Book Notes: Switch, the best book on change I’ve read so far

I’ve been feeling like i’m stuck in a rut and decided to read this book “Switch”. I like how it makes Daniel Kahneman’s analogies of Systems 1 & 2 more relatable and specific to the topic of Change. Highly recommended!

There are so many great chapters that I found myself screen-shooting so many pages of the book so I can keep a copy with me even when it’s overdue. The Heath brothers describe the necessary conditions for successful change to happen.

Book Notes:

  • There are basically 3 basic factors at play for change to happen successfully. A clear-headed Rider (your brain), a willing Elephant (your emotions) and a well-laid Path (your situation.)


  • The Rider is basically your brain. While it’s very useful for analyzing multiple options and situations, having too many options usually results leaving your brain in analysis paralysis.
  • In situations where change is needed, too much analysis will doom the effect. Your Rider tends to focus on problems instead of solutions and will spin its wheels until you are given clear direction.
  • That’s why to make progress on a change, you will need to direct the Rider. Show him how to act, what destination to pursue.
  • Look for bright spots – when you feel overwhelmed by the current situation, take a step back and look for bright spots. These are the instances where change happened successfully despite of multitude of factors that contributed to the problem.
  • Example: Jerry Sternin was tasked to solve Vietnam malnutrition issue and was given 6 months. He looked for mothers that had healthy kids even though they faced of all the problems all the other mothers do (e.g, poor sanitation, poverty, etc). In the end, he discovered it was because of certain local foods that these healthy kid mothers were adding to the porridge (i.e, small crabs that provided protein) and feeding habits (feed kids four times a day instead of twice so their bodies can absorb more nutrients).
  • Jerry then created change based on the 3 factors, he drafted the necessary actions for mothers to change their feeding habits (RIDER), created social pressure and hope for the mothers to encourage them to change their feeding habits (ELEPHANT) and started communal cooking classes that were easy to sign up for (PATH)
  • Important that he did not try to import a situation from another country, but looked towards the community for solutions so the locals would support and not look for excuses.
  • Status quo feels comfortable and steady because much of the choice has been squeezed out. You have routines and your way of doing things, the Rider is on autopilot.
  • Ambiguity is exhausting to the Rider, because the Rider is tugging on the reins of the Elephant, trying to direct the Elephant down a new path which is uncertain. Elephant will insist on taking the default path because uncertainty makes the Elephant anxious.
  • Compelling vision is critical, but the paralyzing part for change is in the details.
  • Scripting critical moves helps to translate aspirations to actions.
  • You have to think of the specific behavior that you want to see in a tough moment and follow through. E.g. (Change from high to low fat diet by getting people to just buy 1% skim milk, use invasive options in surgery as resort.)
  • Describe a compelling destination for Riders to correct the Rider’s greatest weakness of getting lost in analysis.
  • Riders love the analyzing phase more than the doing phase and that’s dangerous if you are trying to change.
  • If you worry about inaction, create B&W goals – marry your long term goal with short term critical moves. For example, rather than “eat less” (ambiguous), it’s more helpful to a B&W goal of “no more food after 8pm”.
  • Rider has many strengths, such as sacrificing short term gratification for long term goals and is a clever tactician, but you have to give him a map so he can follow it perfectly. His flaws such as limited reserves of strength, his analysis paralysis can be mitigated by following bright spots and giving clear directions.


