“The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg

Synopsis

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg is a book that explores the science behind why habits exist and how we can change them. Using a range of well-narrated examples, Duhigg explains how old habits can be overridden by identifying and changing the cue and reward of the habit in the habit loop (see Figure 1).

The Power of Habit is a light and fun read.

Lessons

On changing habits…

Duhigg says that because all individuals and habits are different, there are many formulas for changing habits. He recommends a simplified, practical framework for understanding how habits work and how they might change.

In short:

1) identify the routine

2) experiment with the rewards by writing down your emotions and feelings

3) isolate the cue, which may fall into five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, and immediately preceding actions

4) have a plan

Figure 1: The habit loop

Duhigg also recommends that people focus on one keystone habit to start with. A keystone habit is one that has a leveraged, positive impact on other habits. Exercising routinely is an example of a keystone habit.

Quotes

Tony Dungy (legendary NFL coach) : “Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking. They follow the habits they’ve learned.”

Tony Dungy: “Belief is the biggest part of success.”

“Not sharing an opportunity to learn is a cardinal sin.”

“The golden rule of habit change: you can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.”

Something interesting

The basal ganglia is the area in the brain where habits are stored. Humans evolved to form habits because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.

Claude Hopkins, an advertising pioneer, commercialised the habit of brushing your teeth daily by changing the cue and reward in the habit loop.

Foaming was introduced as a reward in shampoo, laundry detergent and toothpaste to enforce the reward of the habit.

Self-help guru Robin Sharma regularly cites a study by Phillippa Lally et al. at the University College London stating that on average, it takes 66 days before a new behaviour becomes automatic.

Links

Charles Duhigg’s website

Charles Duhigg on Twitter

“The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation” by Peter Senge

Synopsis

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation is a management book by Peter Senge that uses a systems thinking framework to tie together five team disciplines that convert traditional, authoritarian organisations into learning organisations. Systems thinking is the process of understanding how interdependent elements within a system influence one another. The book is premised on the idea that in the long-run, the only sustainable source of competitive advantage is your organisation’s ability to learn faster than its competitors.

This is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read. Although it was published in 1990, the ideas are still relevant today, and apply to both the individual and the organisation.

Lessons

On mental models…

Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalisations, images, stories and biases that influence people’s understanding of the world and their decision-making.

Senge says the problem with mental models is not that they are right or wrong – all models are simplifications or approximations of the truth. The problem is when they exist below the level of awareness.

He says that because the world is constantly evolving, it is important to be intellectually rigorous, seeing reality objectively by learning to suspend our assumptions and unearth our own internal pictures of the world. For me, developing this skill is about practicing the art of listening and asking the correct questions.

Quotes

“To practice a discipline is to be a lifelong learner.”

“Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life”

“Small changes can produce big results – but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious.”

“In the presence of greatness, pettiness disappears. In the absence of a great dream, pettiness prevails.”

Something interesting

The book ends with a paragraph about the Gaia Hypothesis – the theory that all life on earth is itself a single, living organism. This touches on one of the key ideas of the book: that we live in a world of extraordinary interdependence.

This recent talk by Peter entitled “Systems Thinking for a Better World” has inspired me to learn more actively.

 Links

 Peter Senge Wikipedia

“21 Yaks and a Speedo” by Lewis Pugh

Synopsis

21 Yaks and a Speedo by ocean advocate and pioneering swimmer Lewis Pugh is a collection of short stories, called Yaks, about how to achieve what might first seem impossible. Each story illustrates a lesson that Lewis and his team have learned from one of his many swimming expeditions.

21 Yaks and a Speedo is a light and enjoyable read. I would recommend it to Open Water swimmers and anyone looking for the inspiration to excel.

Lessons

On testing our assumptions…

Lewis says one of the most valuable lessons he learned was to always ask what assumptions he’s making [about an expedition] and to test whether those assumptions are valid. He explains that you never know how a situation is going to change, and you can never have a perfect plan, so be prepared to adapt.

