Julyan Davey
Supporting the emergence of life affirming, transformative cultures.

Switch by Chip & Dan Heath

Switch by Chip & Dan Heath

Date Read: 15/10/16

My rating: 8/10

(See my list of other books I've read)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Epic psychology book on how to make lasting change happen! Packed full of ideas, stories and examples.


The aim of the book: to produce a methodology for how to make change happen in the world.

Analogy of a rider on an elephant trying to move in a direction. (towards change)

Rider: rational brain.

Elephant: emotional brain.

To make someone change: You must reach both Rider and Elephant.

Direct the Rider

Find the Bright Spots

Normally: Rider has a problem-seeking mindset: "What's broken, and how do we fix it?"

Instead: Search for successful efforts, worth emulating.

Question: "What's working and how can we do more of it?"


"Classic Therapy":

What are the roots of your problem? Does it trace back to something in your childhood?

"Solutions Focused Therapy":

When was the last time you saw a little bit of the miracle, even just for a short time?

Action Plan:

Go investigate the most successful (villagers/ managers moments in the day).


  1. Solution is usually native. Comes from the group that you are trying to help. Therefore easier to introduce.
  2. Overall topic, like "What can you do to make your child healthier?" is too big and loaded to take on at once.
  3. Fights "Analysis Paralysis" - when the rider sees problems everywhere and over-analyses.
  4. Prevents fixation on TBU information (True but Useless)
  5. Focuses on the positive. Overcomes human bias towards "Bad is stronger than good".

Script the Critical Moves

Give the Rider a script that explains how to act.

Convert your ambiguous goals into concrete behaviours.

Set Behavioural Goals:

  • Such as meet for a review once a week.
  • Or never buy full fat milk.

Default Plan:

  • Rider normally runs on autopilot.
  • Following the pre-programmed habits and routines.

Decision Paralysis - more options, even good ones, can freeze us and make us retreat to the default plan.

Thus scripting the critical moves reduces rider exhaustion.

More choices = More exhausted rider.

Point to the Destination

Create a destination postcard.

This is a vivid picture from the near future that shows what could be possible.

Destination postcards do double duty:

  • they show the rider where you're headed.
  • they show the Elephant why the journey is worthwhile.

Problem of Rationalisation:

  • Where you decide to do something like to have just 1 glass of wine.
  • Then you rationalise that surely it's okay to fill your 1 glass to the brim. Or to trade tomorrow's 1 glass to have 2 today!

Solution: Black and White Goal

  • An all-or-nothing goals such as "No wine ever".

It's essential to marry your long-term goal with short-term critical moves.

Back up your destination postcard with a good behavioural script.

Motivate the Elephant

Find the Feeling

Find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought.

Trying to fight inertia and indifference with analytical arguments is like tossing a fire extinguisher to someone who's drowning. The solution doesn't match the problem.

Example of Re-Mission (a game for young Chemotherapy patients)

Roxxi, the nanobot boldly defeating cancer, by taking chemotherapy and antibiotics which fuel his ray gun.

Positive vs Negative emotions

If you need quick and specific action, then negative emotions might help. But most of the time when change is needed, it's not a stone-in-the-shoe situation.

Positive emotions are designed to "broaden and build" our repertoire of thoughts and actions. Joy, for example, makes us want to play.

Interest, broadens what we want to investigate.

Most of the big problems we encounter are ambiguous and evolving. They don't look like burning platform situations. To solve these problems we need to encourage open minds, creativity and hope.

Shrink the Change

One way to motivate action: Make people feel as though they are already closer to the finish line than they might have thought.

Example: Don't publicly announce a charity fundraiser until you've already got 50% of the money in the bag.

Look for the first two stamps to put on your team's cards. "I'm not a sloth. I'm an exerciser!"

Make an effort to remind people what's already been conquered. Create a sense of progress.

To get the Elephant off its duff you need to re-assure it that the task won't be so bad. "Looks it's only 5 minutes!"

