Book Review: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

When change happens, it tends to follow a pattern. We’ve got to stop ignoring that pattern and start embracing it.

– Chip Heath and Dan Heath

I bought Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard on the strength of Made to Stick, the book that Chip Heath and Dan Heath wrote several years earlier.  They had taken a complex idea (the art of making ideas unforgettable), simplified it and made it re-usable by others.  I assumed they would do the same here.

They did not disappoint.

Living Up to Expectations

Distilling what they learned from studying countless efforts to change behavior and lifestyles, they made me realize that rather than being a mysterious event, Change is an understandable process that involves guiding our mind and heart down a path to the desired change.

For some of us, changing our hair color, styles, and habits can be effortless. But when we get to deep-rooted habits or fears that may be life-threatening, we back off or get sidetracked by other issues.

The authors provide a simple analogy to help us get at these deep-rooted problems:

Change is as simple as getting

  • Our mind: The Rider and
  • Our heart: The Elephant
  • To travel down The Path: a set of Habits/ Actions/ Environment
  • To our destination: The Change

How we get all three elements aligned to arrive at our change is the subject of the book.

Why Recommend It For Project Managers?

If you’ve read this far, you know that I am recommending this book. Why do I recommend it for Project Managers?  Because of one line:

“What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.” This idea would have saved me hours of frustration and, for me, made this book a keeper. I guarantee that you’ll find others that will make the book valuable to you.

What I like best about the Heath brothers’ books is that they always distill their ideas into a single page that you can reference long after you’ve read the book. Brilliant ideas, an easy read and Learning tools to use to implement their ideas? This sounds like a book you should buy…

If you’ve read this book and have your own opinion, leave me a comment, send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.



  1. One of the essential elements in all my work is to bring clarity to the situation. This is a change management technique in the same sense as “What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.”

    I’ve changed organizations by bringing that clarity, but in over 30 years, such events have been in the minority (but enough that it is still certainly useful).

    More often I’ve seen managers at all levels cling to “truths” that essentially protect them when in struggling organizations. When shining that klieg light on the situation to show everyone the real issues … such clarity often only introduces stress and resistance. In fact, too much clarity too soon can doom the effort to fix the situation.

    The technique I use here is the squeaky wheel. The purpose is to bring up the subject of the needed change periodically such that it becomes “normal” for the group to talk about this subject – even if early on it is to tell me to “not mention it ever again!” Being willing to speak the unspeakable, when done over time, has helped me move organizations out of their ruts and into making changes that made a huge difference. Once it has become normal to talk about making a particular change, many teams just make the change without any additional intervention.

    Clarity is useful, but sometimes one has to control the dose or else the patient will flee before they get enough to cure them.

    Bruce Benson

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