Ride the elephant

Carl Wu
Carl Wu
Oct 4, 2015 · 3 min read

<Switch> by Chip Heath, is a book about how to make changes. It could be changing the product direction, changing what time you go to bed at night, or changing a super talkative wife :)

The breakthrough starts with understanding why is it so hard for people to change. By nature, human are emotional, has weak self-control, and are short term thinkers. Adults learn to correct that by being rational, that is how we make it in the world, but it is exhaustive, thus, change is hard. The symbol used in the book to reflect this emotional + rational combo in us is a rider riding an elephant, that the rider sees long term goal and is calculative, yet the more powerful elephant is emotional and short sighted, so how to get the two to work together is the magic in making changes happen.

The three steps to make change happen, aka ride the elephant well, are:

  1. Give an inspiring mission
  2. Provide clarity in the path forward
  3. Take breaks and celebrate every success

Let me explain each. The mission should be a goal that people can see and feel. Instead of saying “overhaul medicine”, it should say “save 100000 lives”. The mission should tap into people’s inner elephant, get them excited, so images/video are likely better than words.

Second is the clarity in plan. The rider needs to have and demonstrate a clear path, from A to Z. Also, while he is using data for decision making, he is not paralyzed by choices, decisiveness is a key quality for rider. But most important thing for the rider is to BE THERE throughout the journey, create the plan and hand it off IS NOT a thing. Daily standup is a great invention, take advantage of it.

Lastly, people work hard, but get exhausted too. It is critical to pause and celebrate for the long journey. Especially at the beginning of the change process, instead of raising the bar, we should lower the bar, get small quick win to help others believe.

Pro Tips:

  1. Every group and individual has its identity (don’t work at a company has no value), align your mission with that. The book compares two type of decision model: consequence vs. identity; Consequence is decision by ROI, identity is decision by who you are, and is lot more powerful. lower income truck repairman would vote Republican even Democrat wants to give him health insurance, Millionaire Valley investor would vote Democrat even Republican wants to cut his tax.
  2. In execution, changing behavior is about changing situation, which means make good behavior easier, and bad behavior harder, e.g. put gym clothes out the night before if you want to go to the gym in the morning.
  3. In celebration, don’t just give general praise when someone does something nice, be super specific, to connect the good behavior and result. In my previous startup, they ring a big bell every time they close a carrier deal.

Common Mistake:

  1. Ask people to do thing by giving order, or giving incentives.
  2. Hand off to others completely without involvement after planning
  3. Think that change is easy

    Carl Wu

    Written by

    Carl Wu

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