Entrepreneurship, Reading List

The Power of Habit book review

20 Mar , 2017  

Reading (second to real life application) in my opinion is the best way to gain knowledge. In particular, I tend to read books on start-up failures/successes, CEO/founder autobiographies as well as accounts written by senior level employees of start-ups (the latter can usually be found on Medium).

As part of Catapult’s Christmas gifts, all employees were given a book, which has influenced either one of the founders in any way. Some fictional but most factual and now my reading list is around 20+ books! (If you’re interested in knowing the full reading list recommended by Catapult, please let me know).

The Power of Habit has been highly recommended to me and with 4.5 stars on Amazon, I quickly bumped it to the top of my list. Below is my opinion on the book, along with the key takeaways:

1. Structure: In general, the book was easy to follow, however a lot of the book repeats itself, so you may find it difficult to continue reading (I did almost stop after 3 chapters!) Fortunately or unfortunately, almost everything you need to learn in this book can be found in the appendix, where it really breaks down into the cycle of habits, how to identify your habits through small experiments & most importantly, how to rectify your habit – not by getting rid of it, but by replacing the routine you perform.

2. References & case studies: This was perhaps the highlight of the book. It introduces numerous studies that are applicable in all areas – not just business. One of the key case studies that stood out to me was a fire that broke out in Kings Cross Underground that killed 31 people. The fire could easily have been controlled if the structure of the staff responsibilities were made more flexible. A huge part of this was down to the staff being so conditioned to sticking 100% to their actual job description and therefore had formed a habit to not get involved in anything outside of that scope.

Another very interesting reference is the story of Alcoa’s change of CEO. By focusing solely on making the work place safe for all employees, previous bad habits were unlearned and reformed into innovative and mindful approaches by all employees. Despite much criticism and backlash from major shareholders, Paul O’Neill made Alcoa into a huge success even though there was no explicit mention or motive to increase profits and returns for its stakeholders.

Key Takeaways:

Habits are made up of 3 elements: Cue, Routine and Reward. Despite the obvious assumption that getting rid of (bad) habits would be the conclusion, this book strongly recommends simply restructuring your habits. So instead, of quitting a habit, you need to first identify and monitor the cue, routine and reward. Once you’ve identified these (and according to the book it’s probably not as obvious as you think), you need to adjust your routine by experimenting different routines in isolation. For example, if everyday you eat a piece of chocolate at 2pm and you’ve identified that the reward is in fact not to achieve satisfaction, but actually to take a break in your day, you should adjust your routine (which would be getting up from your desk & walking to the kitchen/shop to get some chocolate). You may choose to experiment by instead taking a walk in the park, talking to a colleague for 10 minutes, or switching to different types of food to see if your sense of reward is still apparent.

Unfortunately the book doesn’t go into extensive detail of the framework, more the basic structure that can help you to start changing your habits. Something the book did not focus on at all (unfortunately) is how to maintain new (good) habits. Overall I’d say it’s a recommended read if you have the patience to read through to the end where the most useful information is!

I’m always looking for suggestions of new books, so if you have any you would recommend, then please let me know ☺

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