Weast on Switch

Editor’s Note: Jerry Weast, superintendent of the Montgomery County Public Schools in Rockville, Md., shared with The School Administrator the benefits he derived from The New York Times best-seller Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. Weast suggested we consider inviting the book’s co-authors, Chip and Dan Heath, to write for the magazine, which resulted in the accompanying article.

Weast, retiring this summer after 12 years as the district’s superintendent, shared this with us about the book:

“Leaders interested in the dynamics of how people arrive at decisions to support change should put this book on their must-read list. We are often told that data and rational presentations will not only enlighten, but persuade. This book uses the term “Rider” — as a rider on a horse — as a metaphor for rational decision making. But as the authors, brothers Chip and Dan Heath, point out, there’s a lot of emotion related to any decision, and much of that emotion is irrational or manipulated by perceptions or experience or background.

“The authors put that rational rider not on a horse, but on an elephant to represent the size of the emotional pull on decision making. As you might expect, an elephant is hard to steer, especially as it crashes through the jungle with the rider trying to hold on. And speaking of jungles, with the myriad information we process every day, it would help if the rider could motivate that elephant down a pathway that leads to a productive end. It is the task of a leader to marry the rational and emotional and to create the path that will take the organization to meaningful change.

“The authors provide examples of how to manage these elephants and offer readers strategies to navigate through hard economic times as they try to get colleagues to understand and embrace the changes we are all experiencing.”