Book Review: Switch

Picture of the cover of "Switch" by Chip Heath and Dan HeathI’ve been reading a lot of history instead of industry books lately. I finally decided to pick up an industry book and grabbed Switch off of my pile. I received a copy of it years ago at some event and had been meaning to read it. Recently, several people have mentioned it on Twitter and I took that as a sign that I should finally read it.

I’m glad that I did.

Written by Chip and Dan Heath, Switch covers the ins-and-outs of change management. Having practiced change management as part of projects for 20 years, I saw a lot of truth in this book. The way the authors break it down into core components to help you identify what you can do to help change people’s behavior is well thought out.

The quick summary: if you work on digital transformation projects or any information project where people have to change their everyday routine, I highly recommend this book. Even if you have done change management in the past, this book will help you take a more structured approach to achieving change.

The Elephant And The Rider

This analogy comes from The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. Chip and Dan describe our rational side as the rider, trying to guide the elephant were we want to go. The elephant represents our emotional side, following our instincts and default behaviors. The rider may want us to head into town but the elephant thinks wading through that river would feel great on a summer day.

When there’s a disagreement, guess which side wins?

And even if your rider manages to win a battle, it drains your energy that you cannot use for other things.

When making a change, you have to appeal to both sides. It may be easier to convince the “rider” with facts but sometimes an emotional appeal will help insure that a change sticks.

A good example they gave was paying down debt. It makes sense to the rider to pay down the high interest loans first. The problem is that after a while, you may owe less but the number of creditors owed is the same. Progress can feel slow to the elephant. However, if you pay off the smallest amount first, you may go from owing 5 different creditors to only owing 4. You can then take the money you gave the now eliminated debt to the next smallest debt.

While it may not make sense rationally, the constant signs of progress of reducing the number of creditors can motivate your elephant. It can keep that effort going after the initial start of the payments.

Don’t Forget The Environment

The authors also talk about shaping the path. With the right path, it is easy for the rider and elephant to proceed to the desired outcome.

I use this approach every day. I love cookies. I have been known to turn them into a single meal when my kids aren’t watching. I don’t mean to do it but it is always just one more cookie. Eventually they are all gone.

Snickerdoodles on a cooling rack in my kitchen

My rider is powerless against the elephant that loves cookies. I may resist for one or two nights but eventually I eat the cookies. That’s when I turned to shaping the path. I stopped buying cookies. It is easy to resist in the store, I avoid the aisle and don’t pick them up. There is no immediate gratification so my elephant is readily guided away from the cookies.  Now I only have to control the elephant when I am in the store. The rest of the time, there are no cookies to march towards.

Mind you this all falls apart when I realize I could just make cookies.

Putting It Together

This all sounds good, but how does this help your everyday? The authors address this by presenting real examples of how people have tackled difficult challenges in changing people’s behaviors and showing how it relates to each of the three components. Additionally, in each chapter, they present a scenario that you can either read through or use as an exercise in how you might better engage the rider, motivate the elephant, or shape the path.

With all of these examples, it was easy for me to think about my past experiences in the context that the authors presented. I could see why my successes worked and it helped me revisit why some past change efforts took more work than they should have.

Read It

There is a reason this book gets a lot of praise. It is useful. If you are in the information governance or enterprise content management (ECM) space, you should give this a read. Change is at the core of almost every project. If you don’t plan from the beginning how you are going to help people adapt to the new world, you are digging yourself a hole.

For those that don’t consider themselves to be in those spaces, I’m sure you’ve been dragged, or have dragged others, into a digital transformation initiative. No matter how you define it, transforming something is change. It may be revolutionary and easy for people to see the benefits. However, the odds are that there are some fringe people on the transformed process that will need some help changing. This book helps you break down different ways to make the change easier.

Many of you have already read this book. What did you think? Did it help you?

Fearing the Final Step

New PictureI love roller coasters. I’m not obsessed with them, but when presented with an opportunity to ride one, I take it. I particularly like old wooden coasters. They really make you feel like you are on the edge.

And yet…

When I was a child, I had the same fascination but I rode only about half the coasters that I came across. I had a fear of the coasters with loops. I would be excited to ride them, wait in a long line, and then when the time came to finally board, it was a 50-50 shot whether or not I would just walked through to the other side.

The Loch Ness Monster roller coaster was a frequent victim to my whimsical abandonment. I think I was successful only a third of the time prior to the age of 10. This is a little silly because I had ridden it before and enjoyed it immensely. The fear remained. There was no logic behind it. It was an irrational fear.

