Like many universities, mine is in the midst of implementing some major changes to the way we do business, with the goal of becoming more efficient and decreasing operating costs. Recently, Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s book “Switch” was provided to a number of people on campus who have responsibility for some aspects of these changes. Although I generally find business books to be disappointing at best, and irritating at worst, I started this one optimistic that it would be different. Alas, that optimism waned by the second chapter, and was completely destroyed by the time I finished the book.“Switch” suffers from the three main problems that I’ve found in nearly all popular business books. First, it presents claims without sufficient justification. This book focuses on techniques to facilitate change in organizations and individuals, and while it occasionally cites interesting work in cognitive and social psychology that may be relevant to the techniques suggested, for the most part the justification for the techniques is anecdotal: technique X worked at company Y in particular instance Z, and so it’s obviously a valid technique that’s always applicable. There’s no attempt at any sort of rigorous scientific testing of such a claim. For example, in chapter 2, the Heath brothers claim that you cannot focus on why a proposed change is failing to take hold, but must instead “find the bright spots,” i.e., identify the pockets where it is working, figure out why it works there, and then try to emulate the small successes elsewhere. They describe several case studies where this approach has led to successful change, including a project to improve childhood nutrition in Vietnam, and an intervention with a misbehaving ninth grader. Finding the brights spots is surely a good thing to do, but the hypothesis that it is always the best approach, that it will always trump analysis and correction of failure, is simply not sufficiently backed up. How do we know that there weren’t particular features of the Vietman project or particular aspects of the ninth-grader’s personality that made one approach more effective here than others? We don’t. Anyone trained in the proper use of the scientific method will want to scream at instance after instance of this type of claim without support.The second problem with “Switch” is that it uses the overly cutesy language that is so common to this genre of books. At a high level, the book’s central claim is that effective change requires three things: you need to engage the rational, data-driven perspective of the people who have to make the change; you also need to make sure that they also have an emotional stake in the change; and you need to make the change process as easy as possible for them by manipulating the environment. To describe this triad of requirements, the Heath brothers make use of a metaphorical rider (the rational perspective) on an elephant (the emotional component—it’s much stronger, and so gets the elephant label), moving down a path (the change context). They then use and use and re-use and re-use again this metaphor in paragraph after paragraph, until their message is almost drowned out by the infantilizing language. This use of cute language pervades the book, even beyond the rider-elephant-path triad. For example, near the end of the book, where they’re describing how to keep change momentum going, they talk about positive reinforcement, and provide the example of a monkey trainer who rewards her charge with bits of mango for each small action she performs correctly. A page or two later, they proclaim “If you want your boss or your team to change, you better get a little less stingy with the mango.” C’mon!Finally, one has the sense that the book is about twice as long as it needed to be to convey its key points.All that said, “Switch” contains some reasonable, if sometimes common-sense, approaches to effecting change. To summarize, and paraphrase heavily, their main points:Engage the rational mind by (1) seeking out examples of where change is working and emulating those successes in other quarters; (2) providing specific, well-defined statements of the initial steps that need to be taken in the change process; (3) clearly identifying the intended end-state and the reasons that that end-state is valuable.Engage the emotions by (1) instilling a positive disposition in the people who must implement the changes: focus on hope and optimism, not fear; (2) “shrinking the change”, i.e., show people that they’re already partway to the goal; (3) capitalizing on people’s sense of identity by showing them how certain behaviors align with the kind of person they naturally want to be; and (4) blocking the common belief that people are defined by inherent personality characteristics, and instead affirming that people can change and grow.Facilitate the change by (1) tweaking the environment so that the newly desired behavior is inevitable, or at least easy; (2) similarly, creating a situation in which good habits are natural (and making use of one interesting approach to this, namely preloading decisions, i.e., setting up triggers for desired actions);and (3) using peer pressure.These are all reasonable strategies, and having them in one’s change-management arsenal is doubtless a good thing. But surely there is a way to present them in less than 265 pages, without using silly, repetitive language, and without claiming that they are the only effective ways to create change.