Posts Tagged ‘Dan Heath’

Four villains prevent you from making smart nonprofit decisions

“If you study the kinds of decisions people make and the outcomes of those decisions, you’ll find that humanity does not have a particularly impressive track record,” claim Decisive authors, Chip and Dan Heath.

Nonprofit organizations and the businesses that support them are not in short supply of critical scenarios that require smart decisions. Unfortunately, when our causes or clients need the best decisions from us, we seek out information that supports us and downplay information that doesn’t.

The Heath brothers explain that being merely aware of these shortcomings doesn’t fix the problem. In Decisive, you learn how to adopt a process for overcoming these dilemmas. The first step to fixing the problem is understanding the four villains of smart decision making.

Villain one–Narrow Framing: Steve Cole is the VP of research and development at the HopeLab, a nonprofit that fights to improve kids’ health using technology. Cole and his team wanted to find a firm that could design a portable device capable of measuring the amount of exercise kids were getting. Rather than choosing the “winner” of a giant contract from seven or eight bids, Cole ran a “horse race.” He hired five different firms to work on the first step—a much smaller portion of the project. Cole knew what he’d learn from the first round would make the later rounds more efficient. Furthermore, the firms would create “multiple design alternatives.” “Cole is fighting the first villain of decision making, narrow framing, which involves the tendency to define our choices too narrowly, to see them in binary terms.”

Villain two–Confirmation Bias: Our traditional habit in work and life is to develop a quick belief about a situation and then seek out information that supports our belief. This problematic habit is called the “confirmation bias” and is the second villain of decision making. For example, when the dangers of smoking were less clear in the 1960s, smokers were more likely to express interest in reading an article headlined “Smoking Does Not Lead to Lung Cancer” than one entitled “Smoking Leads to Lung Cancer.” This would be similar to an imagined scenario where bosses more often read an article entitled “Data That Supports What You Think” versus “Data that Contradicts What You Think.”

Villain three–Short-term Emotion: The third villain of decision making is short-term emotion. According to the authors, “When we have a difficult decision to make, our feelings churn.” We revisit the same arguments in our head and kick up so much dust that we can’t see the way forward. In these moments, we need perspective, assert the Heaths. In his memoir, Only the Paranoid Survive, Former Intel president Andy Grove recalls a dilemma in 1985 regarding the elimination of the memory chip line to focus on microprocessors in the business. He and the leadership deliberated for months. He asked his Chairman/CEO, Gordon Moore, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?” Gordon answered without hesitation, claiming the new CEO would get Intel out of the memory business. That’s when Grove said, “Why shouldn’t you and I walk out the door, come back in, and do it ourselves?”

A moment of clarity was gained by looking through the lens of an outsider.

Villain four–Overconfidence: The fourth villain is best understood by looking at a young four-man rock and roll group called the Beatles. They were invited to audition for one of Britain’s top two record label companies, Decca Records. “We were all excited,” recalls John Lennon. “It was Decca.” After playing 15 different songs, they anxiously awaited an answer. In a letter to the Beatles’ manager, Dick Rowe of Decca declared, “We don’t like your boys’ sound. Groups are out; four-piece groups with guitars, particularly, are finished.” Dick Rowe learned the fourth villain of decision making is overconfidence.

After the Heath brothers discuss the villains of good decision making in the introduction, the book is divided into four main sections, each focusing on one strategy to overcome smart-decision inhibitors.

It comes as no surprise that our daily work lives are full of opportunities to put the Heath brothers’ advice to work. Many of our decisions are mundane while others are very critical. How can we do better? Chip and Dan Heath have gathered an exhaustive amount of decision-making literature and introduced a four-step process designed to counteract these biases and improve our outcomes.

See Page to Practice book summaries related to this title:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down

Image credits: Chip and Dan Heath, wikipedia

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How to make a change: A conversation with “Switch” authors

In the last two weeks, we have explored highlights from our July Page to Practice™ feature: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Join us for an excerpt of a conversation with authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath with special thanks to Fortier Public Relations.

Fortier: What was the most surprising discovery you made about change behavior?

