“If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” — Mary Engelbreit
I’ve written about the Elephant and the Rider before. This post puts it together into a simple way to remember a change framework. Change isn’t easy, but a framework helps makes it easier and helps you build skill.
In the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Dan Heath and Chip Heath share how you can make change happen by directing the Rider, motivating the Elephant, and shaping the Path.
It’s possible to make sweeping changes with few resources and little structural authority. You can make changes in yourself, your family, your charity, your organization, or your community at large.
I’m a fan of metaphors and I think “direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path” is simple, but powerful.
It’s easy to picture, easy to keep in mind, and helps remind you of the framework you can use for guiding and influencing change in all parts of your life and your world.
Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant, and Shape the Path
If you think about change holistically, you can make changes even without authority.
Dan and Chip write:
“To change behavior, 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.”
The World Doesn’t Always Want What You Want
When you don’t want what the world wants, or when you don’t want the status quo, it’s an opportunity for change.
Dan and Chip write:
“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.”
You Don’t Have to Be the CEO
You don’t always have the structure, the authority, or the tools that come with authority.
Dan and Chip write:
“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 behavior.
The rest of us don’t have these tools.”
If you need to make a change, figure out how to direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path.
Here are my key takeaways:
- Direct the Rider. What looks like resistance is usually a lack of clarity. If the Rider doesn’t know where to go, they spin the Elephant in circles. To direct the rider, create a crystal clear vision of the outcome. This includes when or how much, along with a specific set of actions and tactics to get there.
- Motivate the Elephant. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. Make your audience feel the need for change. Analytical appeals don’t cut it. Knowing is not enough. Get beyond the knowing and make it possible for people to feel the impact. Win the heart and the mind follows.
- Shape the Path. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. Make it easy to embrace the change. Make instructions simple with step-by-step guidance. Provide support groups. Create training. Pair people up with mentors. Create peer pressure and social proof. Behavior is contagious.
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