Sunday, January 10, 2016

Chapter 6: “Shrink the Change”

In this chapter we learn from several interesting examples that big changes come from a succession of small changes.  The elephant is reluctant to start a daunting task. The challenge is to get the elephant moving by shrinking the change. 
One example of shrinking the change was the loyalty card promotions for a free car wash.  In one promotion the customer received a stamp for each car wash purchased, and then received a free car wash after filling out the loyalty card with 8 stamps.  In the other promotion, the customer needed to fill the loyalty card with 10 stamps, but the card already had two stamps on the card.  To get a free car wash in either promotion, customers needed to buy 8 car washes, but customers were more motivated in the second promotion because they were already 20% of the way to their goal of getting their free wash rather than starting from scratch.  It is more motivating to be partly finished with a longer task than to be at the start of a shorter one.
Another example of shrinking the change is a fundraising campaign that is not publicly announced until contributions making up 50% of the goal have been received. People are more apt to contribute when they think the goal is within reach.
I can relate to the dreaded housecleaning example.  Starting the unpleasant task of cleaning house is worse than continuing it.  Facing a daunting task, the instinct is to avoid it.  Using the “five-minute room rescue“ technique  is shrinking the change.  The smaller goal is a cleaner house rather than a clean house.   At the end of the five minutes, achieving small, visible goals creates momentum to keep cleaning.
Personally, I find wearing my Fitbit Flex to track the number of steps I take in a day helps motivate me to achieve 10,000 steps by shrinking the change into five smaller goals of 2000 steps.  When just one of five LED lights are blinking on my Fitbit, I know I am between 0 and 2000 steps. The closer I get to 2000 steps, the faster the light blinks. When I reach 2000 steps, the second light displays to show I am between 2000 and 4000 steps. When I see one of the lights blinking fast, I am motivated to keep walking to get to the next level. When I see all five lights, I know I am getting close to my 10,000 steps for the day, and I want to keep walking to see the fifth blinking light and finally feel the vibration to indicate I have reached my goal.
In my classes I need to find ways to break down tasks for my students so they can achieve small successes that will motivate them to continue the journey with a feeling of confidence.

“If you want a reluctant Elephant to get moving, you need to shrink the change.” (Page 129)


  1. This was an interesting chapter. I see value in shrinking the change. I find that as a special education teacher, I modify and shrink the ultimate goal all the time. My question is if people are really reaching the ultimate goal by shrinking the change? People may reach mini goals or steps along the way, but do they actually reach the final/ultimate goal? For example, when students are given a writing assignment in class, I will break down the steps (finding textual evidence, organizing paragraphs, writing a thesis...) but the goal is not truly met until the final edited paper is submitted. I hope students find value in the steps along the way, but the daunting task of writing the actual paper is still the ultimate goal.

    I know I can shrink the change for tasks for myself, but it does not make me feel like I have accomplished anything until the final task is complete. It may just be my personality, but I am curious to see if anyone else feels the same way.

  2. Dawn brings up an interesting point here. When we shrink the change it is imperative that we somehow keep the end-goal at the forefront or run the risk of a situation where we are putting all our effort and energy into a step along the path.

    I taught at a district that had an after school program for students that was fluid. Students were recommended in and left as their needs were met. The attendance at the program was down and so a committee was formed to figure out how to improve the program. I found out much later that the program was actually supposed to be a piece of a larger initiative to provide greater academic support and to engage students. Instead, the piece of the puzzle began to occupy time that could have been spent on innovating additional pieces.

  3. This was a very interesting chapter and it made me reflect on how I motivate my students who face significant challenges to reach grade level standards. In education we are focused on standards-based grading where you meet the goal or you don’t. This may be informative to many parents and children when they are on the bubble, but for the children who face nothing but ones and twos for significantly long stretches of their educational career it can be overwhelmingly frustrating. The concept of shrinking the task can motivate a person to take on a task bit by bit and by celebrating the little successes they can gain the personal strength and courage to face the more challenging tasks that come. I was struck in this chapter by the passage, “When you engineer early successes, what you’re really doing is engineering hope. Hope is precious to a change effort. It’s Elephant fuel.” We can have an eye toward the standards, but we have to give hope to children that they will be successful or they will not persevere. As I work with my students I know I need to keep this in mind and engineer early success so that I can push them to take on the challenges that they typically would like to avoid.

  4. I definitely buy into shrinking the change to reach a bigger goal for myself since I may be overwhelmed with a task, but I know I still have to do it. I could see the idea of cleaning one room at a time instead of thinking I have to clean the whole house at once, etc. I do this with IEP writing when I tell myself my goal is one IEP a day. I feel as though it is a goal I can reach without feeling as overwhelmed. The motivator is to reduce stress, but it is also to keep my job. It's really just mind games we play in our own heads to push back procrastination. As Dawn mentioned, part of being a special education teacher is constantly shrinking the large goal to mini steps to feel a sense of accomplishment. The question I have is what to do when this is not motivating enough. Like I said, my motivator may be to keep my job which has many other consequences attached to it. In other words, I know I have to write the IEPs whether or not I like to. Not all students feel that sense of responsibility or urgency where school is concerned. They don't always see how working at school affects their future. Andrea Battisti calls this "future blind." Often our goals as teachers may not match the goals the students have. I have come across many students that no matter what I did to shrink the change and help set realistic goals, the student wouldn't budge. I could not find a way to motivate the student to buy into the assignment in order to pass a diploma required subject. The kids have learned, in many cases, that they still will pass and move on even if they truly didn't actually pass. Contracts are worked out, programs setup, and deals made so that, in the end, a student can avoid reaching a goal and making a change and still "pass" onto the next grade or actually graduate. Sometimes old habits are hard to break, and, if the student has learned that he will be rewarded regardless, there is no need for that student to buy into any carrot we hold out front. Having said that, this is a great concept for kids who want to do well, and it is useful in many areas of one's life. Really, all of these strategies are extremely useful and successful when a person buys in to reaching a goal.


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