The Power of Habit
"The Power of Habit" is a book written by Charles Duhigg, an investigative reporter for The New York Times. Duhigg attended both Harvard Business School and Yale University. This book was written to explain how habits and human nature works and how new habits can help you change old ones. Duhigg says that understanding his science of habit, it could "transform out businesses, our communities, and our lives." This book was created for an audience who wants to make a change(s) in the organization of their lives, as well as understand the nature of habit in a human being, or population. The three chapters I found most interesting and decided to discuss were: chapters 2, 6, and 7.
The first chapter I found interest in was Chapter 2. Chapter 2 is named: The Craving Brain: How to Create New Habits. In the first chapter, Duhigg introduces the Habit Loop: "cue, routine, reward." This cycle is described as cue: the need for something, routine: doing the action, reward: getting satisfaction from the action. These actions or habits become routine because your brain starts to crave the happiness/reward you receive from the action. Duhigg shows us how we can create these habits, as long as there is this reward and craving to do it again. In Chapter 2, Claude C. Hopkins is introduced. He was an executive in the advertising industry in the early 1900s, who was pitched the right product at the right time. At this time, something like hygiene needed to be sold with shiny rewards other than the obvious health benefits. For Hopkins to sell soap to women, he said that Cleopatra used it. The new pitched product was toothpaste, "Pepsodent." For Hopkins and his team to make Pepsodent successful, they created a craving and this will power a Habit Loop. First a problem needs to be addressed, the product must be the solution, and the solution must leave you satisfied and wanting to use the product again. For Pepsodent, they advertisers would tell viewers to run their tongue across their teeth, encouraging women to feel "the film on your teeth," or to observe the "off color." This was a problem that needed fixing, making "dirty/attractive teeth," the cue. The action/routine would be using Pepsodent toothpaste. But in order for the product to become Habit, it needed to leave the customer fulfilled. Pepsodent did not just remove the film on teeth but also left a tingling sensation in the mouth. We still know and love the feeling of "minty fresh" breath. That feeling is not necessary to receiving healthy teeth, but instead used to make the experience better for the consumer. This "more beautiful, tingling feeling of clean smile," was enough to persuade millions to use the product. Other companies can do the same, Febreze for example. By adding delicious scents to the spray, it will leave a clean room with a satisfying clean, finished smell. In this instance, the cue is a dirty home, the routine in cleaning and craving a fresh scent, and the reward is the use and smell of Febreze spray. When Febreze relaunched with strong scents, it made $230 million in its first year. This is very interesting. It is relevant to most readers because it makes you think about a lot of the products you buy, what their use is, and if we really need them or not. I am starting to think about a lot of reasons why I am purchasing the things I do. Companies can easily convince us that we need something we have lived without our whole lives.
The next chapter I found interesting was Chapter 6, The Power of Crisis: How Leaders Create Habits Through Accident and Design. I enjoyed this chapter because I think it gave me important information for my future careers. Chapter 6 focuses first on Rhode Island Hospital, a successful hospital with a great teaching program for Brown University residents. The types of habits that can form in a work setting are described as "[appearing] by accident and spread through whispered warnings, until toxic patterns [emerge]." Each company has hundreds of unwritten rules that come from years and years of doing things the same way. This section talks about how a surgeon who was known to be mean and not take anything from his subordinates, made a crucial error on a surgical patient, because he refused to listen to a nurse's advice. This is evidence of a habit; the nurse "knew" not to overstep too much because the doctor "in charge" was mean and did not listen and the surgeon "knew" he was superior in ranking and needed to act quickly. His error may have cost the patient his life and some nurses later claimed that "such an accident," was "inevitable because of the dysfunctional habits." As the audience, this chapter has taught me that no matter the "norm" of a situation, that I should act with my mind and gut, and not just with the "go-to method." Another example in this chapter talked about a company not wanting to disrupt the public or other workers, and this led to a fire getting out of hand. In both these scenarios, because of employees not wanting to overstep, because of habit, things became uncontrolled, and resulted in tragedy.
The last chapter I chose to discuss was Chapter 7, How Target Knows What You Want Before You Do: When Companies Predict (and Manipulate) Habits. I found this topic interesting because it was not about our own habits and how we can control them, but how companies can observe our habits and use them to their advantage. Most of this story is based around Andrew Pole. He was a statistician and worked as a data expert for Target. Between loyalty cards, use of electronic payment, and redeemed coupons, economists can use pattern analysis and link all purchases to create a demographic profile on buyers. Companies like Target have specific “departments devoted to figuring out customers’ preferences.” Andrew Pole and others in the department are able to guess what you habitually buy and convince you to get it at Target. He created an algorithm to predict when women shoppers are pregnant, and even guess which trimester they are in. Women who are pregnant are more likely to purchase large amounts of unscented lotion, vitamins, scent-free soap, cotton balls, hand sanitizers, and lots of washcloths. These items can spike an alert that this shopper may be expecting! These customers can then receive coupons in the mail from Target that may be more specific to their needs. Along with the coupons, will be some baby and pregnancy items deals. Companies have to be careful to not be too obvious in sending specified coupons to customers. When this first began, a father was enraged that Target sent his teenage daughter coupons for baby items. He soon found out, she was in fact pregnant, and was recently shopping at Target. Here is a link on this story: Target knows when you're pregnant.
Overall, I really enjoyed Duhigg’s work. I learned a lot about human nature and why we might make some of the decisions we make. I also was able to see how powerful habits can be in the workplace. Habits are easily observable, as shown by Andrew Pole. He was able to come up with a list of 25 items that pregnant women are found purchasing. This shows how influenced and predictable humans can be. The Power of Habit has had me question some of my decisions from my past and I believe now I will focus on different things in the future. I definitely enjoyed learning about the Habit Loop and how rewards can be addictive and manipulating. The author used many stories to explain each topic and chapter. This helped me get a good understanding of his theories of habit: why we do the things we do. It was interesting to learn about habits that may have been hidden to me before, and it may be easier to break a habit, now that I know how habits are formed. I would definitely recommend this to anyone that is interested in getting control of something they have lost control over or anyone who is trying to make something a habit.