Book Summary: Switch – How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Over the last few decades a dispiriting body of research has been amassed, which suggests that the vast majority of change programmes fail, or fail to reach their intended outcomes. In their book Switch – How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, academics Chip and Dan Heath address this challenge head on.

The authors argue that we all have both an emotional and a rational side, which they portray as the elephant and the rider – for their relative roles and power.

They suggest that the emotional (elephant) and rational (rider) sides have different needs and limitations that we have to address for change to be successful. Furthermore, we can also smooth the path to make change as easy as possible.

The Switch model outlines three sets of actions to support each of the elephant, rider and path. The aspects of the model are therefore to:

Direct the rider by

  • Following the bright spots: ‘Investigate what’s working and clone it.’
  • Scripting the critical moves by specifying the exact desired behaviours.
  • Pointing to the destination, making the desired outcome, its purpose and benefits clear.

Motivate the elephant by

  • Finding the feeling: allowing people to feel an emotion about the subject, rather than just think about it.
  • Shrinking the change into a manageable size until it ‘no longer spooks the Elephant.’
  • Growing your people to meet the challenges through development and encouraging a growth mindset.

Shape the path by

  • Tweaking the environment so that it supports and encourages behaviour change.
  • Building habits, so that the new behaviour becomes automatic and no longer requires willpower.
  • Rallying the herd through modelling the new behaviour approach and building on social pressure to help it spread.

The Heaths have created a leadership book with great – but all too rare – balance. The Switch model and their recommendations are based on robust research from business, management, psychology and even international development.

These are then presented in a very accessible and readable book with lots of case studies and illustrative examples that both ‘point to the destination’ and allow us to ‘find the feeling’, resulting in an inspirational and immediately actionable read for leaders looking to make organisational or personal changes.

Switch – How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath is available at and  Additional resources are available from The book is reviewed by Eszter Molnar Mills.

Eszter Molnar Mills is a strength-based leadership and organisation development specialist and founder of Formium Development. She helps organisations and individuals reach enhanced performance by reflecting on what works, and developing skills and strategies for improvement.