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How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

By Chip Heath & Dan Heath
  • Read in 16 minutes
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Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Switch examines why it is often difficult for people to switch their behavior, and how, by understanding the mind, it is possible to find shortcuts that make change easier. Through scientific studies and anecdotes, Switch provides simple yet effective tools for implementing changes.

Key idea 1 of 10

Find the bright spots, learn from them and spread them around.

Your inner rider is a terrific thinker and planner. Unfortunately, he is also prone to spinning his wheels: overanalyzing every aspect of a potential change without actually doing anything. Worse still, his analysis is totally problem-focused, obsessing over all the difficulties ahead.

But endless analysis of the obstacles in your way gets you nowhere; you must give the rider a clear direction to go in so he can put his planning and rational thinking to good use. Instead of looking at the problems, find and focus on the so-called bright spots: specific situations or areas where change has already succeeded. Then figure out how change was achieved and leverage these lessons to make the change more widespread.

This approach was employed by Jerry Sternin in 1990, when the government of Vietnam invited him to help fight children’s malnutrition. Rather than tackling the myriad and near-unsolvable causes of malnutrition (poverty, poor sanitation etc.), Sternin decided to look for bright spots. He found that in a small local village with near-universal malnutrition, some children were in fact well-nourished. Their families had already solved the problem.

By observing these families, Sternin discovered that there were small but important differences in the way these children were being fed. For example, while the children received no more food than in other families, their mothers fed them smaller portions more often. Sternin managed to spread these behaviors to other families, who accepted them more readily because they came from their own community, not from outsiders.

The impact of these small changes was amazing: six months later, 65 percent of the children in the village were better nourished. The bright spots had spread considerably.

Find the bright spots, learn from them and spread them around.

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