Heath Brothers: That self-control is exhaustible, like a muscle. We’ve all experienced this—you have a stressful day at work, and you come home and you snap at your partner, or you have one drink too many. You burned up your self-control at work. And this is critical for change, because all change requires self-control. Not just in the sense of resisting a temptation, like a cookie or a drink, but in the sense that you have to manage your behavior deliberately. So one implication of this is that you shouldn’t pile on too much change at once—don’t pick six New Year’s resolutions, and don’t overhaul every aspect of people’s routines at once at work.

Fortier: In the book, you say we often overcomplicate change. What do you mean by that?

Heath Brothers: When change doesn’t happen, we almost always blame it on the people—people who are too “resistant” or “lazy.” But what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. For instance, we tell the story of a manager named Amanda Tucker, who got poor ratings on “communication” from her employees. The problem was that, when they’d come in her office, she’d often get distracted by email and try to multitask while they were sitting there. Is Tucker a bad manager? A poor communicator? Well, no. She rearranged her office one afternoon, so that she couldn’t see her monitor, meaning that she wouldn’t be distracted. And—poof—her communication scores went way up. It wasn’t a problem with Amanda, it was a problem with her environment. And the environment was a lot easier to fix.

Fortier: What do you mean by “shaping the path” for change?

Heath Brothers: Small tweaks to the environment can have a big impact. Think about Amazon’s one-click-order button. They have “shaped the path” to an order, making it as easy as humanly possible. Many of us are blind to how much our situations actually shape our behavior. Our surroundings have been carefully designed to make us act in a particular fashion. Traffic engineers want us to drive in a predictable, safe way, so they paint lane markers and install stoplights and signs. Banks got tired of us leaving our ATM cards in the machine, so we have to remove them before we can get cash. We can also act as our own engineers, tweaking the environment so that the right behaviors are easier. A friend of ours lays out his jogging clothes before he goes to bed, so it’ll be just a bit easier to get started the next day.

Find more information about Switch at Random House, visit our CausePlanet summary store or subscribe to our monthly Page to Practice summaries. Keep up with what we’re reading on Facebook and Twitter.

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Make the switch: Explore three surprises about change

The nonprofit sector is no exception in an era of change on the heels of economic uncertainty. New strategies and ideas are a necessity for survival as opposed to a “wouldn’t-it-be-nice” consideration. Whether you seek change in your home, organization or society, the applications in Switch abound.

Chip Heath and Dan Heath address specific examples of successful change using strategies such as a social worker who improved the diets of malnourished Vietnamese children by studying “bright spots”; a young college graduate who saved a national bird from extinction by “growing his people”; and a school teacher who “pointed to the destination” to transform her underperforming students into math geniuses.

The examples go on, and so can readers’ results if they apply the patterns Switch spells out for successful change. Early in the book, the Heath brothers explore three important surprises about change that set the stage for their modeling a successful switch.

The first surprise is “what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.” Said differently, if you want people to succeed you need to provide them with specific and clear instructions. (Direct the Rider)

The second surprise is that “change is hard because people wear themselves out” and “what looks like laziness is often exhaustion.” The idea behind this notion is based on research that shows us that “self-control is an exhaustible resource.” The authors refer to self-control, not in terms of willpower per say, but in terms of “self-supervision,” or tasks that require concentration or deliberate speech or movement, such as organizing a drawer or learning a new language. The reason why this matters for change is that new behavior requires self-supervision or purposeful behavior as opposed to not changing and staying on autopilot. “The Rider can’t get his way by force for very long. So it’s critical that you engage people’s emotional side”—get their Elephants on board. ( Motivate the Elephant)

The third surprise is that “what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.” In other words, most of us tend to blame the person when something doesn’t change the way we expect it to. Heath and Heath argue that in reality, it’s often a matter of “tweaking the environment.” (Shape the Path)

Find more information about Switch at Random House, visit our CausePlanet summary store or subscribe to our monthly Page to Practice summaries. Keep up with what we’re reading on Facebook and Twitter. Read next week’s blog about the three surprises about change.

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Appeal to the “elephant” and “rider” for a change

Change is hard—period. Whether your desired change is losing some weight, restructuring your board or trying that new donor cultivation strategy, change is difficult. Why? Because according to Switch authors and brothers, Chip Heath and Dan Heath, we are of two minds: the rational and the emotional.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, the Heath brothers use a wide variety of interesting narrative examples to illustrate how change follows a pattern we can control if we acknowledge what they call the “Rider” (rational brain), the “Elephant” (emotional brain) and the importance of “Shaping the Path” (creating a clear path for success).

