Sunday, November 11, 2012

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

By Marilyn Brant

Normally, I'd jump at the chance to share with you all one of the, ohh, five hundred and forty-two thousand novels in my office (only a slight exaggeration) for my first Girlfriends book review.

But, while I do have several impressive stacks of great fiction scattered about, the book I've been reading lately (and, in fact, rereading in numerous spots) is actually a nonfiction project called SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. Any of you already familiar with it?

The reason I wanted to share it here is because I know many of our blog readers are aspiring or published authors. And, seriously, this book couldn't be geared more toward those of us trying to find a place in the publishing world...especially during the insane month of NaNo when there's such a focus on writing more prolifically than ever and, yet, we have other obligations pulling at us. As I was reading through the 300+ pages of text, I kept thinking, "Novelists can draw some great career advice from this! And, hey, maybe it'll also help me stick to my exercise program a little better, too..." LOL.

This is what the publisher, Broadway Books/Crown, had to say about SWITCH:

Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives?

The primary obstacle is a conflict that’s built into our brains, say Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the critically acclaimed bestseller Made to Stick. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.

In Switch, the Heaths show how everyday people—employees and managers, parents and nurses—have united both minds and, as a result, achieved dramatic results:
● The lowly medical interns who managed to defeat an entrenched, decades-old medical practice that was endangering patients.
● The home-organizing guru who developed a simple technique for overcoming the dread of housekeeping.
● The manager who transformed a lackadaisical customer-support team into service zealots by removing a standard tool of customer service

In a compelling, story-driven narrative, the Heaths bring together decades of counterintuitive research in psychology, sociology, and other fields to shed new light on how we can effect transformative change. Switch shows that successful changes follow a pattern, a pattern you can use to make the changes that matter to you, whether your interest is in changing the world or changing your waistline.
One of the many things I appreciated about the Heath brothers' theory is that it focused on three easy-to-understand avenues for change: the Rider (our thoughts), the Elephant (our emotions)  and the Path (our environment). If we're able to "Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant and Shape the Path," we're able to significantly alter our course. I found their examples to be clear and logical, regardless of what areas in life a person wishes to create change.

But the segment that really reminded me of the long journey to publication (and all of those roadblocks and rejections we face) and struck me as an insight particularly helpful for writers was a passage I found on page 169. The Heath brothers were talking about "creating the expectation of failure" and how, counterintuitively, warning workers/team members in a company that they should EXPECT to meet with hardship and frustration as they worked on their projects was, ultimately, an act of optimism.

They wrote (and the italics are theirs), "That's the paradox of the growth mindset. Although it seems to draw attention to failure, and in fact encourages us to seek out failure, it is unflaggingly optimistic. We will struggle, we will fail, we will be knocked down -- but throughout, we'll get better, and we'll succeed in the end. The growth mindset, then, is a buffer against defeatism. It reframes failure as a natural part of the change process. And that's critical, because people will persevere only if they perceive falling down as learning rather than as failing."

All I could do in response to that was to nod, nod again, and say, "Yeah..."
Marilyn Brant writes award-winning women's fiction and romantic comedy. Her debut novel, According to Jane, won RWA's Golden Heart Award for Best Mainstream Novel, the Booksellers' Best Award and the Aspen Gold, among other honors. It was named one of's "100 Best Romance Novels of All Time," (she takes great delight in reminding her not-always-so-romantic husband about that), and the trade paperback edition is on special sale at Amazon right now. Her latest novel is A Summer in Europe, which was a Literary Guild, BOMC2 and Rhapsody Book Club pick.


  1. Interesting post, Marilyn. Thanks for telling us about SWITCH.

    1. You're welcome, Lori!
      I was hoping it might be a book of interest here ;).

  2. Thanks for sharing, Marilyn. You sold me! Sounds like a great book. I'm a sucker for motivation books.

    1. Karin, I love motivation books, too!
      I only wish I could always remember to do the wise things they tell me to do...

  3. Great information! I love that. I feel that way about my books, so obviously I'm on my way to success. lol

    1. You ARE a success, Edie!!
      But, yeah, every time I read the line "we will struggle, we will fail, we will be knocked down..." I am convinced the Heath brothers are talking to me, LOL.

  4. I saw this book today, I sold it I believe. I'll pass the praise along to a friend of mine. She's just about had it with traditional publishing, too many rejections. She's working ebook publishing via Amazon, then the other major e retailers.

    1. Anita,
      I hope your friend will find it helpful. The person who'd recommended it to me wasn't a novelist (we were talking about making better dietary/fitness choices when she mentioned it), but there were a lot of concepts in the book that jumped out at me as being applicable to writers. Especially those thoughts on "failing" -- or, rather, "learning." :)

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