Some is not a number and soon is not a time

I’m reading a brilliant book on change management called Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. I’m only 50 pages in but already I know these guys are the voice of reason and I’m going to enjoy the rest of the book. And it was dirt cheap on Amazon!

To set the scene they talk a lot about the tension between emotion and logic, referring to a cute analogy of an elephant and its rider, where the heavyweight mammal represents emotion and its rider, who holds the reigns and provides direction, represents reason and logic. Provided the rider has clarity over where to guide the elephant and provided there is something in it for the elephant, the rider should be able to keep the elephant heading in the desired direction. Any disconnect between the rider and the elephant is likely to result in the elephant choosing for itself where to go and what to do. After all, it is far bigger and far more powerful than the rider.

We have all experienced this conflict between emotion and reason. Every time we oversleep, over eat, skip the gym or bark at an inconsiderate driver we are letting our emotional side win over the rational.

It is very easy for the elephant to give in to temptation. It’s not great at short term sacrifice for long term gain and change often fails because the rider cannot keep the elephant on the path long enough to reach the destination. The elephant’s hunger for instant gratification is the opposite of the rider’s strength, which is the ability to think long-term. And the elephant’s strength, which is the enormous energy it can generate through its capacity for love and loyalty can be the opposite of the rider’s weakness. In search of logic and rationale the rider can over analyse and over complicate things and end up driving the elephant around in circles.

Out of this analogy comes a three part framework which the authors believe can guide any situation where you need to change behaviour.

  1. Direct the rider – provide clear direction, because what looks like resistance is often simply a lack of clarity – and remember that “some is not a number and soon is not a time”.
  2. Motivate the elephant – the rider can only get his way through force for so long.
  3. Shape the path – what looks like a people problem is often a situational one and small seemingly insignificant situational changes (“bright spots”) are often the key to unlocking successful change.

I love the stuff about identifying the bright spots and leveraging them. That’s just what Jerry Sternin did in Vietnam to tackle child malnutrition and links in seamlessly with the concept of positive deviance, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

And it was a special treat to see my old chum Richard Pascale get a mention on page 41 😉

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