“The Elephant and the Rider”

“The Elephant and the Rider”

Chip Heath and Dan Heath offer memorable metaphors and solid tactics for enabling successful change.

The co-authors of Made To Stick and The Power of Moments, professors Chip Heath and Dan Heath consult and speak worldwide about the psychology of decision-making, change, innovation and collaboration.

This book stands the test of time. Current findings in neuroscience, behavioral economics and decision science support the authors’ advice about change management.

Engage Logic and Feelings

The Heath brothers offer a memorable metaphor – “the Elephant and the Rider” – to explain the need to appeal to both emotions and logic when you want to motivate change. The Elephant represents your feelings; the Rider your rational thinking. Change advocates usually mistakenly focus on rationality. The Heaths offer a process for getting your Elephant on board and clearing the path for Rider and Elephant to work together. Their business classic remains a perceptive and applicable change management guide.

Other worthy business guides await in the Heath-osphere. Among them are Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick, Power of Moments and Decisive and Dan Heath’s Upstream. John Kotter’s Leading Change provides sound guidance while offering strategies that parallel and bring richness to the Heaths’ approach.

When you set small, visible goals, and people achieve them, they start to get it into their heads that they can succeed. They break the habit of losing and begin to get into the habit of winning.Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Here, the authors’ central theme is that to spark change and make it stick, you must appeal to people’s rational thinking and to their emotions, and you must reward small successes. 

Path to Change

The Heaths remind you that people think rationally, but feel powerful emotions, which usually win out. Change requires syncing the interests of the thoughtful Rider and the emotional Elephant.

The Heaths emphasize that people do most things automatically, habitually and unconsciously. To get people to do things differently, you must shape their path. 

Like most people, you battle to balance short-term pleasure against long-term gain. Your Rider, the Heaths explain, decides to get up before dawn to work out, but your Elephant doesn’t want to, so you hit the snooze button. The Rider can control the powerful Elephant only with great effort, and the Rider gets tired. The Heaths suggest never putting your Rider in situations that tempt your Elephant.

Failing is often the best way to learn, and because of that, early failure is a kind of necessary investment.Chip Heath and Dan Heath

The authors recommend easing your Rider’s path by reducing the number of decisions it makes. Set clear goals and directions so your Rider saves energy. Tell a story and describe the reward at the end of the path. The Heaths urge you to focus on what people see and feel over what they analyze and think. The best way to engage the Elephant, they counsel, is to use narrative.


The authors caution that motivating people by helping them identify with a change won’t always suffice. People often adopt fixed mind-sets which lead them to fear failure or criticism if they try new things. To encourage growth mind-sets, the Heaths advise communicating candidly about the initial difficulties people may encounter and the probability they’ll make mistakes. Tell them they need to fail in order to learn. Describe the better future that awaits.


The Heaths leverage evidence from psychology as a central element of their change process. Recent neuroscience proves you can nudge – guide – people toward better behaviors and decisions. The authors assert that most people follow the crowd. Leverage this: When a large part of your team does things you like, make sure everyone knows about it.

Burning Platform

In an emergency, the Heaths admit you might find yourself using fear to motivate change. Otherwise, they caution you to avoid the burning platform approach.

To change someone’s behavior, you’ve got to change that person’s situation.Chip Heath and Dan Heath

The false notion that people won’t change until the ship is sinking led to a school of thought in which leaders scrambled for a threat on which to base their argument for change. The Heaths deplore that method and urge you to tap positive emotion to encourage creativity, lateral thinking and innovation. They recommend engaging the Elephant’s positive emotions. 


Dan and Chip Heath have created an empire of business guides that have gained critical regard and endured because businesspeople, students and professors keep buying them – and for good reasons. The Heaths present their sometimes counterintuitive but always commonsense advice clearly and simply. They use no jargon. They ground their guidance in human nature as illuminated by psychology, sociology and applicable case studies, and they have a knack for useful, original metaphors that stick in the mind. Though this book was first published in 2010, nothing about their advice has dated. Some of it might ring familiar, but only because so many authors have synthesized and passed along what they learned from the Heaths.

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