Book Summary: Switch
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
by Chip Heath & Dan Heath (New York: Crown, 2010)
With Anne Green
A chapter in The Accidental Activist.
A chapter in The Accidental Activist.
As you know, we are dedicated to creating as much real change as possible. To that end, we study widely (marketing, psychology, sociology). A book useful for people seeking to improve their activism is Switch. For those not in a position to read the whole thing (it is a quick and anecdote-filled read), we’ll try to hit on the key points as applicable to animal advocacy.
The Heaths start with the analogy set out in The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt (Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books, 2006):
Haidt says that our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.
In short, the Heaths’ hypothesis is that to bring about change, we have to: Direct the Rider; Motivate the Elephant; Shape the Path. There are three subsections under each of these steps, and leafleters have experienced all of them.
A. Direct the Rider
1. Follow the Bright Spots
Instead of starting from scratch, look for points of common ground. In our case of advocating for the animals, don’t assume an adversarial (or teaching) position. Rather, find common areas from which to build. Nearly everyone opposes cruelty to animals (and those that say they don’t often do, once you get past the posturing). This is an incredibly powerful bright spot! Do they have or have they had a companion animal? Do they “not eat much meat”? Do they like Boca burgers, or know a vegetarian? Do they have a similar background to you?
You can even take what appears to be a negative and use it as a hook, as with the title of the booklet, Even If You Like Meat.
As Mikael wrote about an encounter he had while he was leafleting:
[O]ne woman stopped and said she loved meat. I told her I did, too, but when I examined my morals and values, they did not match up with my actions and therefore I stopped eating meat. I also suggested that she give up meat on Mon/Wed/Fri and see how that went. She seemed like she would totally give it a try.
2. Script the Critical Moves
“Don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behavior.” In other words, don’t say, “Go vegan!”—no one changes from such an exhortation (see “shrink the change” below). Rather, give people specific steps they can take to start on the path of change: not eating chicken and pigs, avoiding all food from factory farms, not eating meat several days a week, etc.
Phil reports that, after talking to two guys while he was leafleting:
They both still seemed a little unwilling to never eat meat again. I mentioned that even cutting down on meat lessens a lot of suffering. One got excited and said, ‘I can do that!” They both walked away intently reading the leaflets.
3. Point to the Destination
“Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it.” Again, don’t talk in terms of big picture abstractions (“liberation,” “sustainability,” “environment”). Rather, stick to what speaks directly to the individual.
A professor invited me to address his 70+ student class. I gave a quick introduction, and said, “Listen, even if you just cut animals out of three dinners per week, that would be a huge help for our animal friends. If you read this, please pass it on—the more people know, the quicker this insanity ends.” I then asked who wanted to read a booklet. Not hearing a peep in the room, I stepped off the stage, looked up, and half their arms were raised!
B. Motivate the Elephant
1. Find the Feeling
“Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something.” Many vegans think a purely philosophical, statistics-filled, intellectual argument should be enough to cause people to change. But the Heaths point out this is absolutely not the case: the rational Rider actually has little control over the emotional Elephant.
This is obviously the key to our approach: show people the hidden cruelty to animals. What people feel has to be a powerful enough feeling to overcome inertia, habits, etc.
Eileen summarized the comments from one leafleting outing:
“Oh man, this is the packet that made me vegetarian!”
“Aw, this is the booklet that made me go vegetarian last year!”
“I went vegetarian from this!”
“I like meat, but this is just so horrible!”
Feedback from FR:
I feel so good helping animals and have helped some of my friends go vegan. Thanks for inspiring me!
2. Shrink the Change
“Break down the change until it no longer spooks the Elephant.”
This is the key lesson from the book! Of course, it goes without saying that we want everyone to be vegan. We want this because we don’t want any animals to suffer for “food.” The key here isn’t the “vegan” abstraction, but the animals’ suffering—very real and concrete. The way to address this is not to trumpet veganism, but to get more and more people to eat fewer and fewer animals.
While I appreciate [another group’s] goals, their all-or-nothing tone always left me feeling guilty and discouraged. Vegan Outreach is the first vegan advocacy and information site that I’ve seen that makes me feel good about my recent decision to drop meat and fowl and explore new foods and cooking methods. Kudos for making a convincing case for veganism without making people feel selfish and evil if they don’t get to 100 percent immediately!
