Book Review: “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg

After being an engineering manager for more than 15 years, I finally realize through this book that majority of what I do daily is about creating and shaping people’s habits. This book taught me several management techniques. I wish I had read this book 15 years ago. But it’s never too late to learn and apply the key principles of habits.

Specifically, I’ve learned quite a few things about the power of habit: 1.) Main components of habit loop: Cue, routine and reward. 2) Must have the craving for the habit to continue looping. 3). If the routines are bad for you like smoking, substitute the routine but keep the same cue and reward. 4) Addiction is a form of habit, like gambling and even sleep walking. 5) Changing an organization habit may be the key to the success of an organization, e.g. Paul O’neal at Alcoa. 6) Believing that you can change the habit is the “spiritual” element of habit changing. 7) Will power is a limited-resource habit. Kids’ learning piano is training them for more will power and the ability to regulate emotions. 8) Acquiring a good habit takes willpower. 9) Getting employees to adopt a good habit will take role-play for all possible circumstances. They need to feel in control. 9) Getting someone to adopt a new habit may take inserting new between familiar/old habits. 10) Social movements are a form of social habits.

Key outlines:

Part 1: The habits of individuals
1. The habit loop consists of cue, routine and reward.

2. The craving brain: how to create new habit. Craving is what makes the cues and rewards work; it’s what powers the habit loop. E.g. feeling the film on your teeth or craving for tingling sensation for Pepsodent and P&G’s Fabreeze lacks the craving for people who needs it because they hardly smell any odor. Reading emails habit is created by craving for distraction. Jogging routine is fueled by craving for endorphin.

3. The golden rule of habit changing: why transformation occurs. You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it and you must believe you can change. Use the same cue and provide the same reward. For examples, Dungy’s coaching career at Colts and Bill Wilson’s starting AA and creating the social routines of AA meeting instead of drinking, feeling the tension of finger tips leads to nail biting.

Part II: The habits of successful organizations
4. Keystone habits, or the ballad of Paul O’Neill – which habits matter most. Paul O’Neill of Alcoa latched onto one keystone habit – zero injury, safety habit. Michael Phelp’s winning warm up habit and the playing of the winning “video.” They are “small wins.”

5. Starbucks and the habit of success: when will power becomes automatic. Travel Leach’s adopting the Starbucks’ will-power habit turned him into a successful “partner” for Starbucks. “When you learn to force yourself to practice for an hour or run fifteen laps, you start building self-regulatory strength. Starbuck’s secret: turning self-discipline into an organizational habit. Use the LATTE habit loop (Listen, Acknowledge, Take Actions, Thank them, then Explain why the problem happened.) Howard Schultz was trained from his childhood to set goals. Empowered employees with some amount of autonomy or given a sense of “agency” tend to perform better.

6. The power of crisis: How leaders create habits through accident and design. In the heat of crisis, the right habits emerge like Rhode Island Hospital. Benefits of organizational habits/routines is that they create truce between potentially warring groups and individuals within an organization. Leader must cultivate habits that both create a real and balanced peace and, paradoxically, make it absolutely clear who’s in charge, e.g. King’s Cross fire incident. “Never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

7. How Target knows what you want before you do: When companies predict and manipulate habits. Target uses “guest portraits” to guide purchases or take advantage of major life events (especially baby’s birth) that are known to be habit changing. Turning a song like “Hey Ya” or persuading the American to eat organ meats may take the technique of “sandwiching” between familiar tunes or “by dressing something new in old clothes, and making the unfamiliar seem familiar.”

Part III: The Habits of Societies
8. Sadlleback Church and Montgomery Bus Boycott: How movements happens. It’s because of Rosa Parks “weak ties” that made it difficult for avoid joining the boycott because of “peer pressure.” Weak ties, at times more important than strong ties, give us access to social networks where we don’t otherwise belong. Religion takes advantage of the habits (recipes) of faith – joining small community prayer groups, signal a “maturity covenant card” promising to adhere to 3 habits: daily quiet time for reflection and prayer, tithing 10%, and membership in a small group. MLK’s peace movement gives people a new habit to react to violent racism.

9. The neurology of free will: Are we responsible for our habits?
Gambling habits are something one is aware of (free will) and yet sleep walker is not aware of the action (not free will.) If you believe you can change – if you make it a habit – the change becomes real. The metaphors of the water to fish are like habits to us; we may not be conscious of them. “Water ‘hollows out for itself a channel, which grows broader and deeper; and after having ceased to flow, it resumes, when it flows again, the path traced by itself before.'”