Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Browsing Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

pic courtesy of Amazon.com

The Heath Brothers, authors of Made to Stick, on why some ideas, companies, etc. stay in our minds and others don't, in Switch posit the idea of a rider on an elephant trying to stay on a path.

The Rider is analytical logic. The Elephant is feeling, based on empirical evidence. The Path is all goals.

The Heaths suggest directing the Rider via crystal clear instructions. These include finding what's already right, scripting critical moves, and pointing to the destination. Motivating the Elephant to stay on the Path happens by igniting/finding the feeling, shrinking the change, and growing your people. Shaping the Path means tweaking the environment, building good habits a bit at a time, and rallying the herd.

Teacher, Bart Millar, had two attendance problems. As a former teacher, I can relate. Boy, can I relate. Anyway, he needed to make some changes to get these kids to class on time. He could have attempted a rational approach appealing to their rational riders to control their emotional elephants, which wanted to show up whenever they felt like it, by letting them know their grades would suffer, and with them, concomitant opportunities. He could've asked for their empathy for his position, "Hey, you know how hard it is to teach effectively when I can't use all my class time for teaching?" Effective? Not so likely.

What Miller did was genius. He brought in some old couches, put them in the front of the room, and allowed early birds to sit there if they wanted to. Tardiness problems solved.

That's tweaking the environment.

Amazon has changed the environment for book buying, and now book reading with the Kindle.

Instead of confronting the hard change problem: How do we persuade people to buy more? They did what Chip and Dan Heath call shrinking the change, and building new habits, by asking an easy change problem: How do we make it easier for people to buy?

Voila! How many of us now buy differently than we did 10 years ago? Likely everybody reading this blog. Amazon led the way.

The Heath brothers say their favorite story in Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard is that of Jerry Sternin.

Little wonder, as Sternin is famous for making change with the attitude: “You cannot think your way into a new way of acting, you have to act your way into a new way of thinking.”

Sternin went to Vietnam to save children's lives. He found many intractable, systemic problems. Poverty, lack of education, lack of clean water. Jerry Sternin had no chance to change those. What he did have a chance to impact were individuals. He got mothers in one small village to study lack of nutrition there. He then asked if they knew any childeren who, despite the endemic malnutrition, seemed to be doing fine? Any who were perfectly healthy despite their environment? Yes, said the mothers, there were some children like that.

Next, he had the mothers of the malnourished children ask the mothers of the healthy children what they were doing right. they found little differences made big changes. Malnourisehe stomachs are smaller so some mothers fed 4 smaller bowls of rice a day, rahter than one or two larger ones. Tiny shrimp and crabs, thought to be adult food, were added, along with sweet potato greens, giving kids more protein and vitamins. Then Sternin got those mothers to teach the other mothers.

With the help of those with the most to gain, Sternin managed to make a dent in na big problem, without changing any of the underlying systemics.

This is what the Heaths call Finding the Bright Spots: Ask What is working? And make that the focus.

You can hear a fifteen-minute podcast interview with Chip and Dan here at Amazon.

Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath is worth picking up on, and passing along to co-workers and bosses.