A Summary and Review of Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

This summary and review of the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, was prepared by Sara M. McGraw while a Business Management student in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana.

Executive Summary

    The book Switch by the Heath brothers is steps on how to change and make it work. The book gives you steps and examples of the process that they came up with. They discuss how the brain has two parts the rational side and the emotional side. The rational side is the side of the brain that over analyzes and overthinks situations. The emotional side deals with how you feel about something, you loving, compassionate side, and also your lazy skittish side. An example is when you want to start working out but you don’t want to get out of your cozy bed, that’s your emotional mind taking over.

    Most of the time, when we try to change something we fail at it because our emotional side takes over. In the book they use the terms the rider for the rational side and the elephant for the emotional side. These terms came from University of Virginias psychologist Jonathan Haidts book, The Happiness Hypothesis.

    Change is very hard because it is a conflict in our brains. We have so many automated behaviors and are set in our own ways. When things are unfamiliar we become hesitant and resist change. The key is to have the rider and the elephant on the same path and keep them there for change to work, meaning, have your emotional side aligned with your rational side.

    The first step is to direct the rider, by doing that you have to find the bright spots, script the critical moves and point to the destination. Finding the bright spots mean to focus on the positive of something and not the negative. Usually, our minds tend to go towards the negative in the situation. For example, if a child brings home there report card with all A’s and one F you focus on the F. When finding the bright spots you would focus on the good grades and why they are doing so great in all the other classes. Next, you script the critical moves; which means providing a plan and a clear direction. It’s easier to change something if you know what’s at the end. Last in directing the rider you want to point to the destination which means set a clear goal at the end.

    The second step is to motivate the elephant, your rational side, by finding the feeling, shrinking the change and grow your people. Finding the feeling is what motivates the elephant. You have to appeal to your emotional side for it to go along with you. Next, shrink the change; you have to make people feel as if they’re getting closer to their goal. Try to set small goals and then bigger goals. Once someone knows that they can accomplish the small goal they are more willing to keep going. Lastly, grow your people; people follow the behaviors around them. That’s why it’s important to have everyone on board to make the change possible.

    The last step once you have directed the rider and motivated the elephant is shaping the path. First, you have to tweak the environment by making the right behaviors easy and the hard behaviors hard. Next, build habits, habits are automatic so you need to create good habits for people to follow. Lastly, rally the herd, People typically follow the behaviors of others around them. It’s important to attempt to change the culture to gain the support from others.

    In order to keep the switch going you have to keep the elephant motivated. Use positive reinforcement and celebrate change as it happens, don’t wait until to the end. Don’t give up if it doesn’t work the first time, remember failure is learning from your mistakes. You brain is a muscle and you can train it to do anything you set your mind to you just have to keep your elephant and your rider on the same path.

The Ten Things Managers Need to Know from Switch

1. Change: a conflict built into our brains. Change is hard because everyone has an emotional side and a rational side of the brain. The rational side wants that amazing beach body but that emotional side doesn’t want to get out of bed to go to the gym or wants that piece of cake. The solution is getting your rational and emotional sides to align and work together.

2. First Surprise about change is; what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. For anything to change someone has to start acting differently. In order for you to get people to start behaving in a new way you have to change that person’s situation by influencing not only the environment but their hearts and minds. The biggest problem is our heart and mind often disagrees with each other.

3. Second surprise about change is; what looks like laziness is often exhaustion. Change is hard because people always wear themselves out. When people try to change they’re usually trying to change behaviors that have been automatic. They wear down their self-control trying to change these behaviors and often give up.

4. Third Surprise about change is; what looks like resistance is often lack of clarity. People need guidance and clear direction to what path to take. The rational side leads the emotional side in circles. You have to provide the clear direction.

5. The Elephant- The emotional side which is referred to as the elephant in this book is the loving, compassionate side that is also lazy and restless. The elephant wants the quick pay-off but doesn’t want to work for it. The elephant typically overpowers the rational mind. When change doesn’t happen it’s usually the elephants fault. Your emotional side tends to take over.

6. The Rider- The rational side which is referred to as the rider in this book over analyzes everything, has to plan, and needs direction. The rider usually loses to the elephant. The rider can’t control the elephant long enough to keep it working towards its goal.

7. Direct the Rider- In order to direct the rider you have to first find the bright spots, which means focus on the positive not the negative. Typically people focus on the problem and not what’s going right. Since the rider over thinks and contemplates everything he focuses on problems rather than the bright spots. Second, you have to script the critical moves. People tend to go with what’s familiar to them so in a different situation it’s important to script the critical moves and provide a clear path. Lastly, point to the destination; you need to have an end goal. You have to show both the rider and the elephant where you’re headed.

