would feel right at home in the self-help section.
Switch: How to Change Things
When Change is Hard
By Chip Heath and Dan Heath
305 pages, $26