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Perpetual: Reads | The Power of Habit

Our summer series of book recommendations to empower talent and fuel brands.

Review by Duke Maines


We already know that change is difficult for a variety of reasons.  Even the most adventurous and flexible of us humans have, at a minimum, an unconscious reaction to change that inhibits our ability to be successful in making that shift.

What this book delivers

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, leans on neuroscience in particular to illustrate how we form habits, why we become so wedded to them, and how efforts to change at the rationale level are rarely successful.  The challenge is that shifting these habits are the key to real behavioral change inside organizations.

For real change to occur, we have to recognize what triggers our current habits, replace that with a new way of operating (routine), and only over time—with success that follows from making the change—do we finally embed a new habit.

A great example from the book comes in how Starbuck’s handles customer complaints at the organizational level.  Right or wrong, customers have all kinds of ways they express their displeasure—some of them more appropriate than others.  Turns out Starbucks employees are human beings also, so they respond similarly—sometimes good or bad—at least until they invented a new routine to respond to the customer trigger:  LATTE—that is, listen first, acknowledge, take action, thank them, and explain why it happened.  Now, all employees have a way to replace a potentially negative reaction with a routine that allows for a more successful outcome and ends with a customer feeling appreciated. 


One practical application from Duhigg’s work here is that change has a better chance at happening at the team level (or in Starbuck’s case, team by team until it becomes engrained at the organizational level), going beyond just any one individual.  If a team experiences an emotional need to do something different (having gone through a foundational experience), they can collectively arrive at a new habit—or ritual—that represents the change they want to make whilst holding one another accountable in the process. 

Another key learning for organizations is to not try to tackle all the issues at once.  If you want to shift behavior inside teams, start with something specific that allows people to practice—then master the new habit.  Interestingly, once they do, these new habits will often be organically inserted into other situations where they bode well for the individual and lead to a reward of some kind.  For example, companies can take a cross-functional team that struggles to collaborate and team them a new routine to apply on the current project. Once this habit shows signs of success, it fuels practicing the same habits in future projects.

Rating for book

5/5 for the book because it was one of the first to get ‘behind the scenes’ (or inside the skull) and understand what is happening for people at the neurological level when change is required. This led to new insights into how to approach change inside organizations.

Books that offer additional insights on same subject

Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Lahey
Switch by Chip & Dan Heath