8. Motivate the Elephant- First, you have to find the feeling; emotion is what motivates the elephant. Second, you have to shrink the change, by reassuring you’re almost there or almost to your goal. It’s easy to achieve small goals and then turn that into bigger goals. Lastly, grow your people; you have to have a growth mindset. Believe that the muscle is a brain and it can learn and be built up with practice.

9. Shape the Path- First, you have to tweak the environment, make the right behavior easier and the wrong behavior harder. Second, build habits, habits are automatic behaviors. Change will work if you build the right habits by taking small steps in the right direction. Lastly, rally the herd, change is easier when many people are doing it because we imitate the behaviors of others.

10. Keep the Switch Going- In order to keep the change alive you have to recognize and celebrate the first step. Positive reinforcement is important to show others the greatness of the change so that they will keep it going. Small steps lead will lead to big steps. Change follows a pattern that you need to start embracing and stop ignoring.

Full Summary of Switch

Three Surprises About Change

The first surprise about change: What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. It’s about changing that person’s behavior whether it’s a hard change or an easy change. In order to change that person’s behavior you have to change that person’s situation. You have to influence your heart and mind as well as the environment around you. The brain has two sides; the emotional side and the rational side.  The emotional side is the side that feels pleasure, pain, love, and compassion. While the rational side over analyzes and over thinks many situations in their head. The book uses the term used by psychologist Jonathan Haidt form his book “The Happiness Hypothesis”, the elephant (the emotional side) and the rider (the rational side). The rider hold the reins and seems to be the leader but in reality the rider is a lot smaller than the elephant and the elephant can go anywhere it wants to  because of its size. In order to change you must have both on the same page. The second surprise about change: what looks like laziness is often exhaustion. When people want to change something they wear themselves out because people exhaust their self-control. They’re using their mental muscles that are needed actually make the big change. Our behaviors are automatic and when you want to change something you are messing with those automatic behaviors and that is why change is hard. The third surprise about change: What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity: People tend to not want to change because the direction given is not clear. You have to provide that clear direction in order for the change to take place. In order to change behavior you have to direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path. When you do all three at once you get results.

Direct the Rider

Find the Bright Spots:

The first step in directing the rider (your rational side) is finding the bright spots. This means you have to focus on the positive not the negative. Typically when people are trying to change something they focus on what’s wrong with the situation, why isn’t something going right. They need to focus on what they’re doing right, or why is it going well. The rider tends to look at problems rather than the bright spots. That is why you have to direct the rider, which bright spots provide that direction. You should ask yourself the question “What’s working, and how can we do more of it?” Find what works and don’t obsess over what doesn’t work.

Script the Critical Moves:

When directing the rider the second action you have to take is scripting the critical moves. With change you get new choices and with new choices you get uncertainty. Bringing that goal into an everyday behavior is important. Behaviors are automatic so changing into a different behavior it is important to script the critical moves. Providing a clear path to follow will allow change to take place. The rider needs a clear path because if the rider knows where it’s going it can’t analyze over it.

Point to the Destination:

When creating change you need a destination and end goal, in the book they refer to this as a destination postcard, which is described as a vivid picture from the near-term future that shows what could be possible. The rider needs to see what s at the finish line in order to make the move to get there. Destination postcards show the rider where you’re going and show the elephant why you’re going. It’s working on both sides, which is important because you have to get both sides to work together for change to happen. The rider needs to see the vision to make this change possible.

Motivate the Elephant

Find the feeling:

When motivating the elephant (the emotional side) you have to first find the feeling. When you are first given a piece of information it affects your feelings first and foremost.  Kotter and Cohen observed that in almost all successful change efforts the sequence of change is see, feel, and then change. No matter the situation it hits you on the emotional level. Emotion is what motivates the elephant, our emotional side. You have to have positive emotions about the change to want to change. When you’re interested you want to get involved and learn new things.

Shrink the Change:

The second step in motivating the elephant is shrinking the change. It’s important to make people feel as if they are getting closer to achieving that goal. Since the elephant is our emotional side it’s important to provide reassurance and positive reinforcement along the way. Start with small goals and work towards bigger goals. In the book they refer to hope as being precious to the change effort. It fuels the elephant and keeps it going. When you’re moving forward and you are confident in the change you are making you are likely to keep in that path towards your change. If the task at hand feels too big to accomplish the elephant will hesitate and resist. The more you conquer the small goals the elephant feels more confident and will move forward with less hesitation. Think of it as baby steps, you start off slow but when the child sees the praise for taking its first steps it continues to walk even more and then eventually the child is walking all over the place without any reinforcements.

