The rider & the elephant – part 2

Picking up from yesterday’s post. You need to understand that there are no good guys and villains in this model.  It may seem that if only the elephant wasn’t so easily distracted we’d be fine but it isn’t that simple.  The elephant is big and powerful and can do much to get us there.  The rider is prone to doubt and can fall victim to analysis paralysis, which can prevent us committing to something we know intuitively is right.  You therefore have to enrol both elements to enable you to move forward.

There are three key components in Switch

  1. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity:  You need to be clear what you want, so people can not only understand but do what you want.  The rider needs certainty of direction, or the elephant gets nervous
  2. Self control is an exhaustible resource:  It is tiring overturning deeply ingrained habits and behaviours, especially if we are under pressure.  When we get tired or forget, we revert to type.
  3. To change behaviour, you must change the situation:  You need to shape the path (or environment) to support the new behaviours whilst they take root.  In a business environment this might mean changing where people sit, office layouts, business systems and procedures.


“To change behaviour, you’ve got to direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path.  If you can do all three at once, dramatic change can happen, even if you don’t have lots of power or resources behind you.”

“We’ve deliberately left out lots of great thinking on change in the interests of creating a framework that’s simple enough to be practical.  For another, there’s a good reason why change can be difficult: the world doesn’t always want what you want.  You want to change how others are acting, but they get a vote.  You can cajole, influence, inspire, and motivate — but sometimes an employee would rather lose his job than move out of his comfortable routines.  Sometimes the alcoholic will want another drink no matter what the consequences.”

“We created this framework to be useful for people who don’t have scads of authority or resources.  Some people can get their way by fiat.  Ceos, for instance, can sell off divisions, hire people, fire people, change incentive systems, merge teams, and so on.  Politicians can pass laws or impose punishments to change behaviour.  The rest of us don’t have these tools.”

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