The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, Random House, 400 Pages, $28. 00, Hardcover, March 2012, ISBN 9781400069286 We all have habits. Some are good, like brushing our teeth, and others are generally classified as bad, such as smoking, drinking to excess, or overeating.
We all have habits. Some are good, like brushing our teeth, and others are generally classified as bad, such as smoking, drinking to excess, or overeating. But our lives are surprisingly filled with habits beyond remembering to wash our hands before dinner, and those habits often dictate the course of our lives because we become deeply entrenched in their ruts. Charles Duhigg, in The Power of Habit, gives us the lowdown on how habits are formed, how habits can be used against us, and how habits can be broken.
Duhigg, an award-winning investigative reporter with The New York Times, first takes us on visits to laboratories where the brain is studied. Of course we meet mice with electrodes attached to their heads, but we also meet H.M and Eugene, two men who have experienced traumatic brain trauma and lost the ability to remember even something that happened two minutes prior. Yet, Duhigg reveals, these men with no memory still learn habits.
Eugene for example, was able to create "habit loops" that included a cue, then a routine, and finally a reward. No memory required.
The experiments demonstrated that Eugene had the ability to form new habits, even when they involved tasks or objects he couldn't remember for more than a few seconds. This explained how Eugene managed to go for a walk every morning. The cues—certain trees on corners or the placement of particular mailboxes—were consistent every time he went outside, so though he couldn't recognize his house, his habits always guided him back to his front door.Understanding how habits are created leads to a better understanding of how habits can be broken. "The evidence is clear: If you want to change a habit, find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group." Not only that, but belief is the key. AA's twelve-step program isn't for everyone, but the lesson learned from its success is important:
AA trains people in how to believe in something until they believe in the program and themselves. It lets people practice believing that things will eventually get better, until they actually do.The application of this understanding of habits to business is significant. Duhigg includes a section on "The Habits of Successful Organizations," and within it examples of how Paul O'Neill transformed ALCOA into being the top performer in the Dow Jones by establishing Keystone habits, how Starbucks teaches willpower, how Target uses data to divine customers' habits, and how "good leaders seize crises to remake organizational habits." In sum, this book is an important addition to the library of any businessperson who wants and needs to learn more about the habits of themselves and others, and how they can change them for the better.