Grow Your People:

People have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.  A fixed mindset believes that their abilities are basically static. You avoid challenges because if you fail you are unlikely to try it again. You what you get and there’s no changing it. A growth mindset believes the brain is a muscle and you learn things with practice you work towards that goal. The growth mindset is the best mindset. So, basically if you have a fixed mindset you need to change to a growth mindset. It’s important to teach people that your brain is like a muscle, it’s never too late to learn something new, people need to believe it is possible. The growth mindset believes failing is learning not failure; you have to learn from your mistakes in order to progress, it’s a natural progress.

Shape the Path

Tweak the Environment:

Once you have directed the rider and motivated the elephant you have to shape the path. Tweaking the environment is about making the right behaviors easier and the wrong behaviors harder.  Changing the situation instead of the people, we learned in the first chapter about the first surprise of change; what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. You want to tweak the environment to make bad behaviors impossible. Work on the surrounding environment to promote change.

Build Habits:

Habits are automatic behaviors; we don’t think about it we just do it. We are always trying to fit in with what’s going on around us making behavior contagious. When someone acts outside of the norm we look at it as unusual and strange. Usually when habits are brought up you automatically think of bad habits. To make change happen you have to change your habits. The book talks about action triggers, which Gollwitzer states, “protect goals from tempting distractions, bad habits, or competing goals.”Action triggers create an instant habit. Habits will form no matter what but getting a habit to support change you have to think about two things; does the habit need to advance the mission and the habit needs to be relatively easy to embrace.

Rally the Herd:

People follow others around them and look to others for signs about how to behave. Especially when our surroundings are unfamiliar we look at others to see what they are doing. When you are in a setting and nobody knows how to behave that can cause problems. Behavior is contagious and that is why we act as others act around us. You have to create the herd. Change is unfamiliar, so you have to pay attention to the social behaviors in order for to change to take place.  You have to attempt to change the culture to gain the support from others.

Keep the Switch Going:

Once you have directed the rider by finding the bright spots, scripting the critical moves, and pointing to the destination. Then, you have motivated the elephant by finding the feelings, shrinking the change, and growing your people. Lastly, you have shaped the path for the elephant and the rider. You have tweaked the environment, built habits, and rallied your herd. Now you have to keep the switch going. As, I said before it’s like baby steps, you start with a single step and with that single step you motivate and encourage the baby to take another step. It’s just like with change you have to keep that motivation and encouragement throughout the whole process or the elephant (the emotional side) will go off the path. You need to recognize and celebrate the first step, that way people will want to keep going. Reward each step taken, when being rewarded you’re motivated in a social or business setting. Don’t make your reinforcement condescending but rather make it have a clear view of the destination. Change is not an event but a process and to lead a process it requires persistence. It takes time, patience, and commitment.

    Once you make the small changes the snowball effect happens. When change does eventually work it follows a patter, meaning the rider, the elephant, and the path are working together in making the switch happen. You have to keep the elephant and the rider with a clear vision and motivated while on the right patch to keep the switch going.

Learning how to deal with both your rational mind and your emotional mind is a process, but once you figure out how to align them you can make change happen. Directing your rational mind by looking for the good and not the bad. Always having a plan helps and providing a checklist helps calm the rational over analytical mind of the rider. When you have a clear path and vision for the rider you can point him in the right direction.

    Next, motivate your elephant, take on your emotional side and find the feeling that keeps you going and motivated. Shrink the change and start one step at a time, start small and end big. Remember baby steps.  Grow your people, the brain is like a muscle you can build up your knowledge and learn new things. Failure is learning opportunity, learn form your mistakes so you can grow and don’t focus on the failure.

    Shape the path for your emotional mind and your rational mind. The elephant and the rider have to work together to move together to get from point a- to -point- b. Tweak the environment, adjust the environmental setting is to help with change. Build the right habits, when you see others around you acting a certain way you tend to follow that behavior. So in order to change you have to change the behavioral habits. Then you rally the herd once you get going where you need to be it’s important to get others to follow to the changes.

    Make lists and make small goals achievable first. For example if you’re trying to start working out to get a better body lay out your gym clothes the night before and throw away all those cookies in your cabinet so when your sweet tooth starts acting up there won’t be any cookies for you to munch on. Eventually, your mind won’t need to eat them if the cookies are not there. Train your mind into learning new things and try not to have a fixed mindset it’s very important to develop a growth mindset when making change efforts.

