Tag Archives: Habits

The Habits of Societies: The Power of Habit, Part 3a

In Part 1a, we had an introduction Duhigg’s book on habits. In Part 1b, we looked at some of the highlights and the key points from the first section (on individuals) of the book. In yesterday’s post, we looked some of the stories that Duhigg shared in the second section about Michael Phelps, Alcoa, Starbucks, and the Rhode Island Hospital.  In today’s post, we’ll look at the last section of the book on societies.

Because of my sense that I’m meant to be a leader of a very large organization, I was particularly excited to get to the section on societies. It certainly did not disappoint. There were only two chapters in this section. The first chapter talked about movements: the civil rights movement in the 1960s and Rick Warren. With regard to the civil rights movement, Duhigg tells the story of how we came to know Rosa Parks. I was shocked to learn that Parks wasn’t the only (nor was she the first!) black person to take a stand (metaphorically) against the injustice in the South. In fact, there had been others like her who tried to remain in their seats on the bus, but no movements formed after their decision to remain steadfast.

Part of the reason that Parks created such a stir was because of how connected she was to her community. When people learned that Parks had been arrested, people wanted to help. Simply wanting to help wasn’t enough. As we learn, all of this willingness to help had to be funneled into a new activity: civil disobedience. There’s a particular powerful passage that I want to share. In my reading of the passage, it makes me think that this was one of the important turning points of civil rights movement:

As the bus boycott expanded from a few days into a week, and then a month, and then two months, the commitment of the Montgomery’s black community began to wane.

The police commissioner, citing an ordinance that required taxicabs to charge a minimum fare, threatened to arrest cabbies who drove blacks to work at a discount. The boycott’s leaders responded by signing up two hundred volunteers to participate in a carpool. Police started issuing tickets and harassing people at carpool meeting spots. Drivers began dropping out. “It became more and more difficult to catch a ride,” King later wrote. “Complaints began to rise. From early morning to late at night my telephone rang and my doorbell was seldom silent. I began to have doubts about the ability of the Negro community to continue the struggle.”

One night, while King was preaching at his church, an usher ran up with an urgent message. A bomb had exploded at King’s house while his wife and infant daughter were inside. King rushed home and was greeted by a crowd of several hundred blacks as well as the mayor and the chief of police. His family had not been injured, but the front windows of his home were shattered and there was a crater in his porch. If anyone had been in the front rooms of the house when the bomb went off, they could have been killed.

As King surveyed the damage, more and more blacks arrived. Policemen started telling the crowds to disperse. Someone shoved a cop. A bottle flew through the air. One of the policemen swung a baton. The police chief, who months earlier had publicly declared his support for the racist White Citizen’s Council, pulled King aside and asked him to do something — anything — to stop a riot from breaking out.

King walked to his porch.

“Don’t do anything panicky,” he shouted to the crowd. “Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword.”

The crowd grew still.

“We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us,” King said. “We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.'”

“We must meet hate with love,” King [said].

Powerful.

The parts about Rick Warren were equally powerful, but when contrasted with the life/death matters of the civil rights movement, it’s hard to see it in the same light.

Because I’ve shared an excerpt from this book about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, I thought it best to talk about the last chapter of the section in a different post. Look for it tomorrow.

The Habits of Successful Organizations: The Power of Habit, Part 2

In Part 1a, we had an introduction Duhigg’s book on habits. In yesterday’s post, we looked at some of the highlights and the key points from the first section (on individuals) of the book. In today’s post, we’ll look at the second section of the book and pull out some of the key highlights on successful organizations.

Upon reading the first chapter of this section, I was a bit surprised that there was a story about Michael Phelps. Although, in the context of the information on keystone habits, it makes sense. In fact, like with Tony Dungy in yesterday’s post, I was surprised that I’d never heard about Michael Phelps winning a gold medal in the 200m butterfly in the 2008 Olympics without the use of his vision. Duhigg’s retelling of the story is actually quite compelling and helps to illustrate the point of “small wins.”

There’s also a great story of Paul O’Neill a former Secretary of the Treasury who was also the Chairman amd CEO of Alcoa, one of the largest aluminum producers on the planet. When O’Neill took over as the CEO of Alcoa, it was worth $3 billion. When he left, it was worth almost ten times as much ($27.53 billion). Many folks would be interested to know how he did it. The short answer: safety. O’Neill used this focus on safety to change the culture of the organization (and the by extension, the habits!), which allowed profits to soar.

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If you’ve ever worked at Starbucks, you know some of the secret ingredients: service with a smile and the LATTE method of handling unpleasant situations. Duhigg explains how becoming a Starbucks employee changed someone’s life by giving them the life skills they hadn’t learned elsewhere. This made me think: why don’t we teach students these kinds of skills in school? This kind of emotional intelligence is just as important as learning about history and science. Some may even argue that it’s more important.

There were three other really compelling stories in this section: there was one about the King’s Cross fire in London Underground over 25 years ago, there was one about issues between nurses and doctors in the Rhode Island Hospital, and the last was about how Target is able to know when someone’s pregnant before they are. You probably read about the Target story last year and if you’re old enough, you probably remember the King’s Cross fire and some of the aftermath that ensued. Reading about the King’s Cross fire was particularly compelling for me because of what I perceived as common rifts that are seen in organizations all the time. The problem with the rifts of the workers at King’s Cross was that it cost people their lives. The story of the Rhode Island Hospital had a similar vein in that it *potentially* cost someone their life because of the rift between the nurses and the doctors.