On limiting beliefs…

I was fortunate enough to see Lewis speak at the Graduate School of Business in October 2014. He made two important points that evening. First, when we have limiting beliefs we take on a defeatist attitude. Second, when we have limiting beliefs, we don’t ask for help. In the book, Lewis tells an unusual story (Yak 12) about the boat rudder breaking in the Maldives to explain this lesson. He says we must be open to all possibilities.

Quotes

“There’s nothing more powerful than a made-up mind.”

“I love swimming. I love the action of swimming. I love the feeling of diving into cold water, and getting invigorated and refreshed.” As a swimmer I loved this statement. I would add that the feeling of being relaxed in water, moving almost effortlessly when you’re fit is second to none.

“There will always be hundreds of reasons to quit, especially towards the end, when things get very tough. Think of just ONE reason to keep on going – it will make all the difference!”

“Never plan for victory and defeat in your mind at the same time.”

Something Interesting

The English Channel swim starts in Dover.

Roald Amundsen was the first person ever to reach the South Pole.

Lewis was the first person to complete a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world.

Lewis did a 50-school country-wide speaking tour of South Africa to spread his message of conserving the world’s oceans, and to practice public speaking. He calls his first speech a “disaster.” He has since gone on to become an international motivational speaker. Below is his first TED talk, one that really inspired me.

Links

Lewis’ website

Lewis on Twitter

Lewis on Facebook

“The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins

Synopsis

The Selfish Gene is a book on evolution by Professor Richard Dawkins that extends on Charles Darwin’s explanation of evolution. The first edition was published in 1976.

Dawkins uses the term “selfish gene” to argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This selfishness, he explains, will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behaviour for the survival and evolution of the species (although in some circumstances a gene can achieve its goals by fostering a form of altruism at the level of individual animals).

Lessons

The main takeaway for me was perhaps to see how Dawkins develops an intellectually-constructed, concise argument for his gene-centred view of evolution.

Quotes

“Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.”

“In the beginning was simplicity.”

“Perhaps consciousness arises when the brain’s simulation of the world becomes so complex that it must include a model of itself.”

“We are all survival machines for the same kind of replicator – molecules called DNA – but there are many different ways of making a living in the world, and the replicators have built a vast range of machines to exploit them. A monkey is a machine that preserves genes up trees, a fish is a machine that preserves genes in the water; there is even a small worm that preserves genes in German beer mats. DNA works in mysterious ways.”

Something interesting

Muscles evolved in animals to achieve rapid movement. The force of a muscle is generated in the form of tension.

Fireflies attract mates by flashing lights at them, and each species has its own particular dot-dash flashing pattern. I recently saw flashing fireflies on top of Signal Hill. It’s an incredible sight in nature.

A typical pride of lions consists of seven adult females and two adults males. Young male lions born into a pride are driven out in their adolescence.

Mother pigs sometimes eat their own children.

In frogs neither sex has a penis.

Links

Richard Dawkins Foundation

Richard on Twitter

“Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story” by Arnold Schwarzenegger

Synopsis

Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story is the story of Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian-born American actor, businessman, politician, activist, and former bodybuilder. He is best known as former seven-time Mr. Olympia, the Governor of California between 2003 and 2011, and action star, most notably for his roles in the Conan and Terminator movie franchises. Until 2011, he was married to Maria Shriver.

If you want to be inspired to 10 X your ambitions and goals read this book.

Lessons

On discipline and practice…

Arnold had several role-models including his father, a policeman, who instilled a work-horse mentality in him. From a young age he had a strict schedule often performing manual labour tasks for his family or being made to practice sport by himself. He understood, it seems, that if you want to achieve something, there are no shortcuts; you have to go out and earn it. In the the book he often refers to relentless practice as reps, reps, reps and says no matter what you do in life, it’s either reps or mileage.

On setting specific goals…

From early on, Arnold would write down his goals on index cards. He says, “I always wrote down my goals, like I’d learned to do in the weight-lifting club back in Graz. I had them very specific so that all those fine intentions were not just floating around.”

