Monday, September 5, 2016

Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Big problems are rarely solved with commensurately big solutions. Instead, they are most often solved by a sequence of small solutions, sometimes over weeks, sometimes over decades. 
I had to read Swtich over the summer for grad school and was not inclined to enjoy myself. Books written by business school professors about how to Business School your way through life are not my favorite genre, and this one wasn't really an exception to that rule.

The Heath brothers have come up with a metaphor which they stretch so that it applies to basically every change related success story ever. The basic gist is that every person has an Elephant, a Rider, and a Path. The Elephant is your emotional, gut reaction, deeply held beliefs side, the Rider your intellectual, analytical side, and the Path is the change you want to make (or that your supervisor wants you to make). In order to make any kind of significant change, you must motivate the Elephant (appeal to emotion), appeal to the Rider (convince using facts and data), and shape the Path (make the change process as seamless and uncomplicated as possible). Since that is basically all the aspects of how to convince people to do things, the book is fairly convincing, but I found it frustratingly simplistic.

One thing the Heath brothers do well is give examples. They tell lots and lots of one off anecdotes (some incredibly impressive, others fairly shrug worthy) about people making big changes in their businesses, communities, and personal lives, using some aspect of their Elephant/Rider/Path metaphor. None of these people were aware they were using the Switch ideology; most of them were just good leaders who understood how people work, but they did illustrate each aspect of the metaphor nicely.

My primary frustration with the book came when it touched on educational examples. I'm in grad school for educational leadership, so those examples were the only ones directly related to my field, and also the only ones I knew enough about to raise an eyebrow. In one, a struggling student is constantly getting suspended and kicked out of class until a kindly guidance counselor is able to figure out what it is he likes about the only class he's doing well in and gets all his teachers on board and the kid's life and behavior are changed forever. This was an illustration of the "bright spot" strategy which the book describes as tackling problems by looking at where things are working instead of where they aren't. A good idea in theory, but the example was so overly simplified (and such a stereotype of the guidance counselor/teacher dynamic) that it put my teeth on edge.

Overall, Switch articulates some interesting truths about human behavior and offers a few helpful, concrete strategies. That being said, the basis for the whole book is something that I would hope most basically competent people have figured out about humanity by their late 20's, and it didn't seem to make any groundbreaking claims that haven't been articulated before.


Christopher said...

So they came up with the id and the ego?

Brent Waggoner said...

You're killing it, Chloe. Great reviews.