Monday, February 28, 2011

Switch: Big problems = Small solution

Book review written by Graduate student Juliana Sánchez Trujillo*

The book Switch: How to change things when change is hard is the latest publication of Chip and Dan Heath, well known for their previous best seller Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

, more than being just a regular self-help book, is a how-to guide that relates to different fields with diverse challenges. The book is intended to drive change at the individual, organizational and societal level. The Heath brothers agree that change often doesn’t happen because it is treated as something separate depending on the context. But the reality is that all kinds of changes share something in common: “For anything to change, someone has to start acting differently” (p. 4).

The strategies suggested by the authors, are based on the psychological theory that the brain has two independent systems, or minds, that work at the same time. First, there is emotional side that is instinctive and is led by pain and pleasure. Second, there is the rational mind that deliberates, analyses and provides glimpses of the future. They are both constantly competing for control and unless they get on the same page, change is unlikely to happen. The main reason why change is often so difficult is because our rational perspective is not aligned with our feelings, hence we feel scared to do things differently even when we recognize the need for a transformation.

To make things practical and easy to understand, the Heath brothers use the analogy presented by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom and Philosophy to the Test of Modern Science . He compares the emotional side with an elephant and the rational side with the rider. Sitting on top of the elephant, the rider wants to be able to steer the animal in any direction he chooses, but his control is very limited since the rider is smaller than the animal. “Changes often fail because the Rider simply can’t keep the Elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination” (p. 7). With examples from ordinary people: marriages that are falling apart, teachers that wish their students would behave better, nutritional problems in Vietnam or nurses that try to avoid medical mistakes, the book engages the reader with stories and breaks them down to understand the core of the problems that lie within. It is so powerful, yet so simple that by the end of the book it gives you the empowering feeling that anything is possible if you follow the three simple steps that make the magic work:

- Direct the Rider. Recognize the importance of change and where you are headed.
- Motivate the Elephant. Make emotional connections with the challenge.
- Shape the Path. Transform the environment to assure success.

Switch encourages the reader to move forward and take action in a fast-changing world. It is an important resource for the creativity field since it shows alternative ways to face the Problem Finding stage of the Creative Problem-Solving process. It provides valuable insights on how to strengthen the creative thinking skills of risk taking, sensitivity to the environment, emotional awareness and mindfulness. As I increase my experience in the field, I have noticed how hard it is to put ideas into action. Even if the situation is often clear, and a plan of action has been outlined our feelings stop us from moving forward. This is when we recognize the importance of knowing how to address the emotional and affective sides to make change real. My favorite part of the book is the positive approach they encourage when clarifying a challenge. They advise to focus on the solution rather than on the problem and also to praise those things that are working well. To identify them, they suggest asking the following question:

Imagine that in the middle of the night, while you are sleeping, a miracle happens, and all the troubles that brought you here are resolved. When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first small sign you’d see that would make you think, “Well, something must have happened – the problem is gone!”? (p. 36).

Also, the book put my challenge understanding skills to test when I read the case studies and asked myself the questions about possible approaches and solutions to the problem. This gave me both the background information and the opportunity to practice by assessing my comprehension, which makes this text a good learning resource. However, it is important to know that it is not a step by step guide; it simply provides the big picture of things one has to consider when facing different changes. Nevertheless, the book provides a fresh perspective to embrace change from a different mindset and to understand how to motivate ourselves and others in order to see results. From how to stick to a diet, or wake up as soon as the alarm clock rings to solving issues with sugar daddies in Tanzania. Switch is a book that applies to everyone everywhere. Now, when are you going to start a change that matters?

*Juliana Sánchez Trujillo is a social communicator from Colombia and a full-time student at the International Center for Studies in Creativity. She holds a special interest about the ways to foster creativity in the classroom and the workplace through playfulness’ techniques.

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