Business books are like one-night stands.
Some of you are thinking, “This blogger has had some pretty terrible one-night stands, if any at all.” Whatever. Bear with me.
Most business books start out with a great premise (flirting at a bar) and then by the end, things are a bit stale (think 3 a.m.).
Most business books are read pretty quickly. A night, give or take. See where I’m going here?
Over time, most business books are completely forgettable. Ask someone who has had a lot of one-night stands, and they are bound to have forgotten a few.
And most business books are useful only while you are reading them. Afterwards, it’s hard to keep returning to the specifics of each business book. Are you catching my drift or do I have to spell this out?
This entry may get me in some trouble. But to be honest, most of what I got out of the business book I just finished was applicable to my work, and well, I don’t discuss that on these pages. So I’m left with this trite metaphor for business books. And come on, many of you are agreeing with me. A lot of people will reminisce fondly over “Who Moved My Cheese?” but almost no one would pick it as their favorite book or the one they would choose to read over and over again.
Duhigg’s premise is that our habits drive us to do much of what we do in life and in business. Habits drive our purchases, our exercise routines, our bad behaviors, and our social interactions. He makes his case effectively, using clever case studies about gamblers, smokers, exercisers, marketers, revolutionaries, and athletes. Several of these anecdotes are perfect to go along with your next PowerPoint presentation.
I don’t believe Duhigg is a neuroscientist, but he offers a credible and accessible explanation of why our brains create habits. He uses cutesy graphics to illustrate his point throughout the book—the graphics show, in almost all versions, three components: a cue, a routine, and a reward. (The graphics are really overused by the end of the book.) According to Duhigg, these three items compose the “Habit Loop,” and learning to influence that loop is what can drive someone to sell a billion dollars worth of Febreze or spark the civil rights movement.
There are some useful examples about how companies and individuals learn to manipulate these habit loops for their benefit (and for customers’ benefit). The Febreze example is one. There’s another vignette about Target that will be candy for those who enjoy Paco Underhill and Martin Lindstrom books. (This was featured in the New York Times Magazine excerpt. Seriously, read it, it’s terrific.) It’s fascinating to see the intersection between marketing and science.
The section about Tony Dungy’s coaching style and his drive to get players to focus on the right cues was great, and the Paul O’Neil story about improving safety at ALCOA is one every businessperson should be familiar with. The best section was about how a radio station can help a new song become a hit by padding it between songs that are sticky or familiar to listeners. It helps explain why crappy bands like “Train” still get so much airtime.
I disliked how some rebuttals from companies didn’t get the same amount of play in the book as did the charges. One company’s comments were in a small-print footnote; another less fortunate company wound up in the notes at the back of the book. Including them in the main text wouldn’t have diminished the author’s points, but putting them on the back shelf made me skeptical overall of some of the reporting. And generally speaking, I thought that the wide diversity of stories diminished the overall strength of the theory. In one book we went from smoking to Rosa Parks. Tightening this could have made it stronger.
It strikes me that business books could be accused of manipulating the habit loop. The cue is the opportunity to learn something new. The routine is buying and reading the book. And the reward is having a new anecdote or perspective that can improve your life. Duhigg, wisely, has employed the habit loop to sell a few books. Bravo.
Look, I don’t know that this book changed my life or is one that will warrant a reread. It’s doubtful. I’m on the prowl for my next true love, and along the way, I’m sure there will be a few more one-night stands. No harm, no foul.
Thanks for reading.