Hardy Green is a former Associate Editor at BusinessWeek. From 1995-2009, he was the steward of the magazine’s respected and influential book review section. He also has written frequently about the book publishing industry, and contributed features on travel, investing, business history, technology, and careers.
He is the author of two books, including the forthcoming The Company Town: The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy (Basic Books, fall 2010).
He has also taught history at New York’s School of Visual Arts and Stony Brook University, from which he holds a PhD in United States History. He holds a B.A. degree from Rhodes College in Memphis.
Two themes have dominated the business-books scene in recent years: How people think and make decisions, and how people react to change. Not that these are unrelated. Much of what Corporate America’s managers and employees ponder is change—can we possibly implement this new top-down initiative? How will I be affected? What on earth is the boss contemplating?
Recent weeks have seen two more books added to an already impressive roster: Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and surgeon Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Both are riding high on best-seller lists. Now comes a third volume sure to join them there: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, authors of the 2007 best-seller Made to Stick.
It’s instructive to compare just these three. Pink addresses both managers and the rest of us with a research-laden volume aimed at undermining what he sees as institutions’ over reliance on money as a motivator. Gawande argues that a great many professional tasks have become too complicated to be managed by our little brains—and that a simple device, the checklist, can make a world of difference. So both of these accounts consider how our minds work and how particular alterations can make the world a better place.
The Heaths, on the other hand, advocate no particular change, although they offer a great many examples. Instead, like such previous assaults as Who Moved My Cheese? and Our Iceberg Is Melting,Switch assumes that people resist change and must be taught to like it. This book is not as offensive as some of the change-motivating fables—after all, it’s not really aimed at a presumed-to-be-stupid rank and file, but at presumed-to-be-intelligent managers. But unlike, say, The Checklist Manifesto, it’s not exactly a joy to read—nor does one come away feeling exhilarated and eager to take up the authors’ cause.