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This was a short book that had a significant portion dedicated to a sales pitch for the change management company John Kotter runs. This book was simply an update to the newest research they've done specifically on how modern brain science can be used to help deal with change. To that end, there was one strong key idea throughout that I found useful.

They discuss this idea of the "Thrive Channel" and the "Survive Channel." Essentially, the "Survive Channel" in your mind is activated by survival instincts. In business, this can be scary business results, threats of layoffs, not having the right skills, fear over performance reviews, uncertainty about the future, and distrust of management. The "Thrive Channel" is a set of neurological pathways that get activated when you see opportunities to engage and apply yourself towards a common goal with others around you.


Survive can give you short term energy, but you will burn out quickly, and you'll be harder to get engaged in the future because of it. It's a short-term sugar rush when you need to be running a marathon.

Thrive can be slower to get moving, but thrive energy can be long-term, more engaging, more psychologically safe, and better for everyone in the long term.

They develop this concept into some powerful ideas on how people can describe change, influence people in the direction of change, and avoid many common pitfalls. To demonstrate a couple examples of this in practice:

  1. Don't use a "Burning Platform" to convince people to get moving. This will over-engage the survival channel and get people stressed, worried, and disengaged.
  2. Speak about opportunities whenever possible as it keeps a positive focus and allows the "thrive" channel to come online strongly. Opportunities > Threats
  3. Think Big, Start Small, Learn Fast. Small - Fast experiments can help to show your team that failures are safe. This builds psychological safety. It also allows you to get small wins which you can share widely. Describing and celebrating wins (even small ones) feeds Thrive and dampens Survive.

To me, as long as a book has one good core idea that you can walk away with, then it's worth the price and effort. This one meets that rubric, and this "Thrive vs. Survive" is one I'll keep in mind in the future. It would likely have worked just as well as an essay or a Ted talk rather than a full book.

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