(by C. Heath & D. Heath)

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This book is all about change. Now think of a human being as a rider on an elephant; the rider is our rational side; the elephant is our emotional side. OK – how do you get them to move in a certain direction? Heath & Heath look at three key ideas: a) you have to motivate the elephant – to get it to want to change its course. Logical arguments do not work with the elephant; what you need is an emotional appeal! b) Assuming the elephant is willing, you can then address the rider. The rider likes logical arguments, but tends to overanalyse and suffers from ego-depletion and choice fatigue; s/he needs clear, behavioural instructions (‘Do this!’).  c) An interesting alternative is to also shape the path – so the rider and elephant go down the track because it is easy or because it is the natural thing to do!

How can we use all this? a) Imagine you are addressing a class of low-level Business students; ‘In 6 months’ time, I am going to invite here a group of my NS colleagues for drinks and you are going to be able to mingle without using the L1 at all!’ Now that should motivate them! (PS: If you say this, make sure you actually do it! 🙂 )  b) When setting H/W, telling learners to ‘Study the vocabulary’ is too general; it helps if you specify: i) which words? ii) how should they study them?  iii) how many times?  c) Incredibly, if as part of H/W you ask students to use a new web tool or a site which requires them to register, they may give up! So make sure they do it in class and they get to feel their way around a little before going home (when something is new, the elephant can be easily demotivated).

The writers draw on research from Psychology, Behavioural Economics and related fields to illustrate their ideas and provide a wealth of case studies mostly from the world of corporations and NGOs. Now here is a study I found fascinating (p. 182): researchers asked university students to identify some of their dorm-mates who were either ‘very charitable’ or ‘rather selfish and unlikely to donate to charity’; they then approached the two groups, informed them about a food-drive that was taking place and asked them to donate some. The ‘charitable’ students received a general letter with all the necessary info, but the ‘selfish’ ones got a more detailed one which included a map and a specific request for a can of beans. The results: 8% of the former but an astonishing 25% of the latter made a contribution! There is a lesson for us all there – clear that path!!

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