2010-02-09_2309Uni­ver­sally acclaimed as one of the best busi­ness books of 2007, Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick is also one of the all-time best com­mu­ni­ca­tions books you can buy.

So the antic­i­pa­tion sur­round­ing their next book is pal­pa­ble — as was my excite­ment at receiv­ing a reviewer copy!

But frankly, what made Made to Stick great wasn’t so much the raw con­tent (though the con­tent was awe­some) as it was the incred­i­bly prac­ti­cal and cohe­sive frame­work that the Heath Broth­ers used to orga­nize that con­tent into a method for trans­form­ing messages.

That famous SUCCESS frame­work made the mate­r­ial stick.  And build­ing on that frame­work, the for­mat of the book itself made for an easy and enjoy­able read due to the numer­ous before and after exam­ples (or “clin­ics” as they called them) and illus­tra­tive anecdotes.

Those same virtues take cen­ter stage in their newest book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard:

  • Ele­gant and prac­ti­cal men­tal frame­work?  Yup
  • Lots of Before and After style “Clinic” Side­bars?  Check
  • Incred­i­bly engag­ing and illus­tra­tive anec­dotes? You betcha

The Rider, The Ele­phant, and The Path

So hav­ing hyped the men­tal frame­work and struc­ture of the book, I’ll give you a quick and dirty expla­na­tion of it. The Heath Bros make three points right off the bat in intro­duc­ing their new metaphor­i­cal frame­work for change:

  • We’re fun­da­men­tally schiz­o­phrenic about change; our hearts and minds often dis­agree.  If you’ve ever set a 2nd alarm clock across the room to force your­self out of bed and pre­vent snooz­ing, you know exactly how much our con­scious minds and emo­tional desires can be at odds.
  • Rely­ing on your con­scious mind to self-supervise change sim­ply doesn’t work.  Con­scious atten­tion is a pre­cious resource that is quickly exhausted when used to over­come the emo­tional desires of our heart.
  • Envi­ron­men­tal cues often have a pro­found effect on our behav­ior and our abil­ity to change — shock­ingly so.  In fact, more so than most of us would ever guess

Bor­row­ing a metaphor from Jonathon Haidt, the Heath Broth­ers bring these three points together by call­ing the heart an Ele­phant, the con­scious mind the Rider, and the envi­ron­ment the Path.

And within this frame­work, mak­ing hard changes suc­cess­ful requires 3 broad strategies:

1.  You have to Direct the Rider

In this case, the rider is the log­i­cal, con­scious part of you and/or the peo­ple you are hop­ing to change. Now, this much isn’t a rev­e­la­tion, but most peo­ple do man­age to get this part wrong.

They get it wrong by expect­ing the ele­phant rider to be able to mus­cle the ele­phant into mak­ing the change against the elephant’s inclinations/will.  Not gonna hap­pen — at least not for long.  Self super­vi­sion is a lim­ited resource that’s too-quickly used up by brute force-of-will efforts.

So how does one more intel­li­gently direct the rider?

  • Over­come Paral­y­sis Analy­sis by Find­ing the Bright Spots.  Our con­scious minds are really good at find­ing prob­lems and ana­lyz­ing them.  Unfor­tu­nately, this kind of neg­a­tive analy­sis often works against us when it comes to mak­ing dif­fi­cult changes.  But we can bet­ter direct our con­scious minds by using tools such as appre­cia­tive inquiry and pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy.  These tools direct us to look for what’s work­ing, rather than what’s wrong. Find out what’s work­ing in spite of the neg­a­tive obsta­cles and ana­lyze why.
  • Make goals action­able by script­ing the crit­i­cal moves.  Whether desired behav­ior is easy and clear or just a lit­tle bit harder and more com­plex makes a HUGE dif­fer­ence when it comes to change. Get­ting Things Done is almost entirely based on this premise — you have to move from inac­tion­able to-dos and projects to well defined, do-able, next actions.  “Eat health­ier” isn’t a next action.  “Switch from whole milk to 1% and save your­self 5 bacon strips worth of sat­u­rated fat every time you drink a glass” is very much actionable.
  • Point to the des­ti­na­tion by pro­vid­ing peo­ple with an imag­in­able, con­crete, BHAGs. You want to put the rider’s power of analy­sis to work on fig­ur­ing out how to get to a moti­vat­ing des­ti­na­tion or goal, rather than using analy­sis to resist the change.

