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July 25, 2011

Notes I took while reading SwitchRider & Elephant

Not sure why I picked up Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard at the Lakewood Library, but it's turned out to be a book both enjoyable to read and filled with ideas on how to change peoples' behavior.

Of course changing behavior is the key to solving big problems, like obesity in America, child abuse, malnutrition in Vietnam, and many others.

I began scribbling notes right away, first a couple of things to do to improve my Intro to Visual Communication class, then miscellaneous points that seemed especially important.

The authors build their argument around the metaphor of riding an elephant. The Rider is reason, the Elephant is emotion. The Rider thinks long-term while the Elephant wants immediate gratification. Somehow you have to get both to work together for change to happen. For them to work together you must also provide a simple direction in which to go.

So, the framework the book suggests is:

  1. Direct the Rider
  2. Motivate the Elephant
  3. Shape the path.

I'm about 1/4 of the way through the book and have had a number of "Aha!" moments. One of my favorites is that you should focus on what's working rather than what's not working. Build on success rather than trying to eliminate failure.

The authors give example after example of how this works. It reminds me of what I've heard about training intelligent animals like dolphins. Punishment is totally ineffective, but you can teach them to do amazing things simply by continually rewarding them doing the right thing.

Maybe teachers need to be more like dolphin trainers.

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