Editor’s Note: The following is a review of the book Switch. Repertoire readers have a chance to receive a free copy. To enter a contest to receive the copy we used to review, e-mail Managing Editor Graham Garrison at ggarrison@mdsi.org

How hard is it for you to make a change in your habits, work flow or relationships? According to Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Switch, the primary obstacle is a conflict built into our brains. We’re ruled by two conflicting systems – rational and emotional. The rational mind they coin the Rider, from an analogy used by psychologist Jonathan Haidt. The emotional mind? An Elephant. So while the Rider may hold the Elephant’s reins, his control is “precarious.” Any time the Rider and Elephant disagree, who do you think is going to win?

The beauty of Switch is that Chip and Dan Heath have researched real success stories of people, companies and even countries that were able to win over the Elephant to implement change. Involved in this is a three-step process:

1)      Direct the Rider (clarity in a directive)

2)      Motivate the Elephant (engage people’s emotional side to create change)

3)      Shape the Path (give clear directions toward a goal).

Some of the success stories are startling:

  • In 1990 while working for Save the Children, Jerry Sternin was able to create a successful, and sustainable, initiative in Vietnam to fight malnutrition. The secret? Where others considered wholesale changes to the country’s infrastructure the only way (and this impossible), Sternin went to a single village and pinpointed families who were able to feed their children using the same resources everyone else had. They used these families and their habits/diet as an example that spread to other villages and around the country.


  • Students at a South Dakota high school were able to boost a sagging local economy by asking residents to spend just 10 percent more in town, figuring it would bring in $7 million in revenue to the county. A year later, the number was more than $15 million, and city planners and community organizers from around the country have flocked to Miner County to learn study their plan.


  • An executive at a large manufacturer discovered his company was purchasing more than 424 different types of gloves, and using different glove suppliers. Instead of spreadsheets and numbers, he dumped a pile of those 424 types of gloves on the conference table to illustrate his point to the division presidents. The company soon changed its purchasing process.


What makes this book work is that the Heath brothers consider change at every level – individual, organizational and society. And besides the Rider and Elephant, they’re not big on catch phrases. Switch breaks down the success stories into workable parts that you can incorporate into your work life or home life. Repertoire highly recommends Switch for business and personal reading.

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