3. Grow Your People
“Cultivate a sense of identity and instill the growth mindset.” In this chapter, the Heaths talk about how to capture people’s pre-existing inclinations (find the bright spot—opposition to cruelty to animals), and get them to start thinking that change really is possible. The way to make the possibility of change real is by getting them to make a small change. Then they think of themselves as someone who can change, not someone limited by habit, peer pressure, etc.
Last night, Hoss was talking about how creating change isn’t always as simple as giving people facts. People have a tough time admitting their previous way of living was wrong. That is what I have always liked about the Vegan Outreach approach—it allows people the opportunity to make changes while still being able to save face. And then the changes lead to more changes; soon the originally held positions have also changed. It’s actually quite subversive.
I saw the results of this approach today at Rochester Institute of Technology. One young woman came up to tell me that, three years ago, she received an Even If You Like Meat on campus. She liked the idea of “you don’t have to be perfect” and immediately cut her meat consumption to basically nothing. She told me that since receiving the booklet, she has consumed meat three times—an average of once per year. The “not all or nothing” proposition sold her and continues to keep her on board.
Also, a faculty member told me a story about her coworker. She once got an Even If You Like Meat and tacked it to her bulletin board for whatever reason; she continued to look at it, to make changes, and is now vegetarian.
C. Shape the Path
1. Tweak the Environment
“When the situation changes, the behavior changes.” We can’t directly alter people’s environment, but we do take advantage of when people change their environment by going away to school.
Theo: “At Santa Clara University, a student mentioned that the booklets had been brought up in one of his classes, and for the most part the students agreed with what was said inside.”
Aaron: “These booklets are becoming recognizable on campuses everywhere. Several students today knew exactly what it was before I handed it to them, and so many said that it is what prompted them to try vegetarian/vegan.”
2. Build Habits
“When behavior is habitual, it’s ‘free’—it doesn’t tax the Rider.” Unless you can move everyone into a vegan household, it isn’t going to be easy to build new habits. But combine this with “Shrink the Change” and you’ll see the opportunity: modify current habits slightly such that people can stay close to their current routine but still make a difference.
In other words, don’t expect people to stop eating fast food and making what is convenient and switch over to diet of a slow-cooked, whole-food, organic, local, fat-free quinoa, amaranth, and bok choy, topped with nutritional yeast “cheese” and sprinkled with chia seeds. Rather, promote a diet that fits in with their current habits: quick microwaved Boca burgers and Amy’s dinners, bean burritos, Tofurky slices sandwiches, Field Roast sausages, etc.
3. Rally the Herd
“Behavior is contagious. Help it spread.” Being a positive, confident vegetarian example in public shows people it can be done, allows those interested to ask questions, and gives support to other vegetarians.
Leafleting at the beach was great today! Four teenage girls eagerly received their booklets:
Girl #1: “Ugh, I can’t look at these pictures!”
Girl #2 (to me): “Are you vegetarian?”
Girl #4: ‘What do you eat?’
Me (while giving them Guides): “Everything other than our animal friends—easiest thing I’ve ever done!”
Girl #1: “That’s it! Let’s do it! I can’t look at these pictures. . . . I need to go vegetarian. Seriously, let’s do it! Now! Done.”
Girls #2-4: “OK. OK. Done!”
Vic: “One girl at William Paterson today said she had been wanting to go veg, so she got a Guide. Another two girls who are roommates said they would go veg for a week, so they got a Guide and encouragement.”
Yvonne: “A couple of girls who walked by said, ‘Hey, I’ll become a vegetarian, if you do.’ ‘Yeah, let’s!’ One girl ran to her group and shouted, ‘Guess what? I’m going to become a vegetarian!’”
B2 (Shrink the Change) and C (Shape the Path) indicate that the easier change is (i.e., the more vegetarians that are around and the more familiar vegetarian options that are available), the easier it is for people to start on the road of change. It also suggests that a campaign to get more cruelty-free options available on college campuses (and providing local information and social support) could have very significant payoff.