How to Change Things When Change is Hard

This is part of an ongoing series of organizational and personal improvement book reviews. If you have read the book already use this as a reminder of key lessons. If you have not read the book and are looking to learn and grow as a leader, this summary will share the basics. Read the entire book to dig deeper.



Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard is required reading for any leader of organizational change. Brothers Chip and Dan Heath use recent research on the mind to show how it is possible to unite the two different systems in our heads – the rational mind and the emotional mind – to achieve dramatic results. They share a process you can use to make successful change, whether for yourself or your organization.

The authors introduce a rider-and-elephant metaphor where the Rider, our rational brain, tries to guide the Elephant, our emotional brain, down the Path and toward a goal. While the Rider holds the reins and appears to be in charge, if the Rider and Elephant disagree on a Path the five-ton Elephant is going to win every time.


The Keys to “Switch”

In order to achieve your goal, the authors suggest three keys and each chapter builds upon those keys with examples:

  1. Direct the Rider:
    1. Find the Bright Spots – focus on the positives to provide direction and give the Elephant hope. Who in your organization has already hit your improvement targets?
    2. Script the Critical Moves – begin by leading the Rider down the right path; sometimes the start is the hardest.
    3. Point to the Destination – provide an exciting, achievable goal (a SMART goal) and keep it in front of the Rider.


If the Rider and Elephant disagree on a Path the five-ton Elephant is going to win every time.


  1. Motivate the Elephant:
    1. Find the Feeling – behavior change depends upon the emotional Elephant feeling good.
    2. Shrink the Change – big change efforts seem impossible; it is better to set small goals on the path to success. Let the Elephant get addicted to success.
    3. Grow Your People – Elephants hate the feeling of failure; give your elephant confidence and acknowledge that there will be a few times when you step off the correct path.



  1. Shape the Path:
    1. Tweak the Environment – to change the Rider and Elephant it helps to improve the old ways and processes.
    2. Build Habits – With the new environment, break old bad habits and form new positive habits.
    3. Rally the Herd – celebrate successes and let the new behaviors of some transition to everyone else. Use social proof to your advantage.


As in any continuous improvement, be sure to celebrate each success the team makes, and especially that first step. Elephants may be tough to get moving but once they are on the right path they can also be hard to stop!


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