If people are facing a daunting task and their instinct is to avoid it: You've got to break down the task. Make the change small enough that people can't help but score a victory.

e.g. Do one page of writing. Pay off a single debt.

"if some example of successful change could somehow be achieved quickly, it might be possible to use that to set other changes in motion" - Celebrate every incremental victory!

Miracle Scale - 10 is the miracle. But what are the small milestones that are attainable and visible on the way to the eventual destination?

Accentuate positive. Emphasise the next goal to fulfil.

Select small wins with two traits:

  1. They're meaningful.
  2. They're within immediate reach.

Grow your People

How can you make your change a matter of identity rather than of consequences?

When people make choices they tend to rely on one of two basic models of decision making: the consequences model or the identity model.

Consequences model:

Weighing the costs and benefits of our options and making the choice that maximises our satisfaction.

Identity model:

We ask ourselves: Who am I? What kind of situation is this? What would someone like me do in this situation?

This model explains the way most people vote, which contradicts our notion of the "self interested voter".

St. Lucia Parrot Example - "This parrot is ours. Nobody has them but us. We need to cherish it and look after it"

The St. Lucians began to embrace their parrot, as though it had always been a part of their national identity.

When you think about the people whose behaviour needs to change, ask yourself whether they would agree with: "I aspire to be the kind of person who would make this change".

"foot in the door" technique - do something small to convince people they are "concerned citizens" before asking for something bigger.

Example of billboards in people's lawns study.

Fixed versus Growth Mindset

Fixed Mindset: belief that their abilities are basically static.

Growth Mindset: belief that abilities are like muscles-they can be built up with practice.

The growth mindset can be taught and it can change lives.

Failure should be seen as part of the learning process.

Shape the Path

Fundamental attribution error:

People have a systematic tendency to ignore the situational forces that shape other people's behaviour.

Most people attribute their marital problems to some deeply engrained personality characteristics of their spouse. e.g. "My husband is a stubborn person"

Shaping the path is making the journey easier.

Tweak the Environment

Tweaking the environment is about making the right behaviours a little bit easier and the wrong behaviours a little bit harder.

Example: Amazon's 1 click ordering.

Example 2: To lose weight, shrink your dinner ware. Use smaller plates, bowls and cups.

Haddon Matrix: A simple framework that provides a way to think systematically about accidents by highlighting three key periods of time.

Pre-event interventions - includes anything that would tend to prevent wrecks from happening: better highway lighting, anti-lock breaks.

Event interventions - accept that crashes will happen and ask ourselves how we can reduce the chances of injury. e.g. seat belts.

Post-event interventions - minimize the severity of the injuries and optimise the heath outcomes. e.g. speedy medical team.

Motion Study: Where you follow one person through the entire process that you are looking to change.

e.g. Making a purchase. Filing a complaint. Recycling an object.

Build Habits

One of the subtle ways in which our environment acts on us is by reinforcing (or deterring) our habits.

Example of the Vietnam Veterans Drug story. The change in environment (returning home) prevented the continuation of wartime drug use.

The good thing about habits is they allow lots of good behaviours to happen without the rider taking charge.

Have an "action trigger": You will execute a certain action (working out) when you encounter a certain trigger (the morning).

Example: pre-loading decisions. Asking students to decide when they will do the essay.

Tool: The humble checklist.

Example of Atul Gawande's Intensive Care Unit where he used simple checklists to dramatically reduce ward deaths.

Lists can help people avoid blind spots in a complex environment.

Rally the Herd

In ambiguous situations, we all look to others for cues about how to behave.

We often do things because we see our peers doing them. It's not only your body-pierced teen who follows the crowd.

Example: Filling tip jars to send a signal about the "norm" of the herd.

Publicise the group norm: "Other people are getting their work done. So what aren't you?"

Use "free spaces" - underground small scale meetings where reformers can gather and ready themselves for collective action without being observed by members of the dominant group.