How to change things when change is hard


  • On Amazon
  • ISBN: 978-0385528757
  • My Rating: 7/10

In Switch the authors present their conceptual three-step framework to manage change, be it in the society, in companies or in your personal life.

I enjoyed this book, the authors are very good storytellers and they provide many interesting stories. But this is also the weak point of the book in my opinion. The authors selected stories of people who were successful with a change process even though they weren't aware of the framework; and then the authors try to explain those stories with some parts of their framework. I would have liked to see it the other way around: that the authors teached people about their framework and then looked how those people dealt with change.

My notes

Three Surprises About Change

The first surprise about change: What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.

All change efforts have something in common: For anything to change, someone has to start acting differently.

To change someone's behavior, you've got to change that person's situation.

For individuals' behavior to change, you've got to influence not only their environment but their hearts and minds. The problem is this: Often the heart and mind disagree.

Self-control is an exhaustible resource.

When you hear people say that change is hard because people are lazy or resistant, that's just flat wrong. In fact, the opposite is true: Change is hard because people wear themselves out. And that's the second surprise about change: What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.

The third and final surprise about change: What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.

If you want people to change, you must provide crystal-clear direction.

The basic three-part framework that can guide you in any situation where you need to change behavior:

  • Direct the Rider. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. So provide crystal-clear direction.
  • Motivate the Elephant. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. The Rider can't get his way by force for very long. So it's critical that you engage people's emotional side – get their Elephants on the path and cooperative.
  • Shape the Path. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. We call the situation the "Path". When you shape the Path, you make change more likely, no matter what's happening with the Rider and Elephant.

There's a good reason why change can be difficult: The world doesn't always want what you want.

Direct the Rider

Find the Bright Spots

Analytical qualities can be extremely helpful, obviously – many problems get solved through analysis – but in situations where change is needed, too much analysis can doom the effort. The Rider will see too many problems and spend too much time sizing them up.

In tough times, the Rider sees problems everywhere, and "analysis paralysis" often kicks in. The Rider will spin his wheels indefinitely unless he's given clear direction. That's why to make progress on a change, you need ways to direct the Rider. Show him where to go, how to act, what destination to pursue.

Understanding a problem doesn't necessarily solve it.

The Miracle Question: "Suppose that you go to bed tonight and sleep well. Sometime, in the middle of the night, while you are sleeping, a miracle happens and all the troubles that brought you here are resolved. When you wake up in the morning, what's the first small sign you'd see that would make you think: 'Well, something must have happened – the problem is gone!'?" It doesn't ask you to describe the miracle itself; it asks you to identify the tangible signs that the miracle happened.

The Exception Question: "When was the last time you saw a little bit of the miracle, even just for a short time?"

If you're trying to change things, there are going to be bright spots in your field of view, and if you learn to recognize them and understand them, you will solve one of the fundamental mysteries of change: What, exactly, needs to be done differently?

"What's working and how can we do more of it?" That's the bright-spot philosophy in a single question.

Even successes can look like problems to an overactive Rider.

Big problems are rarely solved with commensurately big solutions. Instead, they are most often solved by a sequence of small solutions, sometimes over weeks, sometimes over decades.

Script the Critical Moves

More options, even good ones, can freeze us and make us retreat to the default plan. This behavior clearly is not rational, but it is human.

The status quo feels comfortable and steady because much of the choice has been squeezed out. You have your routines, your ways of doing things.

Change brings new choices that create uncertainty. It's not only options that yield decision paralysis. Ambiguity does, too. In times of change, you may not know what options are available. And this uncertainty leads to decision paralysis.

Decision paralysis can be deadly for change – because the most familiar path is always the status quo.

Any successful change requires a translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behaviors.

When you want someone to behave in a new way, explain the "new way" clearly. Don't assume the new moves are obvious.

Point to the Destination

Where are we headed in the end? What's the destination?