  • When change works, it’s because leaders are speaking to the Elephant as well as the Rider.
  • People think change happens in the ANALYSE – THINK – CHANGE order, but rather it is SEE – FEEL – CHANGE
  • In most change situations, the parameters are not well understood and future is fuzzy
  • You are not going to convince an unsure bride to by talking up tax advantages and rent savings
  • You have to present a picture or evidence that makes you FEEL something. It might be a disturbing look at the problem, or a hopeful glimpse of the solution – something that hits you at the emotional level.
  • Example: Target design executive Robyn Waters brought in trendy iMacs and M&Ms to let people ooh and ahh over them to show them how color could affect purchasing decisions. She wanted them to feel energized, hopeful, creative and competitive – they took the bait.
  • We tend to take the rosiest interpretations of the facts for ourselves, which can be an enormous problem with regard to change.
  • Before we can move in a new direction, we need to get a clear picture of where we are and how we’re doing.
  • People tend to change only when a crisis compels them to , which implies we need to create a sense of fear or anxiety or doom. However, this only works in certain cases.
  • Burning platform: fear can be a powerful motivator, especially if you need quick and specific action.
  • However, most change is not a “stone-in-my-shoe” situation, but rather requires creativity, flexibility and ingenuity (e.g. how to improve a marriage)
  • Positive emotions have their uses too: Joy leads us to play, which allows us to broaden the kind of things we are doing, like building resources and skills. Interest lends us to get involved and to tackle new experiences. Pride experienced when reaching personal goals broadens the kind of tasks we contemplate for the future and encourage us to pursue even bigger goals.
  • Make people feel like they are closer to the finish line than they thought. People find it more motivating be partly finished with a longer journey than to be at the start of a shorter one.
  • Shrink the change to make the Elephant feel like there is immediate payoff.
  • 5 minute room rescue technique: instead of thinking of cleaning your whole house, get a kitchen timer and set it for 5 mins. In that time, start clearing a path and you can stop without a guilty conscience. Chances are you won’t stop after.
  • Starting an unpleasant task is always worse than continuing it, so shrink the change and just do it.
  • Useful tips when shrinking change: limit the investment (just 5 minutes) and think of small wins (milestones that are within reach).
  • Engineer small wins at the beginning to engineer hope! Hope is precious in a change effort, it is Elephant fuel.
  • Once people are on the path and making progress, its important to make their advances visible. Solutions focused therapists ask the “Miracle question” – e.g, imagine all your troubles were resolved, what would your morning look like? How would you know?
  • You can create a miracle scale – “wow you’re already 20% of your miracle there!” Focus attention on small milestones that are attainable and visible rather than on the eventual destination which may seem remote.
  • Change is more often than not, 1 small step forward, 1.3 steps back and 2.7 steps forward.. etc.
  • No one can guarantee a win but the goal is to be wise about the things that are within our control (e.g, how we DEFINE the ultimate victory and the small milestones that lead up to it)
  • Small wins should be 1) meaningful 2) within immediate reach.
  • When a task feels too big, the Elephant will resist. Big changes come from a succession of small changes.
  • The challenge is to get the important part of your self image and triggers the kind of decision making.
  • Identities are central to decision making, any change effort that violates someone’s identity is likely doomed for failure.
  • People adopt identities all the time, “e.g, mother, priest, scientist”. You can cultivate identities in people.
  • For identity model of decision making, we tend to ask ourselves, “Who am I?” “What kind of situation is this?” “What would someone like me do in this situation?”. What’s missing is the calculation of cost and benefits.
  • Failure is part of creating change. You need to create the expectation of failure en route, but not the mission itself. Have a growth mindset that reframes failure as a natural part of the change process.
  • Our brains and abilities are like muscles that can be strengthened with practice. We are not born skateboarders or nurses.


Perhaps the most compelling factor for change to happen is for there to be a conducive environment to make the journey for both the Rider and Elephant easier. Create a steep downhill slope and give them a push. Remove some friction from the trail. Scatter a lot of signs to tell them they’re getting close. Shape the path for them.

  • Self manipulation works. People eat less when you use smaller plates
  • Haddon Matrix: Pre-event, event and post event to prepare for social and environmental factors
  • People are incredibly sensitive to the environment and culture – the norms and expectations of communities that we live in.
  • To change people and yourself, you have to change your habits, that’s why people usually change their environments (e.g, smokers find it easier to quit when they are on vacation.
  • In cases where you can’t change the environment, you can use action triggers by preloading decisions to pass control of your behavior to the environment. E.g, I will call my mom after I drink my coffee in the morning.
  • Action triggers have a profound power to motivate people to do the things they know they need to do. Action triggers triple the rate of success for hard goals. E.g, write down where to exercise and which days
  • Habits are behavourial autopilots, to work, they need to to 1) advance the mission, 2) be relatively easy to embrace
  • Use checklists to help yourself eliminate blindspots in a complex environement.
  • As you try to make a switch, the hardest struggle will be to maintain your motivation, to keep your Elephant on the road. This puts a huge burden on your Rider to rein in your Elephant. It’s much easier if the Path is in your favour.
  • Herd mentality: It’s much easier to persevere on a long journey when you’re travelling with a herd.
  • In ambiguous situations, we all look to others for cues to tell us how to behave.
  • Behavior is contagious, when someone becomes obese, the odds of the person’s close mutual friends becoming obese tripled!
  • How to keep small steps to becoming consistent steps? First thing is to recognize and celebrate that first step.
  • Animal trainers use approximations to set a behavioural destination to reinforce positive behaviours
  • We need to be looking for bright spots and start rewarding them! If you want your boss or teammate to change, you have to be less stingy with the mango (rewards)
  • Big changes start with very small steps. Small changes tend to snowball. When change works, it follows a pattern.
  • People who change have clear direction, ample motivation and a supportive environment.