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Why is change so hard?

(Page 2 of 2)

The book’s examples pose another issue. There’s no doubt it’s heart-warming and motivating (the Elephant) to learn how individuals with few resources saved 122,000 lives with a simple list, revitalized a dying town by telling residents to spend more, and saved undernourished Vietnamese children by implementing the smallest dietary change.

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But these examples confuse the three- pillared-structure of the book. Each section covers one third of the change equation, but the examples, mirroring successful change in action, must cover all three. The constant shift between overall message and specific details makes “Switch” seem jumbled.

Then there’s the repetition. Too often the brothers latch on to a particular example, adjective, or phrase that they then repeated over and over again. (Like calling the Rider a wheel spinner – six times in 33 pages. Or noting 11 times in three chapters how researchers increase the sale of 1-percent milk.) It’s not that these concepts and examples aren’t interesting. They are – the first time.

And what’s worse than the repetition is how it makes us feel – undervalued. When the Heaths explain three times that the Rider enjoys analyzing, making PowerPoint presentations, and seeing spreadsheets, we start to ask why the Heaths think we really need to be reminded of these simple facts over and over and over again? Instead of having us on their side, we begin to feel indignant.

Add repetition to a jarring reading experience and a shifting structure, and it starts to seem as if the text wasn’t sufficiently edited before going to the printer.
That said, “Switch” isn’t all bad.

The Heath brothers do make a good argument for their three-pronged approach, especially in their first chapter, which is dynamite. CLINICS – two-page “workshops” placed throughout the book – though a little hokey, do a good job of connecting real-world action to the Heath’s theory of change.

And there’s humor! Their parenthetical asides, though overdone, often inspire genuine laughter (as when they qualify their comparison of a difficult medical procedure to landing on an aircraft carrier: “Not that we know what either of these things feels like. We just picture both being substantially more dangerous than writing a nonfiction book.”

These men are obviously funny, and with a New York Times bestseller in their past and a popular ongoing column with Fast Company, they have all the signs of being engaging and smart, too.

This is why it’s so strange that ‘Switch” falls flat. There are too many dots that never quite connect. Sure, weeks from now, you’ll remember the Rider, the Elephant, and the Path (it’s hard to forget capitalized and oft-used names), but will you really understand how to turn those words into change?

The Heath brothers just don’t give us enough direction. And therefore, “Switch” lacks the ability to do exactly what it’s trying to teach us: implement change.

Kate Vander Wiede is a freelance writer in Boston.