I’m reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg with librarian-blogger Joy Weese Moll and others at Joy’s Book Blog. It’s not a self-help book, but it might make you think about how much of a role habitual behavior is playing in your own life, at work or at home. Visit Joy’s Book Blog to join the group read or find more discussion of The Power of Habit.
Part Two, The Habits of Successful Organizations, is the longest section of three. Less neuroscience and more about corporate psychology, systems, and statistical probabilities than in Part One: The Habits of Individuals.
I found Part Two about organizations more interesting than Part One about individuals; it also has fewer graphics and less padding and repetition. The author is a graduate of Harvard Business School, so maybe it comes more naturally to him to write about the inner workings of businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies than about cognitive behavioral science research and the brain’s inner workings.
In Part Two, the author relates several stories about institutions that are failing in some way and are turned around by seemingly small changes in employees’ habitual behavior (“keystone habits”), including Rhode Island Hospital – where public perception was that it was an unsafe place to go for surgery – and the London Underground – where a fire was mismanaged, causing numerous deaths.
Many of the ideas talked about in The Power of Habit may be familiar from news stories, such as how Target collects data on shoppers’ habits and targets shoppers with specific coupons (the chapter How Target Knows What You Want Before You Do) or how willpower is like a muscle that can get tired from overuse (Starbucks and the Habit of Success), but the information is presented in an entertaining way and in more depth than you can get in a news story.
As someone who works in libraries, I found the chapter on Starbucks enlightening because the idea behind Starbuck’s success is partly the same as with any chain (make sure the product is the same so customers feel it to be familiar) but their staff training is set up to be ongoing and nurturing, so that customers have the experience of staff who can respond differently to a customer in a hurry, a customer who is upset, and a customer who wants a friendly interaction with his/her coffee – while maintaining a sense of their own self-worth as a person. In a public library, we try to respond individually to the needs of library patrons/customers too, but in most libraries, staff members don’t get the systematic training of a Starbucks. Hmmm. Why not?
Public libraries all have similar purposes but each one can take on a personality of its own, and although part of a network of libraries that shares resources, each library is a fiefdom unto itself. This part of the book made me think about how habitual behavior in library staffs affects public perception of the individual organization and then, by extension, to all public libraries.