The Heath brothers, Dan and Chip approach human behaviour from their different perspectives. Chip is a professor at Stanford Graduate School, teaching strategy and organisations.
His brother Dan is a senior fellow at Duke University’s CASE centre, which supports social entrepreneurs.
Together they’ve written three books which I thoroughly recommend: Decisive 1(if you want to make decisions with confidence), Switch (If you want to lead change) and Made To Stick (if you want your ideas to stick).
This post summarises the information that is presented in these three books. To do so I must acknowledge a service called Blinkist. I use this all the time – it’s a website which is focused on serving up what they call “Blinks” – summaries of the key points from books. I use this in three ways.
- To act as a reference source from books I’ve already read.
- To serve as a menu for books I might want to read next.
- With the paid service I can listen to Blinks while commuting to work.
The extracts presented here have been repurposed from Blinkist.
In each case, there’s a handy infographic if you prefer a more visual way of accessing the powerful learning points available in these three highly recommended books.
1. Decisive: How To Make Better Choices In Life And Work
- Widen Your Choices
- Reality Test Your Assumptions
- Attain Distance
- Prepare To Be Wrong
- Don’t limit your choices: Think about the opportunity cost of your decisions and generate more options. Every time you say yes to something, you’re also saying no to something else.
- Multitrack different options to find the best solution: By testing more than one possibility, you amplify learning opportunities and will increase your chances of securing this best decision.
- Look at solutions someone else has found for the same problems. Look at what other people are doing facing similar situations. Steal with pride.
- Shake off bias, play devil’s advocate and build a case against your decision. I’ve written about confirmation bias previously in my review of Thinking Fast and Slow. Make a case for the opposite argument to thoroughly test your assumptions.
- Think about how your decision looks from the outside. Use base rates – how other people in similar situations got on to develop a better predictive understanding, but use indicative questions too. “How many similar cases to mine were settled” rather than “Will my case be settled?“
- Rather than make a plan run a small experiment to see if your idea works. Rather than choosing something because we believe it will work, test it in a small way. This will accelerate learning and prototype your thinking. Think Plan, Do Study, Act.
- To get some perspective on your decision shift your focus into the future. Get some emotional distance by imagining the outcomes from a future perspective. Try 10/10/10 (asking yourself how you’ll feel ten minutes, ten months, ten years from now ). Or take the observer’s perspective – for example, ask yourself what your best friend would do.
- When a decision is based on conflicting priorities think about your core purpose. When conflicted, take it back to your most important priorities.
- To prepare for the consequences of your decisions think of the future as a range rather than a point. We have no way of predicting the future. Include a contingency and a backup plan.
- Set a tripwire to shift from autopilot to manual and enforce a decision. Behaviours can creep into habits – which we can become unconscious of over time. Create clear signals to interrupt autopilot behaviour. Deadlines breakdown task into time portions. Partitions break up processes into segments. Labels help to identify wanted or unwanted signals. Pilots are trained to notice the concept of leemers. That’s having “the vague feeling that something’s not quite right, even if it’s not clear why”. Having a label helps ensure they don’t ignore that feeling.
2. Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive And Others Die…
- Every idea can be presented so it sticks. Make the idea memorable so that people will want to pass it on.
- A sticky idea must be unexpected. Health campaigners instead of telling customers a bag of popcorn had 37g of saturated fats, said: “a medium-sized butter popcorn contains more fat than a bacon and eggs breakfast, a Big Mac with fries for lunch and a steak dinner with all the trimmings – combined!”
- Curiosity gaps help make an idea stick. To get people’s attention and hold it, grab their attention by letting them know there’s something they don’t know – yet.”Whodunnit?” stories work this way, our curiosity drives to find out what happened.
- Sticky ideas are concrete and descriptive. Concrete, visually-descriptive expressions aren’t just easier to understand, they are stickier too. Paint the picture from the outside as other people will see it.
- A sticky idea must be credible. To avoid the idea being immediately dismissed out of hand: remember that stories told by real, trustworthy people will be believed, use real facts and figures, or use the audience itself as a reference as Reagan did: “Ask yourself whether you’re better off today…”
- Emotional appeals inspire people to action because emotions are the main driving force behind behaviour.
- Appeals to action are most effective if there’s something in it for the audience. Think about how you would expect people to answer the “what’s in it for me question?”.
- Ideas stick best when they’re told as stories. A story is like a flight simulator for the brain. It allows us to get inside the action and anticipate how we would respond. Three story archetypes are useful. The “challenge” – think David and Goliath. “Reaching out” think Good Samaritan and “Creativity“, think the apple falling on Newton’s head.
Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard
- Implementing change is like riding an elephant choose a direction, give your elephant some peanuts and stick to the path. The metaphor of the elephant and the rider comes from Jonathan Haidt’s book The Happiness Hypothesis. You can read my post about that book here.
- Find the bright spots, learn from them and spread them around. Build on what’s already working to gain momentum. Use appreciative inquiry to identify what’s working and why.
- The rider hates making decisions so clearly script the critical moves needed for the change. Avoid analysis paralysis by not having too many options and by creating clear directions to follow.
- Use a destination postcard that appeals to both the rider and the elephant. Paint a compelling picture of the future which appeals both to reason and emotion
- To get the elephant moving in the right direction, evoke strong emotions. The rider will eventually tire and lose control if the elephant is motivated to move in the same direction. Logical arguments are no help here so find strong emotional triggers to keep the elephant on course.
- To get the elephant to climb a mountain, lead it up a small hill first. Shrink the change so small steps can be accomplished, making it easy to obtain small gains.
- Grow your people by cultivating a change-friendly identity and developing a growth mindset to overcome failure. Accept that failure is inevitable and use this as an opportunity to learn. Find a way to establish change as a new form of identity.
- To get a free ride in implementing change, build new habits and make the environment enforce them. Set environmental triggers for your new habits that create cues for the desired behaviour. For example use checklists.
- Make the path look well trodden– show people they’re following the herd. Behaviour is contagious. Help people to get on board by showing them that the majority are rallying to the cause.