Sarge’s advice on public service…

In a speech Sarge, Arnold’s father-in-law, gave at Yale he said:

“In our society that is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourself and more at each other. You’ll get more satisfaction from having improved your neighbourhood, your town, your state, your country, and your fellow human beings than you’ll ever get from your muscles, your figure, your automobile, your house, or your credit rating. You’ll get far more from being a peacemaker than a warrior.

I particularly enjoyed Tai Lopez’s thoughts on this book.

Quotes

“I had to explain that actually I was not especially exhilarated when I won, because to me, winning was a given. It was part of the job. I had an obligation to win.”

“Outrageousness means nothing if you don’t have the substance to back it up – you can’t get away with it if you’re a loser.”

“I believed that the only way you become a leading man is by treating yourself like a leading man and working your ass off.”

Something Interesting

At ten years old Arnold says he was absolutely convinced he was special and meant for bigger things. He believed America was where he would become the best at something, although at the time he did not know what that would be.

Mr. Olympia, founded by Joe Gold, was the first bodybuilding competition to offer prize money. In 1965 the winner took home $1000. Arnold trained at Gold’s Gym when he moved to America, known then as the “Mecca of bodybuilding.”

Arnold practices Transcendental Meditation.

In 1992 Arnold bought the first Hummer manufactured for civilian use.

Last Action Hero was the first ever paid advertisement in outer space.

Sacramento is the capital of California. (Something I didn’t know!)

Links

Arnold’s website

Arnold on Instagram

Arnold on Facebook

Arnold on Twitter

“Open” by Andre Agassi

Synopsis

Open is the autobiography of Andre Agassi, a tennis prodigy and eight-time Grand Slam and Olympic champion. Agassi, now retired, lives in Las Vegas with his wife Steffi Graf, and their two children. He runs the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, a tuition-free charter school for at-risk children.

Lessons

On perfection…

One of the first pieces of advice that Brad, Agassi’s coach between 1994 and 2002, gave him was that he didn’t have to be perfect all the time. Brad says, “You don’t have to be the best in the world every time you go out there … There’s about five times a year when you need to be, but it’s not those five times a year that make a tennis player.”

Agassi helps a friend out…

In 1996 Agassi used a portion of his Nike sponsorship money to help pay for Frankie’s kids college education. Frankie is a life-long friend and owner of Campagnola, Agassi’s favourite restaurant in New York. Agassi says the act educated him and made him feel more alive and himself than anything else in 1996. He says, “This is why we’re here. To make each other feel safe.”

Mandela on being careful…

Agassi met Nelson Mandela in Cape Town in 1997. After a private dinner Mandela spoke about caring for one another, ourselves, being careful in our decisions, careful in our relationships, careful in our statements, and careful in managing our lives.

Quotes

“Tennis is about degrees of aggression. You want to be aggressive enough to control the point, not so aggressive that you sacrifice control and expose yourself to unnecessary risk”

“Simply knowing your enemy is a powerful advantage.”

“Few of us are granted the grace to know ourselves, and until we do, maybe the best we can do is be consistent.”

“Finally, Mandela talks about the road he’s travelled. He talk about the difficulty of all human journeys – and yet, he says, there is clarity and nobility in just being a journeyer.”

“If you’re going down, OK, go down, but go down with guns blazing. Always, always, always, go down with both guns blaaazing.”

Something Interesting

The dimensions of a tennis court are 36 feet by 78 feet.

In his early teens, Agassi took classes on mental toughness, positive thinking and visualization at the Bollettieri Academy.

Pete Sampras and Agassi first met on a tennis court in juniors when they were nine and ten years old respectively.

Links

Andre Agassi Wikipedia

Andre on Twitter

Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy 

“David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” by Malcolm Gladwell

Synopsis

David and Goliath is a book about why underdogs succeed more than they should, and how we misunderstand the true meaning of advantage and disadvantage.

