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How to change things when change is hard

It seems that many of us tend to overrate our communication prowess. 25% of people believe they are in the top 1% in their ability to get along with others. Now, anyone with a minimum of statistical knowledge knows that in a group of 100 people, only one can be in the top 1%. So how come 25 people delude themselves into believing that they are the person with the highest ability to get on with others? This study is one of the gems in Switch: How to change things when change is hard by Chip and Dan Heath. The same brothers also wrote the best-selling Made to Stick, an exploration of why some ideas are successful and others aren’t.


Change, claim the authors, is not inherently frightening. However, our ability to alter our habits can be complicated by the disjunction between our rational and irrational minds. For rational and irrational, read left brain and right brain. In Heath parlance, our emotional, impulsive and instinctual side (right brain) is an elephant, while our rational, thoughtful, logical planner side (left brain) is the rider. When change efforts fail, it’s because the rider can’t keep the elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination. For change to happen, the rider’s planning and direction have to work alongside the elephant’s energy. If elephant and the rider are in alignment, change can come quickly and easily. If they’re not, change can be grueling.

Just as the idea generation process needs both the right and the left brains, so change requires us to strike a balance between our powerful drives and our reason. The authors conclude that all change efforts boil down to the same mission: can you get people to start behaving in a new way?


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