2. You have to Moti­vate the Elephant

The Ele­phant is the emo­tional, more instinc­tual part of you and/or the peo­ple you’re hop­ing to change. If your rider wants to get up early to go run­ning, it’s your Ele­phant that would much rather grab an extra hour’s worth of sleep.

Most peo­ple see the Ele­phant as the prob­lem, but in the vast major­ity of suc­cess­ful change efforts, the Ele­phant was engaged as a dri­ving force. Here’s how Switch sug­gests you do that:

  • Find the Feel­ing.  As the Heath Bros say it, “…the sequence of change is not ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE, but rather SEE-FEEL-CHANGE.  You’re pre­sented with evi­dence that makes you feel some­thing…some­thing that speaks to the Ele­phant.” Grab their hearts and their minds will fol­low. User-testing is often times as much about cre­at­ing empa­thy for the end-user as it is about get­ting new usabil­ity data.
  • Shrink the Change. It’s eas­ier to tackle big prob­lems if you’ve already got a bit of momen­tum on your side, so make the change feel doable by empha­siz­ing the momen­tum that’s already there or by set­ting up quick ini­tial wins to cre­ate that momen­tum. My pet store gives us a free bag of dog food for every 8 we buy from them, but accord­ing to Switch, they’d be bet­ter off mak­ing the cards say every 10 bags and giv­ing away 2 free punches in order to cre­ate that ini­tial momen­tum; a Car­wash ran an A/B test on com­ple­tion rates for cards using that tech­nique which showed a 79% improve­ment in com­ple­tion rates.
  • Grow Your Peo­ple. Peo­ple make choices either on a consequences/cost-benefit model or from an iden­tity model. The first model is famil­iar to any copy­writer famil­iar with WIIFM.  Here’s how the sec­ond model oper­ates, “In the iden­tity model of deci­sion mak­ing, we essen­tially ask our­selves three basic ques­tions: Who am I? What kind of sit­u­a­tion is this? What would some­one like me do in this sit­u­a­tion? Suc­cess­ful change efforts work with and fur­ther develop the changees’ iden­ti­ties.  And this works in sports as well as foot­ball, as this great arti­cle on the New Orleans Saints proves.

3. You have to Shape the Path

This sec­tion of the book intro­duces Stan­ford Psy­chol­o­gist Lee Ross’s Fun­da­men­tal Attri­bu­tion Error, which states, “peo­ple have a sys­tem­atic ten­dency to ignore the sit­u­a­tional forces that shape other people’s behav­ior,”  which causes us to “attribute people’s behav­ior to the way they are, rather than to the sit­u­a­tion they are in.”

In con­trast, suc­cess­ful change efforts look to change the sit­u­a­tion in order to change behav­ior, rather than blam­ing the changee. Here’s how Switch rec­om­mends we do that:

What I Love About This Framework

As a Persona-based copy­writer and Web­site Opti­miza­tion spe­cial­ist, I often ran up against what I tend to call the industry-standard (or sub-standard, really) under­stand­ing of Web­site Opti­miza­tion, which was the mis­con­cep­tion that improve­ment came solely from tweak­ing the online envi­ron­ment: chang­ing this but­ton, stream­lin­ing that form, imple­ment­ing dif­fer­ent cart and check­out pro­ce­dures, etc.

And while there are cer­tainly gains to be made from those kind of opti­miza­tion efforts, often times the major gains had more to do with moti­vat­ing the Ele­phant and appeas­ing the Rider (in other words with mes­sag­ing and per­sua­sion) than in sim­ply tweak­ing the func­tion­al­ity of the site.

A pan­han­dler prob­a­bly won’t get more dona­tions by using a larger col­lec­tion bucket or by set­ting up a debit-card swiper for dona­tions.  He will get more dona­tions by cre­at­ing a more pow­er­ful mes­sage about his need.

In fact, Find­ing the Feel­ing, using Identity-based Deci­sion Mak­ing, and Script­ing the Crit­i­cal Moves are some of my go-to ninja tools when it comes to mak­ing the big gains for clients — the kind of gains that elude the slice-and-dice-and-multivariate-test-it-all crowd.

But I’ll leave dis­cus­sion of those tech­niques for follow-up posts.  For now, just go buy the darn book, will ya?


  1. Ruble on 12.14.2012

    Great Expla­na­tion my friend.

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