Chip and Dan Heath offer an exceedingly helpful and practical book on the art of change. The title and the cover showing a light switch miss the book’s main strong guiding metaphor. Making change is like helping a rider on an elephant go down the right path. The rider is the intellect. The elephant is emotion. The path is the circumstances, situation, and context that the rider and elephant find themselves in. A successful change happens when the rider/intellect is spoken to in clear and unambiguous ways, the elephant/emotions are motivated, and the path is cleared of all obstacles. Switch is itself written in this manner. The book engages the intellect in easily understandable ideas, motivates one’s emotions to be a change agent, and the simple metaphor helps clear the path forward to accomplish change in one’s personal life, business life, or community life.
Often times leaders seek to bring about change by engaging the intellect alone. This can be seen by the ubiquitous Power Point presentation with graphs and charts. The problem with this approach according to the Heaths is that when you’re speaking to the intellect, you’re speaking to a rider who is straddling an elephant of emotions. The rider may understand and agree that change is needed, but without getting the elephant motivated, the rider will become tired over time. This dynamic of rider-fatigue decreases as the behavior that one is seeking to change is replaced by habits. Habits help the rider because they are like paths that the elephant can easily follow, but sometimes the both the rider and the elephant are motivated but change still doesn’t take place. This may be due to the lack of a clear path. How simple is it to change?
Among many studies cited, the authors point to a study done on eating popcorn. Two groups were given huge containers of popcorn that were impossible to finish during the course of a movie. The only difference was that one group was given an even bigger container. Even though both groups did not finish all the popcorn in their containers, the individuals who were given the bigger containers ate more popcorn! Throw in the small detail that the researches gave both groups ten-day old popcorn and the results of this study are astounding. Sometimes we eat more simply because of the situation. A simple solution to losing weight, according to the Heaths, would be to simply get rid of all your dinner plates and eat only off of your salad plates. Provide an obstruction-free path for the rider and elephant to follow.
One question I have as a Christian leader reading this book is what role sin plays in the lack of change. The authors clearly put most of the blame on bad habits in the hands of the context rather than the individual. They see positive reinforcement for the rider, elephant, and path as the primary means of bringing about change. But what role does and should contrition, sorrow, confession and repentance play in changing? Perhaps one way of understanding the role of sin in this book is that we as a species have a hard time changing simply by knowing what is the right thing to do. This situation in itself is lamentable. And then there’s the brokenness of the culture around us that we collectively participate in which reinforces unhelpful and even sinful behaviors. This is both individual and corporate sin, and while Switch does not name it as such, the Christian must do so, because we will never make enough switches in our life that everything is perfect. We still need a God who saves us from both ourselves and our context.
While I have this one theological quibble about the role of sin in making change, overall I found Switch to be chock full of helpful ideas on how to implement it’s one main metaphor: speak to the rider, motivate the elephant, and clear the path. I can and already have implemented many of these ideas in my own life and leadership over the course of the several weeks that I’ve read this book, and I suspect I will read Switch again in the future.
American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists by John H. Wigger
Sober for Good by Anne M. Fletcher
The Shack by William P. Young
God’s Economy by Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove
The Expectant Father by Armin A. Brott and Jennifer Ash
Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear by Scott Bader-Saye
The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker
Documents in Early Christian Thought edited by Wiles and Sante