Tag Archives: Paul O’Neill

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.


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.