By: Chip And Dan Heath



Change of all kinds is hard - you just have to check in on February 1st with your New Year’s Resolutions to figure that one out. Now imagine how hard it is to change things that really matter - like feeding starving, malnourished children in Africa. As it turns out, you'll find the answer to creating change in the world at the circus. Under the big top and shining lights are the elephants, and the people who ride those elephants.


Yes. Let me explain.

The elephant is what the Heath brothers would call the overpowering emotional element to decision making. It almost always wins, and almost always looks for the quick payoff. But it also provides the energy to get the job done.

The rider is the logical decision maker, who takes care of all the analysis and thinks about the long term. It usually plays second fiddle, no matter how much we want to believe we are logical beings.

In this incredible book you'll learn how to:

Direct the rider by (1) finding the bright spots, (2) scripting critical moves, and (3) pointing to the destination.

Motivate the elephant by (1) finding the feeling, (2) shrinking the change, and (3) growing your people.

Providing clear direction by (1) tweaking the environment, (2) building habits, and (3) rallying the herd.

Change comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes. But one thing is constant: you need to change behaviour. This book will show you how.

Let’s get started.

Directing the Rider

Finding the Bright Spots.

When you are directing the rider, the first thing you want to be aware of is finding the bright spots. In 1990, Jerry Sternin arrived in Vietnam working for Save the Children. The problem? Rampant malnutrition. Like any situation like this, there was conventional wisdom. This conventional wisdom said that the malnutrition was the result of poor sanitation, poverty and a lack of clean drinking water. On top of all of that, the rural people didn’t seem to know anything about nutrition. If those are the problems, that’s what we should fix, right?


That’s because they were looking at averages. What they found when they analysed the situation a little deeper was that some of the children were actually very well nourished. Jerry and his team figured that if there were some bright spots - children who were healthy against the odds - that every kid should be able to be healthy. They just had to find out why. So they went to the families who seemed to have healthy children and started poking around. What they found was amazing.

The parents of the healthy children were feeding them four times a day instead of two times a day, even though they used the same amount of food as the unhealthy children. The problem with feeding malnourished children two times a day is that it is more food than they can process at one time. Another thing that they found was that the healthy children were getting more protein in their diet from crab and shrimp from the rice paddies, even though they weren’t deemed fit for children’s food.

Jerry had realised that these people didn’t suffer from motivation problems - every mother and father wants their children to be healthy. But what they did lack was information. So they delivered this information in the form of cooking classes that each mother could take, and it made them feel like they had control of the situation.

All of a sudden, the challenge isn’t overwhelming anymore, and they actually produced the results they were looking for. Amazing.

So, the choices were these: fix the sanitation problem, fix the poverty problem, and get clean drinking water, OR feed your kids four times a day and throw a little shrimp and crab in there while you are at it. Which challenge do you think seems possible to overcome by mothers in the poorest parts of Vietnam?

The lesson? The next time you have an enormous challenge to overcome, look for what’s already going well, no matter how small the sample size.

Ask yourself, what’s working now? On the face of it, it might just look like an anomaly. But you might just be staring at the solution to your problem.

Script the Critical Moves

We all face difficult decisions in life. What will we eat for breakfast? Who are we going to ask to the high school prom? Which companies do we apply to after college? Some of us can’t even walk into the wine store and choose a wine in less than 20 minutes.

As with all important decisions in our lives, we all deal with decision paralysis. What if you were the President of a railroad company that needed to fix hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure but only had thirty million dollars to work with? That’s the situation that Alexandre Behring faced as the president of the newly privatised railway system in Brazil.

It would be very easy to be overwhelmed in that situation. Which bridge should we fix first? How much money should we spend? Which repairs are really necessary? In response to this pressure, Behring and his CFO developed four crucial rules to live by:

  1. Money would only be invested in projects that unlock more short-term revenue.
  2. The best choice in any situation would be the one that cost the least amount of money up front, regardless if it cost more in the long-term.
  3. Solutions that could be implemented quickly were preferred to superior long-term solutions.
  4. Reusing or recycling existing materials was better than buying new ones.

Everything else became secondary. And as it turned out those were the critical moves, as the company went from large losses to large profits in the span of 3 years.

In any situation, ask yourself what your “make or break” is. For Behring and his rail road, short term cash was the make or break. In your business it might be superior research and development. In your personal life, it might be making it to the gym 4 times a week so you’ll have the energy to work as hard as you do. Whatever it is, make sure that you script the critical moves in the process.

Then, to borrow a turn of phrase from Stephen Covey, do first things first, and second things never. Remember, however, that you can’t script everything. So focus truly on what’s important and what will generate the results you need.

