Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do and How to Change - Charles Duhigg

This was an interesting book recommended by Rajesh. The back cover talks of how one ad man took tooth brushing from an obscure practice and made it a daily routine, how an army general was able to calm violent crowds with the help of fast food, how Michael Phelps broke a world record with his goggles full of water etc. It deals with habits and how often we do things out of habit and not by any rational choice. The book deals with the habits of individuals, organisations and societies in 3 parts. I read the first two with great interest and need to re-read the third part.

'Most choices we make each day may feel like they are the products of well-considered decision making, but they are not. They are habits. And though each one means relatively little on its own, over time these habits have an enormous impact on our health, productivity, financial security and happiness.'

The idea is simple, when habits emerge, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. We make several choices only by habit and not by any rational thought which may not always be in our best interest if the habits do not serve us. However habits can be changed, ignored or replaced, which is good news.

In dealing with habits of individuals, the author deals with the 3 topics of - the Habit Loop, the Craving Brain and the Golden rule of habit change. The habit loop consists of the Cue, the Craving/ Action and the Reward. Pick any of your habits and observe carefully and you will find this pattern unerringly. To change habits, keep the all important cue (which triggers the craving) and reward constant, but change the action or routine in the middle. Simple! Apart from the loop of cue, routine and reward, one major ingredient is belief. 

In the part about organisation I found some of the stuff that the owner of Starbucks, Schultz, said, very interesting.

He came from a modest background but he remembers his mother telling him this constantly - "You're going to be the first person to go to the college, you're going to be a professional, you're going to make us all proud.'

She always asked him - 'How are you going to study tonight? What are you gong to do tomorrow? How do you know you're ready for your test?'

Schultz says - 'I believe that if you tell people that they have what it takes to succeed, they'll prove you right.'

'Giving employees a sense of ownership, a feeling that they are in control, that they have genuine decision making authority, can increase how much energy and focus they bring to the job.'

'Gving employees a sense of control improved how much self-discipline they brought to the job.'

Other examples include that of Febreeze where the marketing team was off the target in assuming that customers wanted to get rid of smells at home. It was only later that they found that customers who had smells at home did not need to freshen rooms because they were used to those smells. It was the other customers who used Febreeze as a room freshener that used it daily as a reward for cleaning up their rooms well. 

Or the case of the football coach of Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tony Dumpy who took a down and out team and worked on its key habits. Each player learned a series of habits that they needed to master. Though Dumpy was not around to see the teams success, his methods of changing habits worked. Foamy shampoos, tingling toothpastes etc are other stuff that make customers feel that they have achieved what they set out to do. Cue, tingling, Reward, smile. 

I did like the method that Paul O Nell of Alcoa took, not talking of profits or turnovers etc but remaining focussed on the keystone habit - safety. That single minded focus on improving safety to zero brought Alcoa back into the reckoning. I always believed in the idea that if you do one thing well, the other things fall into place. You need to build that crazy momentum that's all. There is also the story of creating habits out of crisis, accidents and design as in the Rhode Island Hospital. And the case of Target which tried to predict and manipulate habits. While discussing habits in societies, the cases of Saddleback Church and the Montgomery us Boycott are discussed. The Neurology of Freewill is discussed as well.

The framework to change habits is this - Identify the routine, experiment with rewards, Isolate the cue and Have a plan.

Charles Duhigg is an investigative reporter for the New York Times. He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and Yale University. Early on in the book he poses the question - 'How do habits change?' And then he says - 'There is unfortunately no specific set of steps guaranteed to work for every person.' 

'The evidence is clear; if we want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group. Belief is essential.' 

Yes, individuals change, organisations change and societies change. There seems to be a broad pattern but nothing concrete yet for me in this book except that we need to work in groups. It is one of those many books where a premise is researched and stories found, but nothing conclusive is given. I need a prescription if I need to change my habits and there, I find little help.

No comments: