‘Change is the only constant in this world’ – Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

We constantly feel that we need to bring change in our own behavior, in our employee’s attitude, workplace environment, business work culture, within community or society etc. or simply because those who change and evolve with circumstances only succeeds. But is bringing change that simple or easy and do all turnaround share any common pattern? Let’s find out….

One of my favorite authors Dan and Chip Heath in their book Switch: How to change things when change is hard tries to simplify and unravel the process of how to bring the change by elucidating the factors which are essential for any successful turnaround. The authors provide a general framework of factors which all successful change share. These factors may not be sureshot harbingers of change (obviously nothing in this world is guaranteed) but will surely help us better understand the essential factors which lays the foundation of successful turnaround or change and by using these principles we can also bring the desired change.

The book starts by relying on conventional wisdom in psychology which says that our brain has two independent systems working at all the times. One is ‘rational’ side and other is ‘emotional’ side. This duality is captured best by analogy given by psychologist Jonathan Haidt who compares our emotional side as ‘Elephant’ and the rational side as its ‘Rider’. ‘Rider’ or ‘rational’ side is reflective and conscious system which is responsible for planning and direction while ‘Elephant’ or ‘emotional’ side provide motivation, strength and energy. When Rider is perched atop the Elephant, they cover a journey of change. Only when both the sides move and work together, change comes but each side has its own set flaws as the Rider tends to overanalyze and overthink so it need to be directed while the Elephant is lazy, want quick pay off and easily scared so it need to be motivated. Sometimes Rider does not know in which direction to move because of lack of crystal clear direction so path need to be shaped.

3 ingredients of Change

The authors after understanding how our minds function backed with scientific studies and studying real life turnarounds provides a general framework or pattern of how to bring change in three steps-

1. Direct the Rider

2. Motivate the Elephant

3. Shape the Path

1st step involves Directing the Rider

Our rational mind is an overthinker and it is proven in studies that our brain is wired to see more problems everywhere and focuses more on negative things rather than positive things. It likes to see more obstacles, barriers and hindrances in changing things but if want to change, we need to focus on Positive Events or Bright Spots, then only the Rider feels that change is possible. For an alcoholic who wants to quit, he must remember when was the last time he remained sober for a long time, for a smoker he must remember when was the last time he didn’t smoke for a long time, the CEO must see what is the best practice the successful manager is adopting etc.  because only by knowing such bright spots, it will restore our faith and Rider will accept that change is possible. In Solution focused based therapies adopted by psychologists, it also works on discovering potential solutions by believing that there is exception to every problem and by seeing the small success in every problem, it gives us a spark of hope that change is possible. Always remember when was the last time you completed the assignment on time, hit the gym, avoided phone for a long time etc. and you are capable this time too.

The second step in directing our rider is by Scripting the Critical Moves of the changes which we want to make. Any successful change requires translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behavior and for that we need to script the critical moves because clarity dissolves the resistance to change. Most of the times people prefer the autopilot and default mode which will never let change happen. If we don’t set concrete line of actions, the Rider will have many options which will create decision paralysis and our planning will fail. It is no wonder that when we set the high vision, but don’t work on details, it is bound to fail. So, next time when you plan a healthy diet, want to complete the assignment on time etc., remember to work on details and there should be no room for ambiguity.

The third step in directing the Rider is by Pointing to the Destination. When there is a compelling destination, the Rider greatest weakness i.e. overanalyzing is defeated. As per research, the distinguishing factor in all successful companies is the practice of setting the big and motivating goals. So, when you want to see the change, set the destination and marry your long term goal by scripting the short term critical moves.

2nd step involves Motivating the Elephant

After directing the Rider, the next step is to motivate the Elephant by Finding the Feeling. But which feelings? Anger, hope, dismay, enthusiasm, fear, happiness, surprise? We need to create positive emotions in the change because only by creating positive emotions, we will be involved, learn new things and tackle new experiences. But sometimes negative emotions also help because it urges us to act for example leaders must convince its people that the organization is on its deathbed and radical changes is required if the organization is to survive and thrive, because then only people will act.

The second step in motivating the elephant is by Shrinking the Change. People find it more motivating to be partly finished with a longer journey than to be at the starting point of a shorter one because sense of progress is critical. The elephant in us is easily demoralized and spooked, so it needs reassurance that the change is shrinking. It also hates doing things with no immediate payoffs therefore when we accomplish small tasks, it shrinks the change and then pride and confidence will build on itself. So towards the bigger goal, first set small and visible goals and achieve them and celebrate the journey.

3rd step involves Shaping the Path

Sometimes when you have directed the rider and motivated the elephant, we can make the journey easier by Shaping the Path. Traffic engineers wanted us to drive in predictable and orderly ways so they painted lane markers and installed road signs. Grocery store managers wanted us to spend more time in store so they positioned the milk coolers all the way at back.  Tweaking the environment makes the right behavior a bit easier and wrong behavior a bit harder. Many people have discovered that when it comes to changing behavior, environment tweaks help many times. If you want to eat less use smaller plates, bowls and cups, if you want to go to jogging next morning take out your jogging suit and shoes on your bed etc., therefore simple tweaks in environment can have dramatic changes in behavior.

The Second factor in shaping the path is to Build Habits. Habit is autopilot behavior and it allows a behavior to happen without any second thought. Habits are triggered by internal cravings or by external cues, actions or environment. Building good Habits makes a behavior consistent and habitual like Action Triggers which means action based on specific trigger. It increases the likelihood of performing the things like writing down things to be done in advance in dairy, because simply by imaging a time and place motivate the Rider and Elephant to do an action.


So finally it can be said that when you align the Rider, Elephant and Path, then it will surely bring change as you must have noticed that the people who changed successfully have clear direction, ample motivation and supportive environment.

Before saying adieu…

Summarizing the book in just 2 pages doesn’t do the justice to the book as the book is filled with great concepts, scientific and psychological research along with real life turnarounds which must be read thoroughly. I suggest you to read the book and I guarantee you will enjoy the book.

Stay tuned for the next book review till then stay curious.

Happy Reading!

Amit Malani