Point to the destination

One of the Rider’s greatest weaknesses is the over reliance on logic and analysis. 

“We need to grow our business next year in order to stay up with the competition, and here are some fancy charts that show us why.” 

The Rider loves this kind of stuff, because he can dive into the analysis and endlessly debate the veracity of your numbers and conclusions.

In fact, the Rider will typically enjoy this much more than actually doing the things that are necessary to work towards the goal. The cure for this is to point to a compelling destination - to send a destination postcard.

As the Heath brothers say: “destination postcards do double duty: they show the Rider where you’re headed, and they show the Elephant why the journey is worthwhile”. That’s the challenge a little company called Microsoft faced as it grew from a 30 person operation to a global giant with 80,000 employees.

Over 30 years ago, Bill Gates started a computer company that could have very easily have set realistic financial targets for their employees. Practical, short-term goals seem like the most logical thing to do. But Bill wasn’t satisfied with merely growing his company. He literally wanted to change the world. His dream was to have “a computer on every desk and in every home”. At the time he uttered those words, that was a pipe dream. But it spoke very clearly to both the Rider and the Elephant.

To the Rider, it told him that their job was not done until they had literally put a computer on every desk and in every home. For the Elephant, which would have known how much this would change the way the world operates, this as a worthwhile journey.

So the next time you are deciding to create change - both large and small - make sure that you send a destination postcard that sends a message about where you are going, and make sure the destination is an attractive one.

Motivate the Elephant

Find the Feeling

Ask John Kotter how he thinks most people view change, and he’d give you the formula of Analyse-Think-Change. We analyse the situation, we think about how to change it, and then we make the change happen. However, as Kotter would also tell you, that’s not how change happens. The problem with this formula is that it forgets one important fact - that with change comes uncertainty. The Elephant doesn’t like uncertainty, and analytical arguments are not going get them into action.

That’s the problem Pam Omidyar faced as she tried to help teenagers with cancer take the actions necessary to keep themselves healthy.

When teenage cancer patients leave the hospital, they are comforted by the fact that the worst is most likely over. They’ve been though hell and back with brutal chemotherapy, and come home sapped of energy and little hair left on their heads. Once home, the things they needed to do in order to keep themselves healthy were fairly simple. Report any symptoms as they feel them, and take their medicine as prescribed. But many teenagers simply wouldn’t comply - because the medicine would make them sick and give them skin breakouts, among other things.

In other words, the kids were not getting the message. They knew the consequences of their actions, but still they wouldn’t take the medication.

HopeLab, the company founded by Pam, created a video game called Re-Mission, where the teens would literally zap tumour cells through the bloodstream. In between levels, they would watch a briefing video that would provide further information about chemo and recovery. The teens who played this game, even if they only played a couple of levels, doubled their odds of surviving cancer. Simply incredible.

What Pam and her team had discovered was that by bringing “feelings” into the equation, the results change drastically. These kids now took on the identity of “cancer-killers”, and literally transformed the way they viewed their medication regimen.

As it turns out, the formula for change isn’t Analyse-Think-Change, it’s See-Feel-Change.

Shrink the Change

We all know that change is hard. Quite often, the hardest part of change is taking the first step. It’s getting in the car to go to the gym that’s the hard part, not the gruelling 60 minute workout when you get there. It’s putting the pen on the paper and starting to write that’s the hard part, not the 100 pages of prose that come flowing out.

Here’s a practical example. A car wash ran a promotion with loyalty cards. Get your car washed, get a stamp. Come 8 times, get a free car wash. They did a little test with this promotion, however. Half the customers got an empty card with 8 spots to fill in. The other half got a card with 10 spots to fill in, but 2 stamps were already placed on the card. The same action was required (8 car washes), but one group was given a head start.

The results were very enlightening. A few months into the promotion, 19% of the first group had earned the free wash, while 34% of the second group had earned the wash. On top of that, the second group had earned it faster.

As it turns out, people find it more motivating to be partly finished with a longer journey than to be at the starting gate of a shorter one. So the next time you need to motivate somebody towards a goal, make them feel that they are closer to the finish line than they previously might have thought.

Grow Your People

We all have an identity that we try and live in to. Some people self-identify with political parties, others with noble causes. Some people self-identify with a certain style of music, others with different periods of art. Whatever your identity, you’ve been spending your entire lifetime building it up, one experience at a time. As we literally “become” our identities that we create for ourselves, it’s no surprise that this identity has a huge impact on how we make our decisions. That’s the insight that one manufacturing company in Brazil used to transform their company.

