Book Review: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.
Chip Heath and Dan Heath, New York: Broadway Books, 2010.

switch book cover image Every year, library school graduates charge headlong into their first professional jobs, brimming with idealistic dreams of change. Then they slam into the brick wall of the real world, where routines are engrained, not everyone has power, and budgets aren’t created from the scholarly equivalent of Monopoly money. While most motivation and change-driven books speak to the higher levels of management, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath proposes a framework that allows change to come from all levels of an organization. This framework and the thought process that accompanies it can help new librarians take on the fluid future of library and information science.

The authors illustrate their basic framework for instigating change through a metaphor of an elephant and his or her rider. In this metaphor, the rider represents the rational side, which can be directed to investigate the problem, find positive aspects to grow on, and specify what should happen next. The elephant, the domineering emotional side, gets motivated by experiencing personal growth and breaking down the change. The elephant and rider work together to change the situation, build habits, and spread the new behavior.

Central to this framework is the balance between the rational and emotional aspects of encouraging change, as demonstrated in case studies throughout the book and examples from a variety of fields. Early on, Heath and Heath point out that what appears to be a problem with staff may actually be a problem with the situation. By looking at what is keeping people from completing XYZ, you can determine the root cause. The authors used as an example an expense report, an overly complex form that was simplified and made available electronically. To appeal to the emotional side, the leader of the effort can frame the task as something to help out a colleague who needs the task completed so she can finish her work.

Free supplemental materials are available by entering your email address at the authors’ website. Online resources include a one-page summary of the framework (also page 259 in the book), an organizational workbook, a reader’s guide, and podcasts about applying the switch framework in management, marketing, the social sector and your personal life. The eight-page workbook, while primarily a summary of the book itself, includes synopses of anecdotes from the book organized as a step-by-step guide to the process that new librarians can use in proposing changes.

A popular psychology book disguised as a business tome, Switch incorporates aspects of both fields and, according to the authors, is applicable at individual, organizational and societal levels. Switch is more conversational than its popular psychology counterparts and more laidback than a traditional driving business practices book. Despite its mainstream appeal, the book features a substantial scholarly section of notes and bibliographic references. It also details strategies for addressing 12 common obstacles, such as fighting the status quo.

Switch will give new librarians the tools needed to introduce their ideas for moving libraries forward without burdening readers with dense jargon, irrelevant “solutions,” or a sense of longing for a promotion.

Reviewed by: Catherine Odson. Catherine is a graduate student in Drexel University’s College of Information Science and Technology.