BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

More essential reading ...

This book came into my hands via a fairly unusual route, although one that I'm always happy to encounter. A sponsor (in this case on-line educator Ashford University) had picked up on one of those ever-more-frequent deals being offered by publishers that if they bought X# of books, the publisher would provide the author as an event speaker. I had stumbled over info on this somewhere (could have been an invite, could have been a newsletter, heck, could have been the EventBrite listings) and signed up for the early morning session featuring the Dan half of the Chip & Dan Heath authoring duo. I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a very nice breakfast up at the Mid-America Club, and finding that we were being given free (and autographed, if we made the effort) copies of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. Score!

I feel somewhat bad that I waited the better part of a year before getting around to reading this, as the presentation by Mr. Heath was quite engaging. However, it is one of those books that seemed somewhere in-between my typical reading genres, too much of a “business book” when I was interested in reading something less staid, and too “off topic” if I was trying to get something done for inclusion in The Job Stalker blog. As it turned out, neither of these concerns were particularly true for Switch, as it is really about general psychological realities, and approaches to managing them, so it had the interest level typical of a non-business book, but was applicable to the job search.

Key to the Heaths' thesis here is that there are two competing aspects in our minds, the rational and the emotional sides, for which they borrowed Jonathan Haidt's terminology of “The Rider” and “The Elephant”, one which very much wants to lose 30lbs, and one that simultaneously wants to finish off the rest of the pack of cookies.

I have probably mentioned previously how much I very, very, very much hate “emotional appeals” in ads and elsewhere (I gave up listening to an otherwise enjoyable radio station because the ads running on it were predictably emotional quagmires featuring pitches to greed, envy, fear, desire, etc. rather than information about their products or services), along the lines of one of the classic A-Team quotes: “That's not a smile; that's just a bunch of teeth messin' with my mind!”. What is really remarkable about Switch is that it not only explained what was going on in what I had always considered to be egregiously dishonest sales pitches, but to even embrace the use of emotional content in certain contexts.

One of the key perceptions here (and most of the material in the book is supported by studies of various types) is that “The Elephant” is fairly tireless, but “The Rider” has a very limited span of time where it's able to be in control (in one study, subjects who had been faced with a “resisting temptation” side-issue before a difficult challenge, only managed to stay on-task before giving up for eight minutes, as opposed to the nineteen minutes managed by the non-tempted subjects!), suggesting that “self control” is a very scarce resource, which can be easily spent in unexpected ways.

Not only is “The Rider” only able to muster a certain amount of self-control, it is also subject to “decision paralysis”. The Heaths detail situations where doctors in a study where only half as likely to opt for a non-surgical option if there were two drugs to choose from rather than just one, where food stores sampling stations produced ten times the sales when they offered six products rather than 24 (how counter-intuitive is that?), and similar results in situations as divergent as HR materials on 401k plans and speed-dating events!

Switch not only looks at these situations, but it provides a “game plan” for creating change. This breaks down into three elements, each with three actions:
                    “Direct the Rider”:
                              “Follow the Bright Spots”
                              “Script the Critical Moves”
                              “Point to the Destination”
                    “Motivate the Elephant”:
                              “Find the Feeling”
                              “Shrink the Change”
                              “Grow your People”
                    “Shape the Path”:
                              “Tweak the Environment”
                              “Build Habits”
                              “Rally the Herd”

While a “9-point plan” may seem somewhat intimidating in itself, all the factors here are supported with material from a wide range of cultures and settings (from customer service at Rackspace to societal change in Tanzania), and the approach breaks down into sufficiently manageable chunks that anyone should be able to use this in pretty much any area of their life. Although not addressed in the book, those who have read Gurdjieff will find the three-phase approach here echoing the “foods” of the Physical, Emotional, and Intellectual centers in his system … so there's even a metaphysical aspect to this read.

Needless to say, I'm quite enthusiastic about Switch, and I would heartily recommend it to anybody. While it's been out for nearly a year, it doesn't appear to have shaken down into the used market much (I can understand people wanting to keep their copies!), so your best bet is likely via Amazon which, at this writing, has the hardcover edition available for nearly half-off, which is only a smidge more than what the new/used vendors (less, if you figure in adding this to something else to get free shipping). Again, this is a good one, and you should check it out.

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Tags: book review
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