The Power of Habit

I’m deeply immersed in Charles Duhigg’s compulsively readable book, The Power of Habit.

Want to replace a bad habit with a good one? Keep the cue and the reward, change up the routine in between. For example, let’s say you want to stop smoking. First you need to understand what reward you are seeking. When I smoked, the cue was hitting a wall on whatever project I was working on. If I had a cigarette--my routine--I could justify taking some time to let my thoughts wander. That was the reward. It wasn’t so much the act of smoking that I enjoyed. Once I realized this, I was eventually able to create a new routine of getting up and walking around the office, which still get me the break I craved without the habit of smoking. Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple but that was one of the strategies I used to quit.

Want to change a dysfunctional organization for the better? Identify small wins-- “keystone” organizational routines--and focus on successfully changing those, thus producing a ripple effect throughout the organization. For example, Paul O’Neill radically changed Alcoa by instituting a rigorous safety program at the start of his tenure as CEO. As Duhigg writes, “Almost everything about the company’s rigid hierarchy had to change to accommodate O’Neill’s safety program. He was building new corporate habits.”

Want to stop angsting over how much data the NSA is collecting on citizens? Read the chapter on Target’s data collection practices and resign yourself to life as an open book.

In addition to the many practical and interesting ideas, the book is wonderfully written and full of lively stories that illustrate the complex concepts he explores. A must read!