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Switch - Book summary

Making lasting change in our companies, communities and our own can be hard, because of inherent conflict in our minds. In this book, the Heath Brothers show us a 3-part framework that can help us to achieve desired change – at individual, organizational and societal levels – with significant results. In this free Switch summary, you’ll learn about the 3 essential ingredients (the Rider, the Elephant and the Path) needed for effective change. 

Three Surprises About Change

Change is like trying to get an elephant (with all its inertia) to travel down a new path. To succeed, there are 3 ingredients – the “Rider”, the “Elephant” and the “Path” – which must be addressed.  These are built on 3 insights about change.

1. What Looks Like Resistance is often a Lack of Clarity.

Often, people don’t change not because they resist it, but they are unsure how to change. To get people to change, give crystal-clear direction. 

2. What Looks Like Laziness is often Exhaustion.

When our minds are hearts are in conflict, it takes a lot of self-control for the rational mind to stay in charge. Each time we try to change things, we are need a lot of willpower to conquer our emotions; When our self-control is exhausted, we give up.  To get people to change, appeal to both emotional and rational minds.

3. What Looks Like a People Problem is often a Situation Problem.

To get people to change, change their environment or situation.

 The Rider and the Elephant

Switch book summary_3 ingredients for change

Throughout the book, the Heath brothers use the analogy of the “Rider” and “Elephant”, by psychologist Jonathan Haidt. The Rider represents our rational side trying to control the massive Elephant which represents our emotional side. The Rider may appear to be in control, but whenever the Rider and Elephant cannot agree on where to go, the Rider eventually loses.  The key to change is to address all 3 elements: The Rider, The Elephant and the Path.

Here’s an outline of the 3 elements but you can check out our full 9-page version of Switch summary for more details.

Switch: The 3 Critical Elements of Change

1. Direct The Rider

The Rider part of our mind has great strengths and an important role to play – it’s a thinker, planner, and helps us to chart the path for the future. However, its key weakness is its tendency to over-analyze problems. Hence, the best way for change to take place is to direct the rider. Show him (not just tell him) exactly where to go and what needs to be done.  In the book, the Heath Brother explains how to do it by:

  • Finding the Bright Spots
  • Scripting the Critical Moves; and
  • Pointing to the Destination

2. Motivate The Elephant

How do you motivate the elephant? By appealing to emotions, shrinking the change and growing your people.  Use these 3 strategies in the book coax the elephant to start moving:

  • Find the Feeling
  • Shrink the Change; and
  • Grow your People

3. Shape the Path

Most of us are prone to the “fundamental attribution error”, i.e. we tend to blame the person and discount the environment.  For example, if a driver were to cut into our path, we are more likely to conclude that he/ she is a rude or reckless driver, than to consider if he /she is facing an unusual emergency.

How we behave is systematically shaped by the environment or situations we are in. To get people to change, we can provide clear direction, provide motivation and determination, or simply give the an easier path or a simpler journey to make, using these 3 strategies:

  • Tweak the Environment
  • Build Habits; and
  • Rally the Herd

In the book, the Heath Brothers provide loads of tips, with vivid and lively examples to illustrate how to implement each of the strategies above. Check out our full Switch summary for more details.


Change is a process that takes place over time.  The secret to successful change is to reinforce each step of the process. It is easier to spot problems than progress, hence noticing and reinforcing progress takes effort.

Getting the Most from Switch

Ready to apply these 3 elements to changes in your life? Get more detailed insights, examples and actionable tips from our full book summary bundle, which includes an infographic, a 9-page text summary, and a 19-minute audio summary.

switch summary - book summary bundle

The Heath brothers bring their points to life with numerous examples of past research and studies, real-life stories and illustrations, including health and personal change, business turnaround and sales initiatives, government and conservation efforts, social change and family relationships etc. The book includes sections called “Clinics”, to help us think about how to apply the Switch framework, using real-world situations and suggestions on possible game plans. The Heath brothers also list 12 common problems to change and suggest how to tackle them. You can purchase the book here or visit the official website at

To learn more about change management and strategies, do also check out our summaries for: How to Change, The Power of Habit, and Our Iceberg is Melting.

About the Authors of Switch

Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard is written by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.

Chip Heath is a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, focusing on courses about business strategy and organizations. He has consulted with clients such as Google, Gap and The Nature Conservancy.

Dan Heath is a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE center, which supports social entrepreneurs. He previously worked as a researcher and case writer for Harvard Business School. In 1997, Dan co-founded an innovative publishing company called Thinkwell, which continues to produce a radically reinvented line of college textbooks. Dan has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from the Plan II Honors Program from the University of Texas at Austin. Besides this book, the Heath brothers have also co-authored Made to Stick: Why Some ideas Survive and Others Die and Decisive: How to Make Better Decisions in Life and Work. Their books have been translated into 28 languages to date.

Switch Quotes

“Small targets lead to small victories, and small victories can often trigger a positive spiral of behaviour.”

“This is a book to help you change things. We consider change at every level – individual, organizational, and societal.”

“To make a switch, you need to script the critical moves.”

“Change is not one of understanding but one of feeling.”

“Change isn’t an event; it’s a process…To lead a process requires persistence.”

Click here to download Switch book summary and infographic

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