This has passed and every time I go to Busch Gardens, I make a bee line for Loch Ness. I figured I had conquered the irrationality until…

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Cloud May be Easier but Do Your Homework

imageAt this point, just about everyone acknowledges that the simplified, cloud-based Content solutions like Box and Syncplicity are here to stay. There is a place for them in the Enterprise world and that place will grow as their capabilities grow.

What I’ve been hearing and seeing is a repeat of what I’d like to call the SharePoint Experience. People would just role SharePoint out because it was easy and expect everything to work. As we all now know, that wasn’t always the case.

Content Management, when done in a way to do more than just replace a file share, requires planning. It requires Change Management aspects to be considered. The impact to the business processes needs to be planned. Old content has to be migrated.

imageWhen SharePoint hit it big, this didn’t happen. Technicians just implemented it without considering the need to understand Content Management. Now, it is a different story.

As these new offerings are purchased and deployed, I’m seeing a lot of the same things. Instead of IT, the business users are leading the efforts. Sure, they don’t need to create an architecture or determine what customizations are needed, but they still need to plan.

  • How are we organizing content? Are we going to rely on tagging? Do we need to establish a simple Taxonomy?
  • What are we going to do about existing Content? Do we migrate or leave it as is? Are we bringing any structures from the old system over?
  • How do we integrate our business processes?
  • Speaking of integration, what about our other business systems?
  • How are we providing documentation, training, and support to our users?

These are common issues in Content Management and with a cloud-based system they may be simpler questions to answer.

The key to answering these questions is knowing that they need to be asked before the project starts.

Checklists of things to do aren’t going away, they are just getting shorter. They are becoming simplified but still require knowledgeable Information Professionals to lead the effort.

The goal of these cloud-based Content Management solutions is to take the simplicity of file sharing and add the functionality of Content Management. We all need to make sure that the result of this combination is the best of both worlds and not the worst.

Failure, Mistakes, and Actual Success

shanghai_building_cs_20090629035740.jpgA month ago, as I was waiting to start my first day with AIIM, I can across several tweets that I felt over-stated the benefits of failure. I decided to write a quick little post on how Failure is Not a Positive on my tablet over my morning coffee.

There were some great comments, but I had little time to respond. I am taking some time now to respond because this is an important topic. First, let me start with my baseline statement:

Failure is bad.

I still stand by that 100%. It should be noted that once you are no longer in grade school, you realize that good and bad are on a sliding scale and are rarely absolutes. Something can be bad and not be the “worst”. Bad in this context refers to the simple fact that if you draw a line in the middle, failure is something to be avoided.

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SharePoint, Another “Legacy” Content Management System

After waking up to discover that I had a sick kid, I decided to spend my Martin Luther King holiday relaxing and making sure the kid got some rest. I made the mistake of logging onto twitter and retweeting something by Melissa Webster from today’s Lotusphere 2012 conference:

A.Rennie “Content at rest = cost, content in motion = value”, “Sharepoint is today’s document coffin”. Social ->relevancy, currency

The tweet was read by Gabor Fari who took immediate dislike to the tweet. Two facts that are important to know before proceeding. Gabor works for Microsoft and while I have worked with all major versions of SharePoint, most of my experience is with platforms that were mature when SharePoint was first released.

I’m going to recount some points of the discussion and expound now that I’m not limited by 140 characters. If you want to see the tweets, check both his and my tweets from Jan 16.

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One Organizational Goal, Many Paths

I wrote the other week about how I learned, without realizing it, many lessons about organizational change back in college. I left the most important lesson out, the shared mission.

Back in the Fraternity, we would debate almost anything for hours on end. We were all very passionate in our beliefs, and being young, had the energy to debate late into the night. (We were also shortsighted and neglected the realities of 8am classes).

It was rare that any vitriol would last more than a few days after a decision was reached. Many a Brother would walk out, slamming their key down (don’t ask). I only know of one Brother that hadn’t returned to the fold within days.


The reason was very simple, we all wanted the same thing.

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Everything I Need to Know About Organizational Change I Learned in College

If that title isn’t an arrogant statement, I don’t know what would qualify. I’ve been out of college for almost two decades and I just realized the truth of this statement listening to the Smithsonian’s Michael Edson today. I started to realize it on slide 136 and it crystallized in my brain during the Question and Answer session.

It wasn’t college itself, but my Fraternity experience. The Fraternity was the most political environment I have ever been in during my life and I’m just now realizing how useful it actually was, aside from meeting most of my closest friends to this day.

I’m going to confine myself to examples raised in the talk for this post, but I’ve already thought of related items that I’ve captured for future posts.

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