The specificity of SMART goals – goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely – is a great cure for the worst sins of goal setting – ambiguity and irrelevance. But SMART goals are better for steady-state situations than for change situations, because the assumptions underlying them are that the goals are worthwhile.

What is essential is to marry your long-term goal with short-term critical moves.

When you're at the beginning, don't obsess about the middle, because the middle is going to look different once you get there. Just look for a strong beginning and a strong ending and get moving.

Motivate The Elephant

Find the Feeling

In almost all successful change efforts, the sequence of change is not Analyze-Think-Change, but rather See-Feel-Change. You're presented with evidence that makes you feel something. It might be a disturbing look at the problem, or a hopeful glimpse of the solution, or a sobering reflection of your current habits, but regardless, it's something that hits you at the emotional level.

It can sometimes be challenging, though, to distinguish why people don't support your change. Is it because they don't understand or because they're not enthused?

Positive illusions pose an enormous problem with regard to change. Before people can change, before they can move in a new direction, they've got to have their bearings. But positive illusions make it hard for us to orient ourselves – to get a clear picture of where we are and how we're doing. How can we dispel people's positive illusions without raining down negativity on them?

Change is hard because people are reluctant to alter habits that have been successful in the past.

The positive emotion of interest broadens what we want to investigate. When we're interested, we want to get involved, to learn new things, to tackle new experiences. We become more open to new ideas. The positive emotion of pride, experienced when we achieve a personal goal, broadens the kinds of tasks we contemplate for the future, encouraging us to pursue even bigger goals.

To solve bigger, more ambiguous problems, we need to encourage open minds, creativity, and hope.

Shrink the Change

People find it more motivating to be partly finished with a longer journey than to be at the starting gate of a shorter one.

One way to motivate action is to make people feel as though they're already closer to the finish line than they might have thought.

If people are facing a daunting task, and their instinct is to avoid it, you've got to break down the task. Shrink the change. Make the change small enough that they can't help but score a victory.

Another way to shrink change is to think of small wins – milestones that are within reach.

When you engineer early successes, what you're really doing is engineering hope. Hope is precious to a change effort.

Once people are on the path and making progress, it's important to make their advances visible. Where do you find a yardstick that can measure the kind of changes you're leading?

Even small successes can be extremely powerful in helping people believe in themselves.

When you set small, visible goals, and people achieve them, they start to get it into their heads that they can succeed.

When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur... Don't look for the quick, big improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That's the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.

John Wooden

A small win reduces importance ("this is no big deal"), reduces demands ("that's all that needs to be done"), and raises perceived skill levels ("I can do at least that"). All three of these factors will tend to make change easier and more self-sustaining.

No one can guarantee a small win. Lots of things are out of our control. But the goal is to be wise about the things that are under our control. And one thing we can control is how we define the ultimate victory and the small victories that lead up to it.

Big changes come from a succession of small changes.

Grow Your People

When people make choices, they tend to rely on one of two basic models of decision making: the consequences model or the identity model. The consequences model assumes that when we have a decision to make, we weigh the costs and benefits of our options and make the choice that maximizes our satisfaction. It's a rational, analytical approach. In the identity model of decision making, we essentially ask ourselves three questions when we have a decision to make: Who am I? What kind of situation is this? What would someone like me do in this situation?

We're not just born with an identity; we adopt identities throughout our lives.

Because identities are central to the way people make decisions, any change effort that violates someone's identity is likely doomed to failure.

How can you make your change a matter of identity rather than a matter of consequences?

People who have a fixed mindset believe that their abilities are basically static. Maybe you believe you're a pretty good public speaker, an average manager, and a wonderful organizer. With a fixed mindset, you believe that you may get a little bit better or worse at those skills, but basically your abilities reflect the way you're wired. If you are someone with a fixed mindset, you tend to avoid challenges, because if you fail, you fear that others will see your failure as an indication of your true ability and see you as a loser. You feel threatened by negative feedback, because it seems as if the critics are saying they're better than you, positioning themselves at a level of natural ability higher than yours. You try not to be seen exerting too much effort.

