Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (Book Review)


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How to change things when change is hard. Yep...sounds like what the green movement struggles with every day. How do we get everyone to change things as ingrained as unsustainable eating habits? How do we get governments to shift energy policies? How do we get businesses to switch to zero waste practices? These are HUGE changes that feel impossibly hard. And yet, they're not. At least, not according to the authors of Switch, a new book outlining exactly how we think, and how we can approach problems from new directions in order to make the big deal changes so vital to a sustainable future. From looking at "bright spots" - or the tiny fraction of things going right - rather than the problems, and examining how to direct both the logical and emotional parts of our brains so they're heading in the same direction, Switch makes change feel exciting, and possible. I first caught word of this book while skimming through a recent issue of Fast Company, which had an excerpt printed in it. In it, authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath discussed "bright spots" or looking at a problem not from what's going wrong, but from what's going right. Taking what's going right and copying it is a whole lot more fun and more effective than hemming and hawing over what's going wrong and figuring out how to fix it. You've already got a solution...so scale it up! That practical optimism is what permeates the book as it delves into human psychology and how we can do the impossible - change.


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Two Parts of the Brain, Three Basic Principles
Switch uses practical insights for any part of life, from the individual level to communities, businesses, even governments. The principles are the same - we have a rational, logical side to our selves and an emotional side. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, and both need to be turned to the same path in order to make any progress at all. Switch outlines how to do just that. And their outline applies perfectly to our global struggle to be environmentally conscious and live sustainably - arguably the most difficult and complex change of all.

The three principles are basic. First, give clear direction to the logical brain, then motivate the emotional brain, and finally clear the path for change by tweaking things so that the right behaviors are easier, and the wrong behaviors harder to follow. Sounds like advice you could have thought up yourself, right - and also easier said than done? Except Heath and Heath illuminate some fascinating things about how this basic notion is tough, but not impossible. Not in the slightest.


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Examples Galore of How Change Is Possible, on Any Scale
The authors list dozens of examples of these principles working brilliantly, from a college student who rallied a Caribbean island to save its national bird from extinction, to health researchers who figured out how to get people to switch from whole milk to 1%, to a social worker who improved the lives of malnourished Vietnamese children by getting moms to educate one another on healthier local diets. From sustainable business practices to environmental conservation to changing government policies, the guidelines in Switch are a perfect text book to study for any of us hoping to change our future. If only we'd studied it before COP15!

The authors note, "If you go to the bookstore, you'll see a long aisle of self-help books: how to diet, how to beat alcohol, and so on. YOu'll see parenting books. You'll see "change management" books for executives. You'll see "save the world" type books. And it's like they're all addressing unrelated problems. But ultimately, for antyhing to change, somebody somewhere has to behave differently. And that's why it was so easy to spot patterns among these different domains - that you can literally use the same change strategy when you're trying to change your son or change your neighborhood. It all comes down to behavior change."


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Change for the Environmental Movement
And that's certainly the case with the green movement. We have to behave differently within our world if we want a world on which we can live at all. And after reading Switch, it will seem ever more possible to enact the individual, societal and organizational changes we need to make. As I read the book, I started marking pages that had gems - a great point, a perfect example, a well put idea...until I realized that I was marking every other page. Essentially, you just have to read this book for yourself, digest the information, and utilize it. It's a relatively fast read, and it will change your outlook in surprising ways - from how you view people who seem like environmental stick-in-the-muds to how you view your own potential in making big, tough changes. I'll leave you with this:

Solutions-focused therapists believe that there are exceptions to every problem and that those exceptions, once identified, can be carefully analyzed, like the game film of a sporting event...and that analysis can point directly toward a solution that is, by definition workable. After all, it worked before... What does this mean for you? [I]f you're trying to change things, there are going to be bright spots in your field of view and if you learn to recognize them and understand them, you will solve on eof the fundamental mysteries of change: What, exactly, needs to be done differently?

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5 Ways to Motivate Your Green Drive Now!
How to Be an Activist: 5 Ways to "Pay Our Rent" For Living on This Planet

Tags: Activism | Books | Education