Charles Duhigg's “The Power of Habit” is a fascinating book about the sometimes interesting, strange, and damaging habits of people. Have you ever wondered why Celine Dion is so popular and you hear her song everywhere? (Even though you probably hate her!) What makes Alcoholics Anonymous such a successful program for millions of people with drinking problems? How Target is such a profitable company? Why Michael Phelps wins so much? Why Rick Warren's church is so big? Why is Febreeze popular? Why people love Starbucks and what justifies them charging so much for coffee?
All these questions and more are explained by Duhigg, a reporter for the New York Times, in ‘The Power of Habit.'
Essentially habits can be explained by daily cues, routines, and rewards we may or may not know exist. Habits help companies like Target determine what women shoppers are pregnant. Songs get popular because people like hearing familiar songs (habits) sandwiched between songs they already know. Habits give Paul O'Neil the power to turn Alcoa around and make the Tampa Bay Bucanners go from a terrible football team to being Super Bowl contenders.
In one chapter of the book Charles Duhigg explains how Starbucks can turn mediocre employees into integral parts of the coffee company by applying habits and the LATTE method: Listen to the customer, Acknowledge their complaint, Take Action by Solving the problem, Explain why the problem occurred. Starbucks uses so that employees have a clear habit when dealing with unhappy customers.
Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer, has specific sets of habit he does before a race. He eats the same meal, does the exact same swim warm-up, and listens to music the same way. This helps Michael Phelps have what is known as ‘small wins' throughout his day to make it seem like he has already won. Bob Bowman, his coach, instilled these habits so that he would be able to win consistently.
Febreeze, the air freshener that can get smells out of anything, was supposed to a big hit for Proctor & Gamble. However, when it initially launched Febreeze was a marketing flop. The marketers and researchers assumed that the fact that it got the smell out of anything would sell Febreeze, but they were wrong. They realized they needed to create Febreeze into a habit for people to use by encouraging them to use after they were finished cleaning and not before.
Another interesting part of the book was about Keystone Habits. These Keystone Habits can make all the difference in companies and this was demonstrated in the chapter about Paul O'Neil and Alcoa. O'Neil didn't worry about the bottomline but changing the companies focus on safety. When O'Neil created a better and safer working environment, employees trusted him, word traveled faster up the chain of command, and the company become more profitable due to better efficiency and less material loss.
One part of the book I found a bit scary but fascinating was how a Target researcher was able to figure out when women customers are pregnant based on shopping habits and patterns of what they are buying. Target tracks customers with a seemingly with accuracy and precision that edge on the side of Big Brother using emails, browser cookies, coupons, store cards, and more. Target utilizes all this information to automatically send pregnant customers specific coupons for baby products they know a pregnant women would be interested in buying.
Since I don't have kids I wasn't aware that the babies are a very profitable industry for a companies like Target. (On average people spend $6,000+ on baby gear and products.) The thinking for companies like Target is you can get parents shopping at Target for a baby or babies, they will certainly be buying other products there, creating profitable shopping habits.
The book offers even more examples, stories, and insights. After reading ‘The Power of Habit' you come away with a more keen sense of your daily habits and routines.
One question people wonder while reading ‘The Power of Habit' is, “How can I change my bad habits?” Not surprisingly at the end of the book Charles Duhigg uses his own example of eating a cookie everyday around the same time. He identified the routine, experimented with rewards, isolated the cue, and had a plan to stop his cooking eating. This made him (and it seems his wife) happy since he was able to change this habit by simply replacing it with what he knew the reward he needed was, which was interacting and talking with fellow reporters and journalists.
“Replacing bad habits with good habits is the only way to make a change. What drives people is a cue, routine, and emotional reward that one receives from a specific habit.” says Duhigg in The Power of Habit.
While the end of ‘The Power of Habit' does give clues on what you can to change bad habits, don't expect to find any ways to truly turn your life around if you searching for self-help or are experiencing serious problems (drinking, gambling, etc.) that are having a negative affect on your life.
Duhigg weaves a book that will leave you thinking long after you put it down. Many parts of the book are quite entertaining. However, some parts of ‘The Power of Habit' didn't need to be in there. For instance he included a portion of the book about Rosa Park, while interesting, I didn't think added much value to the book. Also Alcoa and Starbucks are not just successful from habits but a company culture.
While the ‘The Power of Habit‘ had it's shortcomings it is definitely worth a read for those interested in learning more about what makes people do certain things, habits.
Visit Charles Duhigg's website to learn more about him and The Power of Habit.
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