How Change Happens

Change is at the heart of innovation—no innovation happens without change, and innovation changes the status quo. Understanding how to make change happen, then, is of critical interest to innovators.

Made to Stick authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath have tackled the question of how to make change happen in their new book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. At the heart of Switch is this framework that sets out three ways change happens:

1. Direct the Rider (the conscious mind), eliminating what looks like resistance but is more often a lack of clarity by providing crystal-clear direction.

2. Motivate the Elephant (the subconscious), eliminating what looks like laziness but is more often exhaustion by engaging emotions to get people on the same path as you.

3. Shape the Path (the situation), eliminating what looks like a people problem but is more often a situation problem, by making the environment more conducive to the change you seek.

With this framework in mind, Switch co-author Dan Heath answered questions I sent him about how Switch works from the perspective of an innovator

What are Switch's main takeaways for innovators?

Switch discusses a simple framework for changing behavior. Innovators will need this skill more than most people, since they need to convince their colleagues to adopt new practices and their customers to embrace new products. One core principle of behavior change, which is particularly relevant to innovators, is that people rarely change because they are provided with information. Change comes from feeling, and the feeling provides us the motivation we need to overcome the nuisance of making changes.

So if you're leading change, you should ask yourself, "What can I get my colleagues or customers to feel?" As an example, consider Robyn Waters, who helped transform Target (TGT) into the design powerhouse it is today. In convincing Target's merchants to take a chance on new designs or new colors, she'd constantly show them things. See, look how using the bright blue Polo shirt makes your display "pop." And they'd get inspired by what they saw and give her a chance. She never could have convinced them with a memo or a PowerPoint.

What are the ways the relatively simple behavioral change of using checklists can drive more creative and innovative behavior (or outcomes)?

Checklists are basically insurance against overconfidence. A checklist will never generate an innovation—that's not the point. What checklists can do is train your innovative mind on the right issues. Let me give you an example. There's a classic study in psychology that asked students to come up with a solution for their university's chronic parking problem. Ideas ranged from raising parking fees to creating more "Compact Only" parking spaces. After the ideas were collected, a panel of experts assessed them—eliminating wacky or impractical options—and identified a set of "best solutions". The average individual brainstormer came up with 30 percent of the best solutions, which is pretty good for a solo effort.

Here's what's not so good: The brainstormers confidently predicted that they'd identified 75 percent of the best ideas. Whoops.

So imagine if we'd provided those students with a checklist of "solution categories" to guide their thinking about the parking solution. We'd remind them to think about things like "solutions that raise the cost of parking" and "solutions that help more cars park in the same amount of space" and so on. It would have sparked their thinking and kept them from forgetting key areas of consideration.

If a company's goal is to help its employees become more innovative, which is the best approach? Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant, or Shape the Path? Is there a desired combination for increasing more creative, innovative behavior? Or would the solution be very situation-specific?

The solutions will be situation-specific, but the strategy won't be. If you want your employees to be more innovative and creative, think in terms of a three-front campaign:

1. Provide crystal-clear direction. In a change effort, what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. For instance, what does it mean to be more "creative" or "innovative"? Different organizations would interpret those terms very differently. Do you want people to submit ideas for new products or processes? Do you want them to spend more hours in the field shadowing customers? Do you want them to build prototypes of their designs more rapidly? A leader needs to translate aspirations into actions—so think in terms of the behaviors that you want to encourage.

2. Find the motivation. As mentioned earlier, change comes from feeling. Why should people bother to act differently? After all, they've been practicing the "old ways" of behaving for months or years. It will take enormous effort for them to retrain themselves. Why should they bother? The motivation might come from the desire to correct mistakes—imagine screening a video of a customer who experienced a lot of hassle because of your team's failure. Or you could imagine appealing to their desire to be the best—painting a picture of an innovation that, if executed correctly, would blow people's minds.

3. Clear the path. If you want your team to be more creative and innovative, how many obstacles can you clear from their path? Can you create better IT systems to automate some of the bureaucratic duties that crowd out their creative time? Will you create PDA-free "quiet hours" so they can focus? Will you pay for offsite meetings so they can collaborate more easily? If you reflect on your own experiences, you'll surely realize that there were some environments in which you found it easy to be creative and others where it was impossible. How can you create an environment that makes it easy on your team?

Driving innovation within a company often requires people to embrace contradiction: think analytically yet also think metaphorically; focus on the near-term result yet also think out to the future; drive incremental innovation to keep the near-term bottom line growing yet also drive breakthrough innovation to keep the company growing into the future. Obviously it's important to know when to switch focus. But how do you change into someone who has this capacity, when hardly anyone has it naturally? What do you change about yourself to be able to do this?

I see these more as balancing acts rather than contradictions. E.g., you need a balance of short-term focus and long-term focus. And I disagree with you—I think we all have this capacity to balance. But sometimes we'll end up out of balance—say, too focused on short-term results, and then we'll need to correct the situation. And that's when the strategy discussed above—clear direction, emotional motivation, and a clear path—can be employed.

People tend to moan and groan about change, but the fact is, we're all pretty good at it. People get married, they have kids, they switch jobs, they move cities, they embrace new technologies, they eat new foods and wear new clothes. Of course, that doesn't mean your change at work will be easy, but it does mean there's no one on your team who lacks the capacity for change.

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