The Video Lounge

I chose the video of Dan Heath explaining what you need to do if you want your organization to change by putting feelings first. I think Dan Heath does a great job explaining about change and one of the steps you need to do in the change efforts. He offers good examples in the video and he gives a better understanding of change.

Personal Insights

Why I think:

  • The author is one of the most brilliant people around because the Heath brothers give an amazing outlook on change. Change is extremely hard and they make it seem like you can control it and make it happen. They provide you with a step by step process on making change work.

  • If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:

1. I would have explained the step and then put the examples. Throughout the book the Heath brothers provide plenty of examples but they are mixed in everywhere. I would explain first then put an example and so on.

2. I would make the book available in paperback; you can only purchase this in a hardcover copy. Not only is it a little expensive but I prefer paperbacks when I read, I like to fold my book over when reading.

3. I also think the pictures should be in color. He refers to one of the pictures on page 60 about the pyramid and references the different colors, which I can’t follow because it’s in black and white. You pay so much for a book and it doesn’t have that many pictures to begin with, you would think if you would use it in an example and refer to the colors that it would be in color.

  • Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:

1. Now I look at change in a completely different way, and it doesn’t seem impossible to me. I’m encouraged to try to make a positive impact in some kind of way. It inspired me that I am capable of change for the better.

2. Learning about the fixed mindset, which I am myself, and the growth mindset was very educational. I thought it was great information to think the brain is a muscle and you can build your knowledge and learn new information to grow. Failure is learning!

3. I will always try to balance my rational mind and my emotional mind. I know I am more of the rational side because I over analyze and over think everything. After, reading this book I feel I can change into a better person.

  • I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:

1. I will motivate my co-workers and employees in my career. I think positive reinforcement is very important in every business. Keeping people motivated means keeping them wanting to work towards the biggest goal.

2. I will teach people that the brain is like a muscle; just because you fail at something once does not mean you can’t try again. You can teach yourself new stuff and value from it. Practice makes perfect so don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work out the first time.

3. Setting clear goals and a clear vision; starting small and ending big. Focus on achieving the small goals to eventually get to the bigger goals.

  • Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:

“What others (scholarly and magazine reviews – along with on-line reviews – not simply reviews off the back of the book) have said about the book and its author?”

I thoroughly enjoyed the book as well as many others did. I tried searching for any bad reviews and was unable to find any. After all the book was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Naming a few that have enjoyed the book as well is Jeff Sexton, he claims the book had an elegant and mental framework and he often uses the techniques mentioned in the book.  Michael Sliwinski states that this book is really great and “a real eye-opener as to how people react to change and how to achieve change.” Kerry Hannon

says, “While you’ll find Switch displayed in the business and economics section of your local bookstore, clearly it would feel right at home in the self-help section. I enjoyed Jon Burgher’s comments the most, it seems as if he got the most out of the book and really learned from it as it helped him in his career. He states, “The book touches on personal and societal change but it seems best fit for the manager who is trying to affect change in his/her organization.  For these people I would highly recommend giving it a quick read as you’re putting the final touches on your change plan.  It would be a worthwhile task to take your plan and see how it applies in this model. I found all of the reviews really great for this book and hope others that I tell about this book read it and enjoy it as well as I did and apply it to social or business change.


Heath, D., & Heath, C. (2010). Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard. New     York: Broadway Books.

Sexton, J. (2013). Jeff Sexton Writes. Retrieved from


Sliwinski, M. (2010, March 24). I’m Passionate about Productivity, Business and Life. Retrieved from


Hannon, K. (2012, March 26). Expert, Author, Journalist, Speaker. Retrieved from   http://kerryhannon.com/?p=473

Burgher, J. (2012, February 12). Book Review Switch: by the Heath Brothers. Retrieved from http://jonathancavell.com/wordpress/book-review/2012/02/book-review-switch-by-the-heath-brothers


Contact Info

To contact the author of this article, “A Summary and Review of Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath,” please email sara.mcgraw@selu.edu or smcgraw85@yahoo.com.


About the Publisher

David C. Wyld (dwyld@selu.edu) is the Laborde Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. He also serves as the Director of the Reverse Auction Research Center (http://reverseauctionresearch.org), a hub of research and news in the expanding world of competitive bidding. His blog, Career News 24/7, can be viewed at http://wyld-about-careers.blogspot.com/.

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