A steel can manufacturing company doesn’t evoke images of innovation and oceans of creativity. But that didn’t stop the founders of Brasilita from transforming their company into an innovation factory. These brilliant founders believed if they could get their employees to see themselves as innovators - to bake it into their identity - that they could do amazing things.

So, if you work at Brasilita you are known as an “inventor”, and are asked to sign an innovation contract. Of course, in order to work it has to be more than lip service - they actually treated their employees as innovative inventors and took their suggestions about improvements and innovation seriously. Over time, these employees had turned themselves into innovators, and the company is now renowned throughout Latin America as an innovator.

In your next change situation, realise that people will typically ask themselves three questions: Who am I? What kind of situation is this? What would somebody like me do in this situation? In any situation, you can either give people a new identity to live into, or even just remind them of somebody they already know they are. Tap into their identity, and you tap into their action.

Shape the Path

Tweak the Environment

Although people will usually act consistently with who they believe they are, sometimes it’s the situation they are in that dictates the behaviour. Most of the time, we miss this subtle point. Stanford psychologist Lee Ross calls this “Fundamental Attribution Error” because our inclination is to attribute people’s behaviour with who they are rather than the situation they are in. We even sometimes inflict this sentence on animals.

I know that this would never happen in your household, but have you ever been to somebody else’s house and found a pet that was just uncontrollable? “Oh, that’s just Stewie, we’ve tried everything but that’s just the way he is”. Sometimes it gets so bad that the owners contemplate giving the pet away. Cue Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer.

Cesar shows us that it’s not truly the animal at all, but the situations that you put them in that create the negative behaviour. So, he simply gives them a new routine of discipline that changes the situation, and magically the animal transforms into the angelic image that the owners always envisioned. Quite simply, it’s about making the right behaviours a little bit easier, and the wrong behaviours a little bit harder.

The next time you are faced with a situation where people seem to just “be” a certain way, ask yourself how you could make the behaviour you are looking for a little bit easier to do. And remember, unlike Cesar Milan, who doesn’t have the luxury of asking the dogs that question, you might even consider asking the people themselves. You’ll be amazed what happens when you remove even the smallest amount of friction in the process.

Build Habits

We all have habits. Some of them are positive habits, like Hulk Hogan’s “demandments” of training, saying our prayers and eating our vitamins. Some of them are negative habits, like the seven deadly sins. These habits become behavioural autopilot that happen without the Rider taking control. Unfortunately, we are not very good at understanding how to build and sustain these habits over time. Remember when you were in college and had an entire semester to turn in an assignment but found yourself slaving away all night the day before it was due?

Peter Gollwitzer, a psychologist at NYU performed a study, where a college class was offered extra credit for turning in a paper by the end of the semester. In one study they were just given the assignment, and 33% of the students actually completed it. In another study, the students were required to set action triggers - to specifically decide when and where they intended to write the report. “I’ll do the report next Saturday after my workout in the morning”, for instance. 75% of those students wrote the report.


Gollwitzer points out a couple of things here: first, you need to truly want to take the action in the first place. Action triggers aren’t going to work if it’s something you aren’t motivated to do. Second, what you’ve essentially done is turn control of the situation over to the environment - it’s an automatic that next Saturday, after your workout, you’ll be working on your report. The Rider has nothing left to analyse, and can’t interfere with your decision any longer.

The next time you find yourself wanting to generate behaviour out of yourself or another person, give them an action trigger. Make it very specific. Also note that studies have shown that the harder the goal, the more effective these triggers become. What you’ll be doing is creating instant habits, and that’s a powerful thing. Want a tool that is perfect for helping you do this?

Create a checklist.

Rally the herd

Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t know how to act? Maybe it was your first time at a fancy restaurant and you didn’t know which fork to use with salad and which glass of water was yours. What did you do? You waited until somebody who knew what the hell they were doing to pick up their salad fork, and then you copied them. As it turns out, you do this type of thing a lot more than you realise.

You just checked into a hotel room, and you notice a sign in the bathroom that asks you to use your towel more than once. If the sign had told you that you should do this because the hotel was attempting to “do their part for the environment”, perhaps you would consider it. But if you got a sign that asked you the same thing, but explained that “the majority of our guests reuse their towels at least once”, you would be 26% more likely to reuse your towel.

This type of behaviour isn’t just limited to small things like reusing towels. Consider this staggering statistic: if a person is obese, the odds that their friends would become obese tripled! Other serious issues follow this pattern, like drinking and where we invest our money. We are hard wired to look to others to find acceptable behaviour.

The next time you are faced with a challenging change situation, remember that there is a herd mentality at play. Find a way to make the behaviour you are trying to create contagious by showing the people you want to motivate how to follow the herd.

There you have it – everything you need in order to change things when change is hard!