Tag Archives: Tony Dungy

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.

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.


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.


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.