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Why Does the Path Matter?

EasyPathAre you familiar with the story about the elephant, the rider and the path? Dan and Chip Heath retold this story in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.
The Elephant, The Rider and the Path – A Tale of Behavior Change is a fabulous video, narrated by Dan Heath, that explains the story.
While the rider and the elephant (head and heart) are often focused on during times of change, it’s the path that gets overlooked. Too often we tell people about the change, attempt to inspire or increase their desire for a change and then we forget to make it easy to change.

  • A personal example – you decide to change to a vegetable oriented diet to get healthier. Two days into salads, asparagus soup, kale shakes and mashed cauliflower, you remember the chocolate bar in your travel bag or the bag of “healthy chips” in the cupboard. To “reward” yourself for doing well, you eat a treat and sabotage the change. Shaping the path means eliminating the temptations and distractions that prevent the change you are trying to make.
  • A professional example – a colleague worked at an organization where they implemented Salesforce as their Customer Relationship Management system. He received training, understood the power of a great software tool but was repeatedly frustrated by his inability to sign in on a mobile device. He traveled frequently and getting out his computer for a lengthy start up and sign in process make using Salesforce unappealing. When the salesforce app was introduced and he could access his customers information anywhere he instantly became a believer. Shaping his path meant making access easy.

If you are responsible for leading, implementing or inspiring others to change please consider the path. Have you made it as easy as possible for the change to occur? Have you looked at the roadblocks in the path that could prevent easy adoption of the change? According to the authors, what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.”
The Path matters because the path makes change easier (think of Amazon’s one click buying, how much easier can a purchase be?!?) or it makes change MUCH harder than it has to be. When you need to create change remember you’ve got to direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path. If you do all three at once, dramatic change can happen.

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