Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg was a really interesting book that I picked up after previously reading and writing about Smarter Faster Better also from Duhigg.

The Power of Habit covers how habits are a powerful driver of automatic behavior, and contains a few different concepts from Duhigg that stood out to me... with underneath those, stories from the book used to illustrate them:

1. Habits follow the principle of (A) cue, (B) response, and then (C) reward.
2. Habits can be changed by replacing them with new ones.
3. Making one habit change, if it a keystone habit, can lead to other changes.
4. Belief that a habit can take hold is essential to the success of that.
5. Organizational habits can form in the same manner as individual habits.
6. People respond to familiarity, both in what they like and habits they form.
7. Habits form best when there's a social tie that helps enable it.

Tony Dungy-coached football teams – recounts how Dungy would have players in a game focus on simple execution, or response, done well when they see certain game situations, or cues... which brought to mind for me a quote from Arizona Cardinals coach Tom Moore around focusing on “the relentless execution of fundamentals.”

Household cleaning product Febreze – around Procter & Gamble positioning Febreze usage as the final thing done after cleaning, with it as a sort of reward a more powerful motivator than if the positioning something to avoid a negative in the elimination of odors… an idea that made me think of towards rather than away motivated people.

Pepsodent toothpaste and the introduction of it – covers Pepsodent entering the market a hundred years ago with both a clear cue and reward for usage of the product. In terms of the cue, it was noted that people should pay attention to the film on their teeth they can physically feel with their tongue prior to brushing. Additionally detailed was the physical reward, to the point of a craving, which comes when the film gone after brushing and the mouth has a distinct post-brushing feeling from a citric acid ingredient in the toothpaste.

Alcoa and how the aluminum company thrived – tells the story of how new CEO Paul O’Neill in 1987 came into his first public meeting and proclaimed a focus on workplace safety, while O'Neill also noted that it would be an indicator of habits across the institution. Duhigg covers how O'Neill saw that the company had bitter feelings between unions and management and viewed safety as an important goal everyone could agree on. Additionally, safety was a keystone habit, a simple and clear goal that could be measured easily, but also have execution towards it spread throughout the entire organization as for there to be zero injuries, it meant everything had to be working correctly. Part of the focus on safety involved management making the statement over and over that people throughout the company should feel free to speak up about things that they see that are important, and the positive by-product of this was as people would freely make suggestions around safety, it emboldened them to also highlight other things which they felt would improve the company. The focus on safety was a keystone habit, and from that grew a more positive company culture.

Alcoholics Anonymous and what’s caused it to be effective – Duhigg writes of how what AA espouses is very habit-based, and it focuses on replacing the routine for alcoholics from drinking to another activity. When someone faced with a cue that previously would have caused them to drink, the new routine is around meetings, sponsors, basically something other than drinking. Additionally noted in this section is how an important component of someone replacing a routine is to for them believe they can be successful at it, particularly in times of great stress. This belief can come through different forms and one that's covered is having an individual or group model to emulate that’s been successful. The thing to keep in mind as Duhigg writes of it is that a routine can’t just stop, but can be replaced by something else.

Michael Phelps and triggers and habits – covered here is how Phelps reacts to certain triggers, or cues, in advance of or during a race, and then his response. He’s practiced so long at what he’ll do that successful habits win the day. Part of this is how a successful reaction to a small cue which leads to a minor reward is a small win, something accomplished that builds on itself, very much related to this idea of belief building.

Starbucks and the habit of success – detailed by Duhigg is how the company extensively trains employees in how to react when difficult situations arise... with one Starbucks approach for dealing with angry customers the LATTE method: listen, acknowledge, take action, thank them, and explain why the problem occurred. Duhigg notes how these angry customers are like cues, inflection points that then should lead to specific responses, with those much more likely to occur if they’ve been anticipated and prepared for, through either formalized training or even just writing out what situations might happen and how to react. In terms of habit-building, it’s mentioned in the chapter that much of this training is around the keystone habit of willpower, which comes in finite amounts, so the training to build up willpower is important both because it’s hard to have in situations of prolonged stress and when you increase willpower in one area, that spills over into other areas of life. Also noted in this chapter is how self-discipline can be turned into an organizational habit and if people feel a sense of control about something, no matter how small, it means they need to exert less willpower to get through their day successfully and can be happier and more productive.

Rhode Island Hospital and the London Underground – covered by Duhigg here is, similar to how in the section on Alcoa, there should be an organizational culture where people at any level feel free to speak up about things they see. This organizational habit of openness can eliminate or at least mitigate the effects of internal fiefdoms and rivalries between groups and Duhigg notes in the stories of malpractice at the Rhode Island Hospital and the London Underground fire that a crisis can provide the best opportunity to change an organization, as it's then that change seen as most urgently needed.

Response to the song Hey Ya! and starting an exercise routine – Duhigg details how people like things that are familiar to them and in terms of music, notes how people didn't react favorably at first to the song Hey Ya! because it was so different than other music on the radio, and in order for the song to become popular, DJs would play it in between familiar songs. Duhigg also describes exercising and how people will often respond to the idea of doing it as being something done with friends, a familiar bonding activity.

The Montgomery bus boycott and Saddleback church – in this section, it's noted how community ties, both strong and weak (which extend further than strong ties), helped galvanize people behind Rosa Parks at the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott, a key event in the Civil Rights Movement. It’s also covered how this principle of both strong and weak ties being beneficial applies to job seekers and how the church Saddleback grew in large part through the groups that people would gather in within their homes, basically a combination of strong ties in small groups and weak ties while in a large church setting.

Duhigg in the book does a solid job of covering how people and organizations have the control to remake and replace habits and the key as he spells it out is to: identify the routine, experiment with rewards, isolate the cue, and have a plan.