Lessons

On advantage…

Gladwell says Goliath prepared accordingly for battle, expecting to face a seasoned warrior like himself. He wore elaborate armour including a metal helmet, and had three separate weapons. Goliath, however, overlooked that David was a different type of opponent, a slinger, for which he was not adequately prepared.

Gladwell says, “We have, I think, a very rigid and limited definition of what an advantage is. We think of things as helpful that actually aren’t and think of other things as unhelpful that in reality leave us stronger and wiser.”

Quotes

“We spend a lot of time thinking about the ways that prestige and resources and belonging to elite institutions make us better off. We don’t spend enough time thinking about the ways in which those kinds of material advantages limit our options.”

“Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.”

“So much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd [David], who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine.”

Something interesting

The battle between David and Goliath took place in the Valley of Elah.

Famous dyslexics include Richard Branson, Charles Schwab and John Chambers, CEO of technology giant Cisco.

During the Civil Rights Movement, Birmingham was the most racially divided city in America. It was known as the “Johannesburg of the South.”

Malcolm Gladwell’s mother is West Indian.

“How The Mighty Fall” by Jim Collins

Synopsis

How the Mighty Fall is a short book that questions why great companies fall and offers business leaders lessons for detecting and reversing collapse. With data collected from prior research studies consisting of more than six thousand years of combined corporate history, Collins explains what we learn by studying the contrast between success and failure.

Lessons

On learning…

Collins says, “The best leaders we’ve studied never presume that they’ve reached the ultimate understanding of all the factors that brought them success. For one thing, they retain a somewhat irrational fear that perhaps their success stems in large part from luck or fortuitous circumstance.”

He goes on to say, “Like inquisitive scientists, the best corporate leaders we’ve researched remain students of their work, relentlessly asking questions – why, why, why? – and have an incurable compulsion to vacuum the brains of people they meet.” I like the analogy of an “inquisitive scientist.”

On things taking time…

Collins says that great leaders understand building an organisation requires a series of intelligent, well-executed actions that add up one on top of another.

 Quotes

“We are not imprisoned by our circumstances, our setbacks, our history, our mistakes, or even staggering defeats along the way. We are freed by our choices.”

“Don’t try come up with the right answers; focus on coming up with good questions.”

Something interesting

The first line of the novel Anna Karenina is, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Packard’s Law: if a great company consistently grows revenues faster than it ability to get enough of the right people to implement the growth, it will not simply stagnate; it will fall.

Winston Churchill attended Harrow, a private boys school in England.

“Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek

Synopsis

Leaders Eat Last is a book about the true price of leadership. Sinek sets out to change the paradigm of leadership, insisting that organisational success is based on leadership excellence.

Lessons

On environment…

Sinek says organisations must create an environment that gets the best out of its people. He says, “The way to do that is by giving people a sense of belonging. By offering them a strong culture based on a clear set of human values and beliefs. By giving them the power to make decisions. By offering trust and empathy. By creating a Circle of Safety.” Sinek says unlike the forces outside the organisation, the ones inside are variable and are well within our control. When we feel safe among our own people, in our own tribes or organisation, we relax and are more open to trust and cooperation.

The Spartans…

Sinek tells the story of the Spartans, a warrior society in ancient Greece. He says the strength of the army came from their circle of safety – their ability to pull together.

“Like the Spartans, we will have to learn that our strength will come not from the sharpness of our spears but from the willingness to offer others the protection of our shields.”

On authority…

Sinek says it is the leader’s responsibility to give direction and protection to every member of the team so that they feel confident to perform their duties. “The goal of the leader is to give no orders.” Instead, he or she must distribute authority amongst the team so that through trust and cooperation the individual can take action to solve problems.

Measuring leadership…

Sinek says great companies and great leaders are ones who are able to succeed beyond any one leader or time frame. He suggests that we judge a leader “not on what they do when they are holding the torch but on what happens after they pass it on.”