People who have a growth mindset believe that abilities are like muscles – they can be built up with practice. With a growth mindset, you tend to accept more challenges despite the risk of failure. You seek out "stretch" assignments at work. And you're more inclined to accept criticism, because ultimately it makes you better.

If you want to reach your full potential, you need a growth mindset.

A growth mindset compliment praises effort rather than natural skill.

If failure is a necessary part of change, then the way people understand failure is critical.

That's the paradox of the growth mindset. Although it seems to draw attention to failure, and in fact encourages us to seek out failure, it is unflaggingly optimistic. We will struggle, we will fail, we will be knocked down – but throughout, we'll get better, and we'll succeed in the end.

The growth mindset is a buffer against defeatism. It reframes failure as a natural part of the change process. And that's critical, because people will persevere only if they perceive falling down as learning rather than as failing.

Failing is often the best way to learn, and because of that, early failure is a kind of necessary investment.

In times of change, we need to remind ourselves and others, again and again, of certain basic truths: Our brains and our abilities are like muscles. They can be strengthened with practice.

Shape The Path

Tweak the Environment

People have a systematic tendency to ignore the situational forces that shape other people's behavior, also called "Fundamental Attribution Error". The error lies in our inclination to attribute people's behavior to the way they are rather than to the situation they are in.

If you want people to change, you can provide clear direction or boost their motivation and determination. Alternatively, you can simply make the journey easier.

What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. And no matter what your role is, you've got some control over the situation.

Tweaking the environment is about making the right behaviors a little bit easier and the wrong behaviors a little bit harder.

Build Habits

People are incredibly sensitive to the environment and the culture – to the norms and expectations of the communities they are in. We all want to wear the right clothes, to say the right things, to frequent the right places. Because we instinctively try to fit in with our peer group, behavior is contagious.

One of the subtle ways in which our environment acts on us is by reinforcing (or deterring) our habits.

Habits will form inevitably, whether they're formed intentionally or not.

The hard question for a leader is not how to form habits but which habits to encourage.

How can you create a habit that supports the change you're trying to make? There are only two things to think about: The habit needs to advance the mission, and the habit needs to be relatively easy to embrace. If it's too hard, then it creates its own independent change problem.

A good change leader never thinks, "Why are these people acting so badly? They must be bad people." A change leader thinks, "How can I set up a situation that brings out the good in these people?"

Rally the Herd

In ambiguous situations, we all look to others for cues about how to behave.

You are doing things because you see your peers do them. Behavior is contagious.

If you want to change things, you have to pay close attention to social signals, because they can either guarantee a change effort or doom it.

In situations where your herd has embraced the right behavior, publicize it.

Keep the Switch Going

Yes, a long journey starts with a single step, but a single step doesn't guarantee the long journey. How do you keep those steps coming?

Reinforcement is the secret to getting past the first step of your long journey and on to the second, third, and hundredth steps. And that's a problem, because most of us are terrible reinforcers. We are quicker to grouse than to praise.

Problems are easy to spot; progress, much harder. But the progress is precious.

Reinforcement does require you to have a clear view of the destination, and it requires you to be savvy enough to reinforce the bright-spot behaviors when they happen.

Change isn't an event; it's a process.

The more you're exposed to something, the more you like it. This is called mere exposure effect.

The mere exposure principle assures us that a change effort that initially feels unwelcome and foreign will gradually be perceived more favorably as people grow accustomed to it.

People don't like to act in one way and think in another. So once a small step has been taken, and people have begun to act in a new way, it will be increasingly difficult for them to dislike the way they're acting. Similarly, as people begin to act differently, they'll start to think of themselves differently, and as their identity evolves, it will reinforce the new way of doing things.

Small changes can snowball to big changes.

When change works, it tends to follow a pattern. The people who change have clear direction, ample motivation, and a supportive environment.