I love Chip and Dan Heath, as is noted elsewhere in this blog, so I hope that they won’t mind me pulling out a few tiny (ish) chunks from their change management book Switch for this piece. There’s some great stuff here but far more in the book itself so buy the book or get it from the library – it’s interesting and useful!

Extract from Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

1. The Elephant and the Rider

One overriding concept in Switch is to see people as having ‘an Elephant and a Rider’. This is the Heath’s way of splitting one’s emotional and quick to react persona from the logical and analytical one. For example, the Elephant goes charging off if alarmed, and sometimes the Rider struggles to control it. The model works pretty well – certainly the mental image is simple and sustains well across different applications. It’s certainly a bit more mentally sticky than Daniel Kanneman’s System 1 and System 2 for intuition and reasoning respectively (which seems to be a very similar duality to the Heaths’).

2. Bright spots

Bright spots are the glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel that the Heaths implore us to search for when surrounded by apparent dead-ends. Even a glimmer of light can lead to important, effective change. The Heaths relate the story of an aid worker addressing high infant mortality in a community. Just one or two families did not fit the pattern, and it turned out they fed their children in a different way to others – not hugely differently, but enough to make a crucial change. They latched onto this fact and spread a minor behaviour modification which saved childrens’ lives.

3. Knowing is not enough

As the Heaths say, if knowing equated to behaviour change, no doctor would smoke or drink too much. Enough said. We have, as they say, got to ‘find the feeling’. In a similar vein they talk about ‘TBU’

TBU—true but useless. It was paralyzing knowledge.

4. The Miracle Question

There’s a form of therapy described in the book that uses what is called ‘the miracle question’ – “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 the problem is gone?” Note, this isn’t asking you to describe the ‘miracle’ itself but rather a tangible sign that it happened. At the very least this is an interesting approach in breaking down a ‘massive problem’ into something more bite-sized. Which leads me to….

5 .Their Dad

(Our dad, Fred Heath, who worked over thirty years for IBM, would tell his teams that when “milestones” seemed too distant, they should look for “inch pebbles.” Nice one, Dad.)

6. Destination postcard

In another Heath Bros book, Made to Stick there are some interesting case studies about the need to make strategic goals simple and singular (I quite like using JFK’s “sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade” as an example of clarity and ambition). In Switch the Heaths use a nice image for a smaller, near-to objective:

We want what we might call a destination postcard—a vivid picture from the near-term future that shows what could be possible.

7. Exposure effect

…which means that the more you’re exposed to something, the more you like it. For instance, when the Eiffel Tower was first erected, Parisians hated it. They thought it was a half-finished skeletal blight on their fair city, and they responded with a frenzy of protest.

8. The way that ‘designated drivers’ became a thing in the US

Brilliantly, it seems that having a ‘designated driver’ was created from nothing, simply by infiltrating TV.

Winsten and his team collaborated with producers, writers, and actors from more than 160 prime-time TV programs, sprinkling designated-driver moments naturally into the plots. Segments featuring designated drivers appeared on Hunter, The Cosby Show, Mr. Belvedere, and Who’s the Boss? On an episode of the smash-hit 1980s legal drama L.A. Law, the heart throb lawyer played by Harry Hamlin asked a bartender to call his designated driver. A designated-driver poster appeared in the bar on Cheers.

No-one had ever heard of designated drivers before this – and then people just assumed it was a thing, because it was on TV. Well, if people are going to be led by the media they passively consume at least this is for good (I’m going to stop there before I get all Chomsky…)

9. Identity instead of interest

I’m going to quote a big chunk here because (a) it’s really good (b) I’m not going to be able to paraphrase it that well and (c) I’m that kind of person…

“…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 is familiar to students of economics. It assumes that when we have a decision to make, we weigh the costs and benefits of our options

…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?

…Because identities are central to the way people make decisions, any change effort that violates someone’s identity is likely doomed to failure. (That’s why it’s so clumsy when people instinctively reach for “incentives” to change other people’s behavior.)”

There’s a great example in the book of how getting people to do a small, neighbourly, action (putting a ‘drive safely’ sign in the window of their house) makes them far more likely to accede to other socially conscious actions that have a bigger impact on their house (massive ‘drive safely’ billboards on their lawn!).*

* – Now at this point I can almost hear Robert Cialdini, author of Influence (another great book  which I plan to write about soon) protesting that this is a case of people wanting to to avoid appearing self-contradictory and therefore untrustworthy. That it is less about evoking a positive sense of identity than it is about triggering a negative one. Well, imaginary Robert Cialdini, you may well be right, but it’s still a great case study. And there’s one about parrots which is better.

Anyway, to find out about the parrots and more, buy the book – I promise you I’m not on any kind of commission, backsheesh, vigorish or cut, it’s just really good.