Quotes

“The problem now is that we have produced an abundance of nearly everything we need or want. And we don’t do well with abundance. It can short-circuit our systems and actually do damage to us and to our organisation. Abundance can be destructive not because it is bad for us, per se. Abundance can be destructive because it abstracts the value of things. The more we have, the less we seem to value what we’ve got. And if the abstraction of stuff makes us value it less, imagine what it does to our relationships.”

“Perhaps the most valuable thing we can do if we are to truly serve our constituents is to know them personally. It would be impossible to know all of them, but to know the name and details of the life of someone… makes a huge difference.

“In a weak culture, we veer away from doing to “the right thing” in favour of doing “the thing that’s right for me.””

Something interesting

Our eyebrows were “designed” [through evolution] to help channel sweat away from our eyes when we were running toward prey – or running away to avoid becoming prey.

When you give a donation to charity: water they send you a photograph and GPS coordinates of the well your money paid for.

Roberto Goizueta, former CEO of Coca-Cola, was the first American executive to become a billionaire on the basis of stock holdings in a company he didn’t found or take public.

“Jack” by Jack Welsh with John Byrne

Synopsis

Jack is the autobiography of one of America’s most revered and prominent business leaders, Jack Welch. The book largely focuses on his working life at General Electric (GE), starting in 1960 when he was hired as a young engineer in a chemical development operation, and follows his rise within the company. Welch became CEO of GE in 1981, imposing his unique management style, and implementing grand initiatives that would eventually take GE global.

Lessons

On thinking…

Welsh graduated from the University of Illinois with a PhD in Chemical Engineering. He says chemical engineering taught him that there is “no finite answer to many questions”, and instead, what is more important is your thought process. He says this is particularly true for business where there are rarely black-or-white answers.

On brainstorming and dialogue…

Welsh regularly spent time with teams fleshing out ideas or deals. He says if an idea couldn’t survive a no-holds-barred discussion, the marketplace would kill it. Perhaps this quote sums it up best:

“For me, wallowing has always been a key part of how we ran GE. Get a group of people around a table, regardless of their rank, to wrestle with a particularly tough issue. Stew on it from every angle – flush out everyone’s thinking – but don’t come to an immediate conclusion.”

On self-confidence…

“Arrogance is a killer, and wearing ambition on one’s sleeve can have the same effect. There is a fine line between arrogance and self-confidence. Legitimate self-confidence is a winner. The true test of self-confidence is the courage to be open – to welcome change and ideas regardless of their source. Self-confident people aren’t afraid to have their views challenged. They relish the intellectual combat that enriches ideas. They determine the ultimate openness of an organisation and its ability to learn. How do you find them? By seeking out people who are comfortable in their own skin – people who like who they are and are never afraid to show it.”

When choosing Jeff Immelt as his successor, Welsh said, “ [he] had the perfect blend of intelligence and edge and epitomized the trait that’s so important to me – he was really comfortable in his own skin.”

Quotes

“Finding great people happens in all kinds of ways”, and I’ve always believed “Everyone you meet is another interview.”

“Losing an A [employee] is a sin. Love ‘em, hug ‘em, kiss ‘em, don’t lose them! We conduct post-mortems on every A we lose and hold management accountable for those losses.”

Welch says many of his early hiring mistakes reflected his own prejudices; for example, hiring based on appearance or school (university). He goes on to state that résumés aren’t a good indicator of inner hunger, the willingness to commit, the candidate’s intensity, or passion.

Something interesting

In 1999, Welsh asked the top 500 GE leaders to get Internet mentors, “preferably under the age of 30.”

Welsh offered Jerry Seinfeld $100 million in GE stock to stay on for a ninth season of Seinfeld (Seinfeld was a hit sitcom on NBC, owned by GE). Jerry Seinfeld declined the offer.

The International Olympic Committee gave NBC the broadcast rights to televise the Summer Olympics in Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996), Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008).

Getting to Six Sigma quality level means that you have fewer than 3.4 defects per million operations in a manufacturing or service process.