Directing Change While Riding an Elephant


Switch, How to change things when change is hard, takes a fresh and powerful look at something everyone in the education field, on any level, is facing. The authors start with this premise: We all have two forces inside us at play: the elephant and the rider. The rider is our rational side: the planner, the willpower, the analyzer. The elephant is our emotional side: the doer, the motivator, the energy.  We must appeal to both in ourselves, and in our organizations, to effectively create change.

The rider provides the planning and direction, and the elephant provides the energy to do.  The riders use the analytical side to inspire understanding through spreadsheets and presentations. The elephants use the emotional side to inspire motivation to act and to continue on.

If you reach the riders in your organization but not the elephants, you will have understanding of the situation, but without motivation to do anything. Often the item gets tabled to discuss yet again. If you reach the elephants in your organization but not the riders, you will have passion but without direction. If the rider isn’t exactly sure of the direction to go, he tends to lead the elephant in circles.

Faced with directing change in your organization, these things can guide you:

  1. Direct the Rider. What feels like resistance is often lack of clarity. Provide crystal clear direction.
  2. Motivate the Elephant. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. You can only go on willpower for so long until you are exhausted. It’s critical to engage people’s emotional side.
  3. Shape the Path. What looks like a people problem is often a situational problem.  When you shape the path, you make change more likely to happen no matter what the rider and the elephant are doing.

There is so much information in this book that this simple review cannot do it justice, but if you are faced with creating change in your organization, you may want to check it out. It goes on to give clear examples of these principles in play, and specific scenarios modeling how to use these guidelines. It also appeals to both the rider and the elephant, so it’s an excellent ‘group read’ for any organization going through change.

One response to “Directing Change While Riding an Elephant

  1. I’m a big fan of the Heath brothers and really liked Switch. It wasn’t as powerful to me as “Made to Stick” but was still a fantastic book.

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