Books Interesting bits

9 Great Things from Switch

The book is Switch: How to change things when change is hard by Chip and Dan Heath, and here are nine short reasons why it’s worth getting.

1. The Elephant & The Rider

A mental model for your mental waddle – why are some changes hard to navigate, emotionally and behaviourally? Imagine you’re a rider on an elephant. It’s a bit like System 1 and System 2, described in Daniel Kanneman’s Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow but as a metaphor it’s easier to visualise. The Rider is rational, analytical. The Elephant is emotional, quick-to-react. The Heath’s Elephant and Rider model helps you understand your own and others’ reactions to change.

2. Bright Spots

Bright spots are the glimpses of light in the darkness. Even a glimmer of light can lead to important, effective change.

Case Study: An aid worker addressed high infant mortality in a community. They noticed just 1 or 2 families did not fit the pattern. It turned out those families fed their children in a subtly different way to others…a minor behaviour modification which saved childrens’ lives.

3. Knowledge is overrated

If knowing equated to change, no doctor would smoke or drink too much. (Enough said). We have got to ‘find the feeling’. In a similar vein they talk about ‘TBU’:

TBU—true but useless. It was paralyzing knowledge.”

Chip and Dan Heath – Switch: How to change things when change is hard

4. The Miracle Question

A form of therapy described in the book asks the ‘miracle question’

“While you are sleeping, a miracle happens and your troubles 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 has gone?”

This isn’t asking you to describe the ‘miracle’ itself but rather a tangible sign that it happened. What would you see?

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

There are interesting case studies about the need to make strategic goals simple and singular in the Heath Bros book, Made to Stick. 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. Designated drivers

Brilliantly, it seems that the concept of a ‘designated driver’
was spread by infiltrating TV.

“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.”

So that’s the second time Cheers helped establish a Norm. [1]Apologies. This joke will only be understood by people who’ve seen Cheers, and they will rightly have contempt for it too.

9. The Identity Model

Appealing to a positive sense of identity, not self-interest, can get people to take unusual decisions.

“…In the identity model [we ask]: Who am I? What kind of situation is this? What would someone like me do in this situation?”

Case Study: researchers found that people who accepted a small ‘drive safely’ sign in the window of their house were then far more likely to accede to having huge ‘drive safely’ billboards on their lawn.

10. That’s it, I hope that whets your appetite – there’s more in there than this post covers, so I recommend getting a copy of the book 📖


1 Apologies. This joke will only be understood by people who’ve seen Cheers, and they will rightly have contempt for it too.


Supertat is the name for tourist souvenirs that go a little bit beyond what might be considered normal or rational.

Tat – noun [mass nounBritish informal
tasteless or shoddy clothes, jewellery, or ornaments:

Source – Oxford English Dictionary
Miscellaneous Pondering

The Thatcherite Ratchet?

Keith Joseph helped to overturn a generation of post-war so-called Keynesian consensus by inspiring Margaret Thatcher to privatise major nationalised industries and coined the phrase ‘the socialist ratchet’ to illustrate his then-radical beliefs1.

Joseph and others suggested that Labour were a party of change, so did things like creating the welfare state, whereas Conservatives were by nature pragmatic and left things pretty much alone. The upshot of this over time, was that the direction of the Government was inevitably leftward.

By railing against this situation, Joseph therefore helped usher in a Conservatism that was radically reforming towards a free-market right-wing, so not really pragmatic at all. This is quite a feat because, until Thatcher, conservatism and pragmatism were virtually synonymous. In helping to sever that connection, he helped kill off the previous so-called post-war consensus that began with Labour’s shock general election win in 1945.

What I ponder a lot is the duration of these political epochs, and if there’s a pattern there. If the post-war consensus lasted from about 1945 to roughly the mid-80s (e.g. we could take the nationalisation of British Gas, the first really major privatisation in 1986, as the final nail in the coffin), Thatcher ended about 40 years of ‘Keynesian’ orthodoxy.

And then, since the mid-80s with New Labour maintaining the core economic model during their governments, we’ve now had 30-something years of Thatcherite orthodoxy. I’m writing this in 2017, so about 32 years of Thatcherite ratchet that seems unable to turn left, to adapt the phrase from Keith Joseph. 

The time periods here could be meaningless, of course, but it’s worth a suggesting a hypothesis – each major economic consensus lasts for a generation of roughly 40 years, and over the next few years we’re due for another major turn.

Even if you disagree with this hypothesis, it’s worth remembering that all apparently unassailable consensuses are not actually immortal truths. Tides change, even after decades of repetition. For example, when the Conservatives lost in 1945 they thought they had to accept the welfare state and some nationalisation – and did so, until Thatcher’s rise. In 1997, Labour thought it had to accept the free-market and some privatisations.

What orthodoxy will flip next, and when?

(By the way, I’m not consciously cheerleading for any particular political ideology in this piece, it’s just a perspective I enjoy thinking about!)

Below are a couple of quotes that give a bit more context – and the latter, written before the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, is fairly amusing.

“I argued that the pendulum in politics had been replaced by the ratchet, in the sense that the Socialists, when in office, move the balance towards collectivism: we Conservatives, when in our time comes, at best leave things as they are ready for Labour’s next turn of the screw.”

Keith Joseph, 1975

“She reversed what her mentor, Keith Joseph, liked to call “the ratchet effect”, whereby the state was rewarded for its failures with yet more power. With the brief exception of the emergency measures taken in the wake of the financial crisis of 2007-08, there have been no moves to renationalise industries or to resume a policy of picking winners. Thanks to her, the centre of gravity of British politics moved dramatically to the right. The New Labourites of the 1990s concluded that they could rescue the Labour Party from ruin only by adopting the central tenets of Thatcherism. ‘The presumption should be that economic activity is best left to the private sector,’ declared Mr Blair. Neither he nor his successors [sic] would dream of reverting to the days of nationalisation and unfettered union power.”

Margaret Thatcher obituary, The Economist, 2013


1.Rhodes Boyson had a phrase, ‘slow-quick-quick-slow foxtrot to socialism’, that expressed the same view.

Getting unstuck: Douglas Adams and the judo principle

This is my favourite fable. When something seems difficult at work, I try and apply it. I have Grandpa Simpson-ishly repeated this tale over and over to younger colleagues. It’s worth repeating, it’s a brilliant way of thinking about problems.

“the trick is to use this problem to solve itself”