Some of these stories of tragedy reminded me of the idea I had about treating one’s workforce not as liabilities, but as assets. I wrote about this a couple of days ago with some help from Henry Blodget.

In tomorrow’s post, we’ll look at the habits of societies.

The Habits of Individuals: The Power of Habit, Part 1

One of the great things about road trips (when you’re not the driver) is that you can read. Of course, presuming you don’t feel sick when you read in the car, it’s a great thing you can do. Several weeks ago, I was able to get through a book that’s been on my desk for too long: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. I first wrote a little something about the book in May after I saw a post about it on Farnam Street. Let’s call that post Part 1a and this one Part 1b. Over the next three days, I’ll look at the three sections of the book: the individual, the organization, and society.

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Having had training in psychology, I really enjoyed the first section of this book. Duhigg delves into some of the psychological factors of habits and I was pleased that I was still able to remember much of the terminologies and functions from neuropsychology (hippocampus, amygdala, etc.).

Very early on, we learn about how brushing our teeth wasn’t as common 100 years ago as it is today. Thanks to some brilliant executive who, in a sense, tricked us into wanting to brush our teeth. As I was reading through this chapter, I was reminded of Edward Bernays. I kept thinking that Duhigg was going to bring him up, but I guess his work wasn’t exactly having to do with habits, so it would have been unnecessary. Nonetheless, for those of you who read Chapter 2 and find the discussion of toothpaste and Febreze interesting, I suggest doing some reading on Edward Bernays.

In the last chapter of this section, we learn about Tony Dungy and his excellent work with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts. I was surprised I hadn’t read about Dungy’s methods prior to this book. I guess it goes to show you just how much there is out there to read and process. Dungy used principles of habits to improve the success of his teams. We also learn a little bit about Alcoholics Anonymous in this chapter. Having never been to a meeting, it was illuminating to hear the story of how AA got started (a story that’s been told many times over). It’s also amazing just how embedded within the 12 steps are principles of habits.

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The main takeaway for me from this first section was Duhigg breaking down the habit loop and explaining how to change a habit. There are important things to remember like the fact that even long after you think you’ve changed your habit, the neural pathways are still there such that you could slip back into your old habit. For a good recap of how to change your habits, I recommend checking out the short video of Duhigg in Part 1a.

In tomorrow’s post, we’ll look at the habits of successful organizations.

How Do I Break a Habit? First, Notice

Last year, Charles Duhigg published a great book called, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. It has been really well-received garnering almost 900 five- and four-star ratings out of 1050+. I haven’t had the chance to read it, yet, but I have seen many interviews with Duhigg explaining the principles from the book and videos like the one I’ve embedded below with some animation.

A few days ago, I noticed the video embedded on Farnam Street and I thought it’d be a good idea to share it with all of you. It’s one of the best summaries I’ve seen Duhigg give on the principles from the book. In fact, it’s one of the best summaries I’ve seen on habits, in general. If you’re interested in habits, another good person to read (or listen to) is BJ Fogg. Without further adieu, here’s the clip from Duhigg:

There’s so much good information in there, but the piece I want to draw your attention to is near the very end:

Studies have shown that if you can diagnose your habits, you can change them in whichever way you want.

That’s really important because this thinking wasn’t always the case. Sometimes, folks will tell you that you need to focus on the cue, while others will say you need to focus on the reward. As Duhigg suggests, you can focus on whichever aspect you want, so long as you’ve diagnosed the habit. Happy habit-breaking!

Trying to Form a New Habit: Take a Vacation

Have you ever wanted to make changes in your life, but haven’t been able to stick to those changes? What about a New Year’s Resolution? If I’m being honest, there have been changes that I’ve tried to make that I haven’t been able to keep up. However, I think I may have discovered a trick to making it easier to stick to a new habit. (Truth be told, I’m probably not the first person to make this discovery, but I don’t remember reading it in any of the literature on habit-forming and/or making changes. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t.)

There have been some new habits that I’ve tried to form over the past couple of weeks. One of those habits is practicing French. (I’m Canadian and I think I ought to know both of the national languages. Plus, it makes good sense to be able to speak more than one language and since I had some training in French, I thought it was the best one to start with.) Anyways, I’ve tried to practice French. At least once I day, I make a point to practice French. Although, this hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be.

If you’ve ever tried to create a new habit, you know what it’s like: you’re used to doing certain things throughout your day and as a result, it can be difficult to try to squeeze something else into the day — even if you’ve removed some of the other things that you used to do!

I recently returned from a trip this past Monday. As a result, I thought that this was a perfect time to try and carry out a new routine. Having been away from my “regular” routine for the last 10+ days, I can now impose a new routine. I’ve only been doing it for a few days, but so far, it’s been working great. If we look at it from a physics standpoint, it makes sense. The way I went about my day was an “object in motion,” and until that “object in motion” was acted upon, it was going to maintain its course. My attempts to affect its course weren’t strong enough to move that object in motion, but when I left the country, the object was acted upon strongly enough. Inertia is also another concept that applies here. Inertia is the idea that an object will resist a change to its state of motion (or rest).

So, if you’re trying to make some changes in your life, consider going on vacation or getting out of town for a few days to shakeup your routine. It just may be the change you need to make the change you need!