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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