Kevin Conti
Kevin Conti
Creator of this blog.
Jun 8, 2019 6 min read

Book Review - Switch: How to Change When Change Is Hard

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Summary: A great book on change that really hits the core of the issue. This is going to be my go-to recommendation for people who want to read something on the subject, because it combines accessibility and content perfectly. The one-page guide in the back is a perfect reference for once you’ve finished the book.


  1. Direct the Rider

1a. Follow the bright spots

1b. Script the critical moves (focus on behaviors)

1c. Point to the destination (have a vision in mind to direct the rider towards a solution instead of discussing the problem

  1. Motivate the Elephant

2a. Use emotion (least useful tip in book)

2b. Shrink the change - break down task until it doesn’t feel overwhelming

2c. Grow your people - Change people’s identities to match the change

  1. Shape the Path

3a. Tweak the environment - Issues that appear to be willpower-related are often just environment-related

3b. Build habits - I slightly disagree on the authors with this one, I think habits require us to enjoy doing them in order to stick. Having this as a ‘solution’ ignores the fact that building habits is a huge problem for people. It’s not easy enough to do to really be considered a solution

3c. Rally the herd - Since humans look at others to see what the best course of action is, show that everyone else is already doing the behavior you want to reinforce.

My thoughts: 1. I loved reading this book at the same time as Leaders Eat Last, because it allowed me to connect the following thought:

In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek discusses the importance of a leader defining a vision for the team. Not just some ‘company vision’, but a real, concrete, inspiring vision of the future that everyone wants to work towards. As I read it, I agreed with the point but it wasn’t clear to me why this was true. Then I read the following quote in Switch:

When you describe a compelling destination, you’re helping to correct one of the Rider’s great weaknesses - the tendency to get lost in analysis. Our first instinct, in most change situations, is to offer up data to people’s Riders: Here’s why we need to change. Here are the tables and graphs and charts that prove it. The Rider loves this. He’ll start poring over the data, analyzing it and poking holes in it, and he’ll be inclined to debate with you about the conclusions you’ve drawn. To the Rider, the “analyzing” phase is often more satisfying than the “doing” phase, and that’s dangerous for your switch.

Notice what happens, though, when you point to an attractive destination: The Rider starts applying his strengths to figuring out how to get there.

2. Black and White goals:

The authors discuss B&W goals as things that sometimes are incredibly effective. In my own life I’ve found the rule “no more than 20 carbs a day” to finally fix my weight issues. It’s a black and white rule and it works.

I also think that this concept works in business too. When you create a black and white concept (Made to Stick, by the same authors, actually talks about this a lot), you allow people to evaluate decisions based on that concept and remove room for rationalization.

Here is this concept applied in a quote from Made to Stick:

Herb Kelleher [the longest-serving CEO of Southwest] once told someone, “I can teach you the secret to running this airline in thirty seconds. This is it: We are THE low-fare airline. Once you understand that fact, you can make any decision about this company’s future as well as I can.

“Here’s an example,” he said. “Tracy from marketing comes into your office. She says her surveys indicate that the passengers might enjoy a light entree on the Houston to Las Vegas flight. All we offer is peanuts, and she thinks a nice chicken Caesar salad would be popular. What do you say?”

The person stammered for a moment, so Kelleher responded: “You say, ‘Tracy, will adding that chicken Caesar salad make us THE low-fare airline from Houston to Las Vegas? Because if it doesn’t help us become the unchallenged low-fare airline, we’re not serving any damn chicken salad.'”

From the bonus epilogue in Made to Stick:

Whit Alexander, a co-founder of Cranium - the company that manufactures the hit Cranium board game - recalls a time that he called a Chinese manufacturing partner to discuss a concept for a new plastic game piece. The piece would be purple and made of multiple parts that would need to be glued together. The Chinese manufacturer balked. “It’s not CHIFF,” he said. Alexander was astonished. His supplier, halfway across the globe, had just corrected him using Cranium’s own strategic language. And the supplier was absolutely right.

CHIFF is an acronym that stands for “Clever, High-quality, innovative, friendly, fun.” The CHIFF concept defines Cranium’s strategic differentiation in the extremely competitive board-game market. CHIFF informs decisions across the organization - from branding to package design to the content of individual questions. (Example: A suggested question for the game asked how many justices were on the Supreme Court. It was too much like a standard trivia question, insufficiently Clever or Fun to be CHIFF, so it was rewritten: “In which of these sports could the memvers of the U.S. Supreme Court field a regulation team, with no justices left on the bench?")

The Chinese manufacturer had chastised Alexander for his kludgy idea for a game piece. Glued-together? That’s not particularly “innovative” or “high-quality”, the feel of the piece would be all wrong. The manufacturer came back with a design so smooth and novel that players during a game would hold spare pieces in their hand, turning them over and over just for tactile pleasure. Not only had the manufacturer improved the quality, he had also made a game piece “Fun.” Alexander was impressed.

This is a game-board manufacturing success story. More importantly, though, it is a strategy success story. It’s a strategy success story because the executives of Cranium developed a way to communicate a crucial element of the company’s strategy - its differentiation - in a userful, comprehensible way. “CHIFF” is simply a very clear, very actionable statement of strategiv differentiation. Cranium employees, suppliers, and channel partners all use CHIFF to make hundreds of on-the-ground decisions that defend Cranium’s competitive differentiation.

Let’s face it: there is no clearer proof that a strategy has been communicated properly than when a manufacturing supplier, in another country, with a different native language, uses it to correct (rightly) the founder of the company.