Keynote Presentation by Dan Heath, author of Switch

Christian Vanek
5 min read

Well, last day of the conference is here and this may be my last post on the event (unless the morning sessions dazzle me as some of the previous day’s have.)

The first keynote this morning was presented by Chip Heath and it was — simply amazing. It was also timely and insightful for me as a leader at SurveyGizmo. The subject of the talk was “Switch: How to change things when change is hard” and this year at SurveyGizmo has been all about change.

Dan first talked about the elements of decision making, after all before we change anything we need to think about it, analyze it and make an informed decision, right?

Actually, no. That’s the traditional way we are taught how to make decisions and the truth is very different.

Science has recently taught us that we in fact make all decisions emotionally — then rationalize them or override them consciously. This corresponds with a presentation yesterday by Jonah Leher (Author of “How we Decide: The New Science of Decision Making”).

Jonah gave a great example of a man who before he developed a brain tumor was a brilliant businessman, 97th percentile in IQ tests and a rapid decision maker. After his unfortunate tumor was removed, he was separated from his emotions. At times I’d say that sounds wonderful — but it had an interesting side effect.

The man was still 97th percentile in IQ tests, had no cognitive impairments, was completely functioning — until it came to decision making. Simple decisions like what pen to choose could take 45 minutes for him. Larger decisions such as in business could take hours for a single decision!

Now if you are a researcher or a business person and you are searching for the reason why your customers are behaving certain ways, don’t over estimate the impact of emotional and unconscious choice. It turns out that information rarely impacts choice at the emotional level. Research the underlying emotional decision — or at least it’s effects.

The second part of Dan’s presentation was about making the decision to change – particularly when that change has negative emotions around it. The change may be the right decision — but getting everyone (or even yourself) to actually change is like dragging an elephant. Take diets for example. You know they are the right choice and your conscious mind made a decision to make a change in your life, however your emotions are not on board. They whisper to you in the evenings: “You deserve cake.” Thus sabotaging your decision and your efforts to make change.

It turns out that attempting to make change without motivating people’s emotional side is just not particularly effective. The solution is to change the environment around the decision and motivate people involved in the decision in an experiential way — not just with information.

I’ll leave you with another story that Dan told us today to illustrate the solution to this problem. I suspect this story is also in his book and that he tells it better than I do!

In a company a few years back, a man named John (no idea of his actual name) was tasked with saving money on purchases. This company was a manufacturing firm and quite a large one and they had no centralized purchasing department. John found after collecting data that they were wasting close to a billion dollars on variations in costs on work gloves and other items. So he sent is giant excel spreadsheet and recommendations to the higher ups. The reaction? “Eh, that’s good maybe we’ll do something about that next year”.

Frustrated, he tried a slightly different track. He sent an intern and collected samples of the more than 400 variations of gloves purchased at each price point. In some cases, a glove that costs $8 in one part of the country was also purchased for $14 in another. He dumped all the gloves on a conference table and invited the decision makers to come down and see the insanity of it. They came and walked around the table (confused for a bit) noticing all the various types of gloves and even the price variances. They were aghast and left convinced that this problem needed to change now. Just from seeing it personally and becoming emotionally vested in the decision.

The company had centralized billing six months later.

Before I leave the conference I’m going to be picking up a copy of the book Switch for the plane. I think this book is vital for anyone that’s trying to understand customer behavior or change it. Before you write your next survey, grab a copy and make sure you are considering the emotional factors that may be impacting your customer’s decision making.

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