Two books that could change your life

April 4, 2010

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard
By Chip and Dan Heath
Broadway Business
304 pages

59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot
By Richard Wiseman
MacMillan
256 pages

Reviewed by Dana Wilson
Book Review Editor
Troy Media

Everything changes. Everybody changes. Everybody has things they would like to change about themselves, unless they are completely delusional. Generally speaking, however, change is not easy. But change is inevitable and controlling that change, shaping that change can (pun intended) change your life for the better.

Two books have recently been published that deal with the behaviours and thinking that need to be present before change can happen. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath, and 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot by Richard Wiseman are invaluable tools for people who want to change but are skeptical that they possess the ability to so.

Take me, for example. Like most writers, I have elevated procrastination to an art form (this review is scandalously late). Not only is this something I want to change; it is something I need to change, particularly if I want to get paid in a timely fashion and want to actually keep the writing contracts that I have.

So why would I put off writing this review? But that is the wrong question. The right question to ask is how do I get on with writing this review?

Rather than consult a therapy manual, I found the answers to my procrastination in Switch.

It is the story, according to the Heath brothers, of an elephant, a rider and the path they are on.

The elephant I am on is somnolent and completely unmotivated, I – the rider – am completely directionless and the path I am on seems to be thorny, overgrown and impossible to follow; As you read Switch, these puzzling factors explain why this review was never going to get written.

The elephant represents the emotional side of a human being and change is not really possible unless you engage those emotions; the rider is the intellect that theoretically guides the elephant, and change is hard unless some directional clarity is found that will allow the rider to direct the change; and the path is the situation surrounding the change you want to affect, it is “our inclination to attribute people’s behaviour to the way they are rather than the situation they’re in. (Switch, 160)

These three concepts provide a simple, if quite profound, conceptual framework for change. The beauty of Switch is that it provides multiple instances of just how various organizations and people have implemented change by engaging all three concepts and how to tweak each concept individually.

The concepts are quite compelling in and of themselves: the rider, perched precariously on top of a huge beast rampaging painfully down a choked, near impassable path, needs to provide some the beast with some direction to coax it down an easier avenue. That image underlies the fundamental concepts of this unique book.

While the various studies and anecdotal evidence provided in support of each concept make the book an enjoyable read by themselves  (it is fascinating to see how change was mandated by people with shoestring budgets against seemingly insurmountable obstacles), they also illustrate the key concepts and highlight the lessons the authors provide us to make change a less confusing and scary thing to implement.

59 Seconds, on the other had, is less conceptual and more practical. What can I do in my life in less than a minute to produce change? One of these quick changes actually helped me get this review under way. A person desiring to quit procrastinating should ideally break down a big, scary job into more manageable. But this still does not get the job done, or even started for that matter. How do you get started?

Richard Wiseman actually pinpoints this very problem in one of his book’s most useful features, the highlighted chapter ends featuring useful, QUICK implementations of the chapter’s salient directions. In ‘Procrastination and the Zeigarnik Effect’, Wiseman documents how a young Russian psychology graduate – Bluma Zeigarnik – noted that waiters completely forget orders from customers who had already paid (the task is done, no need in remembering it), but remembered those of customers who had not yet paid (task not done, near total recall). She extrapolated that once a person began a task, his or her mind would experience a kind of psychic anxiety and their subconscious would quietly nag them into completing it. In other words, don’t over think a task, just begin it, using whatever trick or stratagem you can conceive of to get it started, and your very human nature will force you to complete it. Great news for writers, I mean procrastinators.

Two different books, two different looks and two very effective mediums of change.

Switch is an excellent manual for any organization to require their employees to read; its strength is the solid research underpinning a necessary conceptual framework for change. While this is not to say that any individual would not benefit by reading this excellent book, it just seems more geared for organizational change.

59 Seconds is equally well researched and excellent for incorporating quick ‘change’ fixes into your life. If Switch should be required reading in business school and corporations, then 59 Seconds should be required reading in high schools and colleges.

Both books, read together could, quite literally, change your life.

Channels: mar.com, April 12, 2010

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