Book Review: “The Power of Habit”

Book Review The Power of HabitThe Power of Habit

Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

By Charles Duhigg

Random House; First edition (February 28, 2012)

4 ½ out of Stars

Hardcover $28,

Kindle or Nook Version $12.99

After one chapter, it’s easy to see why “The Power of Habit” is the center of office discussions and has been a national best sell for has several months now.

All of us have bad habits that we desperately try to break, or see habits in others that mystify us to no end. What if we could better understand the method of how habits are formed and then take action to change them?

This gnawing question is well addressed in the book, “The Power of Habit” by New York Times investigative reporter Charles Duhigg. You may recognized the Duhigg for his work several years ago, on the unsavory working conditions at Chinese plants that manufactured Apple’s I-phone and I-pad products in China.

Part behavioral science, part bio-psychology, and part practical advice, the easy going narrative of “The Power of Habit” never wears thin. While it’s difficult to take such scientific information and make it conversational, Duhigg makes it all work, not just for analyzing personal habits but also for zeroing in on creating and changing consumer behavior, to motivating employee, and even explaining significant social change.

Duhigg explains that habits begin as a psychological pattern called a “habit loop,” with three parts: the cue, the routine, and the reward. A cue is a trigger that comes from the part of the brain that recognizes patterns, which puts your brain into a sort of automatic pilot, letting a behavior happen. The routine is the behavior itself. The reward is what the brain uses over time to remember the habit. Understanding this cycle, it’s easier to understand why we get stuck starting or trying to change habits.

Take the evolution of deodorizer Fabreez, which was destined for the Proctor and Gamble graveyard of failed products. Once the reward (or product benefit) was reframed from getting rid of bad smells to making a just cleaned room to smell as good (as it looked), the product took off, eventually becoming a staple of many American households.

Starbucks had the challenge of hiring inexperienced employees lacking habits for enduring the demands for busy customer rushes and the occasional persnickety coffee snob that could set off the front line staff.  Using the habit loop, each store was able to develop employees and a stronger team environment that significantly lowered employee turnover.

Target uses the consumer information it accumulates to build sophisticated buyer profiles. Finely tuned offers and coupons are calibrated to the customers with the intention of altering their buying habits. The book describes how the analysis of this information (gathered through receipts, online purchases, surveys) that can identify life changing experiences, creating offers that change the consumer’ s habits (and purchase more Target products).  A fascinating story is told of how Target is able to identify women who are pregnant in their first trimester. The challenge then becomes how to craft an appropriate offer to the expectant mother without being perceived as invasive to their privacy.

Bottom Line: “The Power of Habit” has wide appeal for those with their own personal motivations of changing the way they do things. But, the book also addresses consumer and social behavior with the author Duhigg weaving what could be boring university research into tremendous stories that will entertain most readers.

Chris Wendel is a consultant and lender with Northern Initiative in Traverse City. Northern Initiatives is a private, non-profit community development corporation that provides entrepreneurs with access to capital, information, and new markets.

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