The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg


The subtitle of The Power of Habit is Why We Do What We do in Life and Business.  Charles Duhigg, a New York Times reporter, writes about the science of habit formation and recounts wonderful stories of personal lives, businesses and social movements that illustrate the importance of understanding how habits are formed and changed.  He describes a habit this way:  we encounter a cue that indicates a certain action or set of actions, the "reward" part of our brains light up with excitement, we take the action, and then we are rewarded.  One habit of mine that fit this description perfectly is the daily walk.  I realize it's time for a walk or exercise, I think about listening to an audiobook, my brain lights up, and I'm out the door.  And I believe the light was especially bright in my brain while I was listening to this book.

The story of Alcoa Aluminum's great improvements while Paul O'Neill was CEO was inspiring; when he arrived in 1987, the company was not doing very well and morale among workers was very low.  He took the unusual approach of focusing the company's attention on worker safety and thereby changed the culture of the company.  The message was that workers themselves were to be a part of the effort to reduce injuries.  After O'Neill gave everyone responsibility for safety, the workers began suggesting other changes in the plants that increased productivity and improved the product.  And, according to Wikipedia, this is the man who was fired by Bush from his position as Secretary of the Treasury for his opposition to Bush's tax policy and the war in Iraq.

Duhigg described Target's use of the data we give them about ourselves when we shop there.  Target's statisticians were able to identify pregnant shoppers and even pinpoint their due date.  Using this data to send coupons that indicated they knew a woman was pregnant creeped people out, so they began mixing the coupons for baby-related items with other random coupons.  Target is very eager to be the store that new parents turn to; not only do new parents have many purchases to make related to the new family member, but sleep deprived parents are more likely to change shopping habits so that they buy more food and other items from Target. 

I highly recommend this book.

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