Tag Archives: Rhode Island Hospital

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

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 Part 2, we looked some of the stories that Duhigg shared in the second section about Michael PhelpsAlcoaStarbucks, and the Rhode Island Hospital.  In yesterday’s post, we began our examination of the last section on societies by looking at Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rick Warren. In today’s post, we’ll look at the last chapter of the last section.

The last chapter juxtaposes the stories of Angie Bachmann and Brian Thomas. Bachmann’s story leads us on a journey of the development of a compulsive gambler and all the happenings that follow. Thomas’ story is the accidental murder of his wife. It seems strange that an adjective like accidental would precede a word like murder, but in this case, it seems to fit.

Duhigg uses these two stories to espouse the view that under different circumstances, we should be responsible for the consequences of our habits. To be honest, I didn’t see the oft-used conservative viewpoint that folks need to take ‘personal responsibility‘ coming. Nonetheless, Duhigg makes a pretty good case for it. In the case of Thomas’, there wasn’t much that he could have done to prevent the accidental murder. He “wasn’t himself” when it happened. Of course, Bachmann “wasn’t herself” when she was gambling, but the argument then becomes that Bachmann knew that she had a problem and knew that there were things she could do to prevent herself from destroying her life.

At first, I struggled with this viewpoint. I strongly believe that the environment plays a big part in the way we behave as people in society. Of course, Duhigg does acknowledge this. I’m just saying that I think, even today, we might be underestimating the importance that the environment plays on our ability to make decisions for ourselves.

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After sitting back and reflecting on the last section of this chapter, I’m more ambiguous about what I think. When I read it, I remember thinking that Duhigg made a really convincing case that we need to take personal responsibility for our habits. But in reflecting on some of the other contrary evidence, I don’t know that everyone has the strength/willpower to simply change their habit when their environment continues to support their old habits. For instance, I’m thinking about someone who’s gotten mixed up in recreational drugs. If someone’s trying to change their life such that they no longer use recreational drugs, it’s going to be important that their environment change along with them. Meaning, if they stop using drugs, but they’re still hanging out will all of the same friends (who use drugs) and go to places where drugs are used, it’s going to be very difficult to maintain one’s goal of staying clean. There’s also the neuropsychological component where the chemicals in the drug cause certain reactions in the brain making it that much more difficult to give up.

Like I said, I’m ambiguous as to what exactly I think on this topic, but if you’re interested, I highly recommend reading the last chapter of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Duhigg makes an excellent case for personal responsibility.

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If you liked this paper/series, you might want to check out some of the other papers/series I’ve posted.

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.