By now almost everyone knows that I love the book Switch — how to change things when change is hard by Chip and Dan Heath. (See our paper ‘How to use Switch in your quality writing project’.) At the heart of the book lies the big idea that people don’t change unless they have the personal, often subconscious, motivation to do so — even when presented with compelling evidence and direction.
So, when you want to change an ineffective writing culture, you won’t get far by logic alone. Your people will stay stuck in their old attitudes and unproductive habits, even defending them, until they find the personal motivation to change.
Thinking about the overriding need for motivation isn’t new in the world of change management. But the beauty of Switch is that it presents compelling evidence for radical change occurring far more quickly than we may have thought possible. We quickly see that if you create the right circumstances, change can be as instant as the flick of a switch that brings light to a dark room.
My favourite story in Switch illustrates this beautifully.
An executive in a manufacturing company needed to convince his colleagues that the company was wasting millions of dollars on poor purchasing decisions. He chose just one example to make his point. He discovered that they were buying 424 different kinds of gloves from a number of glove suppliers, negotiating prices with each supplier separately. The same pair of gloves that cost $5 in one part of the company cost $17 in another.
So he collected one of each of the 424 different types of gloves, tagged each with the price paid, and piled the gloves up on the boardroom table. When invited to an executive meeting, his shocked colleagues saw the lesson instantly. No spreadsheets, no board papers, no graphs or charts — just a very real display of damaging purchasing habits. This became a strong and immediate catalyst for change.
I’m all in favour of instant change — aren’t you? The question then is simply how to inspire that lightbulb moment. What’s your ‘gloves story’ to create change at your place?