By identifying consistent patterns in the examples they observe, the authors create a compelling methodology for 1) directing the Rider; 2) motivating the Elephant; and 3) Shaping the Path, and they provide tactical strategies within each of these three components of change.

The Heath brothers begin Switch with a baseline understanding of change or, rather, the misunderstandings of change. They debunk our perceptions by uncovering “three surprises about change” and letting us in on their terminology for what numerous studies prove—that we have two independent systems in our brain.

Rational side/Rider



Looks to the future

Directs and plans

Emotional side/Elephant


Feels emotions

Lives in the moment


In order to create change, you have to appeal to both the Rider and Elephant. The Rider provides the planning and direction and the Elephant is the power behind the plan. If you don’t appeal to both, the Elephant will overpower the Rider or the Rider will get stuck in analysis, leaving the Elephant without a place to direct its energy.

Find more information about Switch at Random House, visit our CausePlanet summary store or subscribe to our monthly Page to Practice summaries. Keep up with what we’re reading on Facebook and Twitter. Read next week’s blog about the three surprises about change.

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Find the hooks in your story say Heath brothers

Our recent feature of Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath promises some valuable guidance for nonprofit leaders if you don’t mind putting on your sales lens for a moment.

Credible ideas make people believe. Emotional ideas make people care. The right stories make people act. According to the Heath brothers, a story’s power is derived from two benefits: simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act). Both are geared toward generating action. Mental simulation—recreating events or sequences in your mind—works because people can’t imagine something without also thinking about doing it. According to the authors, mental simulation is not as good as actually doing something, but it’s the next best thing. How does mental simulation apply to sticky ideas? The right kind of story is, in effect, a simulation. Going back to the brothers’ Velcro Theory of Memory, the more hooks you put into your ideas, the better they’ll stick. Stories put knowledge into a framework that is more real, more true to our day-to-day lives. They get the audience ready to act.

The authors also make the point that you don’t always have to create sticky ideas. Spotting them is often easier and more useful. They use the story of Jared, the man who lost weight eating a diet of Subway sandwiches, as an example of an inspirational found story. What if nonprofits could count on their volunteers to be on the lookout for symbolic events or encounters that might inspire others in or outside of the organization? Spotting great ideas isn’t hard, but they are easy to overlook. However, there are story templates that have been proven effective, and learning them helps you spot those inspirational stories:

The Challenge Plot: The key element of a Challenge plot is that the obstacles seem daunting to the protagonist. The story of David and Goliath is the classic Challenge plot. Jared slimming down to 180 pounds is a Challenge plot. Challenge plots inspire us by appealing to our perseverance and courage. They make us want to work harder, take on new challenges and overcome obstacles. They inspire us to act.

The Connection Plot: Connection plots are about people who develop a relationship that bridges a gap—racial, class, ethnic, religious or demographic. The movie Titanic and the play Romeo and Juliet are classic Connection plots. Connection plots inspire us to help others, be more tolerant of others, work with others and love others. The authors offer this practical advice: If you’re telling a story at your organization’s Christmas party, it’s best to use the Connection plot; if you’re telling a story at the kickoff party for a new fundraising campaign, use the Challenge plot.

The Creativity Plot: The Creativity Plot involves someone making a mental breakthrough, solving a long-standing puzzle or attacking a problem in an innovative way. Creativity plots make us want to do something different, to be creative or to experiment with new approaches.

The goal of learning about these plots is not to invent new stories, but to be able to spot stories that have potential for your organization. You don’t have to make stories up, but you do need to know what you’re looking for so that when a good story presents itself, it doesn’t fall by the wayside. Stories can also beat the Curse of Knowledge. They embody most of the SUCCESs framework in that they are concrete; most of them also have emotional and unexpected elements. The hardest part about using stories is making sure that they are simple—that they reflect your core message. It’s not enough to just tell a great story; it has to reflect your mission.

Read more about Made to Stick by subscribing to Page to Practice™ book summaries. Or, purchase this or one of our other Page to Practice™ executive summaries by visiting the CausePlanet summary store. Find out more about the Heath brothers and their books.

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