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Review: "Switch" by Dan & Chip Heath

February 9, 2010

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard
Chip and Dan Heath, Broadway Books, © 2010

Note: this review is based on a prepublication review copy. The book became generally availabile on Feb 16th.


Buy this book, read this book, use this book. If you are in any way or form leading people, then I have no hesitation in saying you need to read it and that you’ll benefit from it. If you are simply a member of a group that is undergoing change or needs to undergo change, then you are also in the target audience—reread the first sentence please. Simply put, this is a very good book with some powerful insights and pragmatic counsel on how to not just survive change but create it and put it to work for you and everyone around you.

Table of contents:

1. Three Surprises About Change

Part I: Direct the Rider
2. Find the Bright Spots
3. Script the Critical Moves
4. Point to the Destination

Part II: Motivate the Elephant
5. Find the Feeling
6. Shrink the Change
7. Grow Your People

Part III: Shape the Path
8. Tweak the Environment
9. Build Habits
10. Rally the Herd

11. Keep the Switch Going

One Page Takeaway Points


The Heath brothers’ first book, Made to Stick, is one of my favorites and has had a real impact on both my thinking and how I’ve done some things lately. While I don’t think this one will displace their earlier book on my favorites list, Switch is just as compelling and important.

Switch is a well-written narrative full of stories, examples and well documented research. This isn’t a management theory book but it’s not a recipe book either. Instead, it’s a set of pragmatic, proven insights that will help you not just manage change but to steer it and profit from it. The book is built on a simple metaphor: a rider attempting to steer an elephant down a winding path. The rider represents our intellectual side: logical and thinking, nominally in charge but quite weak when compared to our emotional elephant. The paths are the outside world’s influence—the twisty, often narrow routes into and through a changing environment.

Dan and Chip take a look at each element, looking for strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. Along they way they relate stories of individuals, small groups and large companies who created change where it was needed or managed change where it was imposed—often with successes all out of proportion to their position in the group, budget, or expectations. How they were successful, the “lessons learned,” is what this book is about.

One example, and it’s typical of the book because it’s simple, pragmatic, and powerful: “Find the Bright Spots.” The Heath’s point out that whenever we encounter a problem, a situation that needs to change, we immediately focus on what’s wrong, then come up with a strategy to fix it. That seems reasonable but it’s actually focused on the wrong things. Better is an approach that says, “What is right here and how do we make more of it?” This insight simply recognizes that surrounding the part that’s “broken” are other parts that are okay and a few that are actually working well. Find the bright spots and you’ve found a model for fixing the broken parts. And yes, that isn’t always the answer—that’s why it’s chapter two of eleven.

I liked this book. It’s interesting, challenging, but not difficult. It’s ideas are practical and grounded in real world experience and neuroscience research.


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