Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Power of Habit - Book Review

The Power of Habit, written by Charles Duhigg, a New York Times reporter is both a fascinating and informative book. Duhigg takes a trip into the human mind and helps explain why we do what we do. Throughout the book Duhingg backs up his ideas with interesting anecdotes both about experiments conducted to research individuals habits, and experiences people have been through. All of this is written in an easy to read manner, which ensures the pages keep turning.

While the whole book touches on habits, it examines them into three distinct sections.

Part 1 - The habit of individuals
Part 2 - The habits of successful organisations
Part 3 - The habits of societies.

There is a very small section on the end which is a readers guide to using these ideas.

While these three sections are very much linked through looking at habits, each one could stand alone in its own right. Looking at these three distinct areas really makes you appreciate the power of being able to tap into habits. 

Part 1 of the book deals with why people have habits, and how the brain ensures you a carry out certain activities almost subconsciously. The three aspects of habits are discussed.

Cue —> Routine —> Reward

It certainly makes you more self aware about why you do certain things, and what you can do to change.

Part 2 then jumps into examining organisations, which was absolutely fascinating. From how an American Football coach went on to win the Super Bowl by changing players habits, to how Starbucks became a world leader. How a crisis can bring a company together, to how supermarkets know what you want to buy before you do! Quite wide ranging topics, but all linked with how scientific, and once you realise, how obvious habits are.

Finally in Part 3, Duhigg looks into how societies can change through habit. Duhigg uses the powerful anecdote of Rosa Parks, and how a small incident transformed a nation. In this section we also look at societies views on peoples habits, which touches on the moral and legal aspects of Habits.

When dealing with each of thee topics, whether explaining the science, or the history of what happened, Duhigg gets the level of detail right. You certainly don’t feel bogged down in the science, or too involved in the minute details of the history.

If I had to level any criticism at the book it would be that I felt the first part of the book was a little repetitive. While the final section on how readers should implement these ideas came across as a little bit of an after thought, and may have been better implemented in Part 1. However this should not put you off reading the book, but if you do find the book a little slow at first, it is absolutely worth persevering, as it matures as you progress.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this book is only for those who would like to stop biting their nails. When laid out in front of you, from so many perspectives you become aware that your habits control your life more than you realise. Even if you don’t have any habits that you want to manipulate, after reading this book, you will become aware your habits are already being manipulated by others, without your consent.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

The Checklist Manifesto - Book Review

When I was handed the checklist manifesto and told it is a fascinating book about the power of checklists, I was somewhat sceptical. A book about checklists? Everyone knows about checklists, don't they? A few boxes to tick when things are done. But how on earth does anyone write a whole book about them? I was curious.

Within minutes of starting the book, I was hooked.

The author Atul Gawande is a general and endocrine surgeon, who also runs the World Health Organisations Safe Surgery Saves Lives Program. The book takes you through Gawandes quest to find a method of improving healthcare and saving lives. While it focusses heavily on the authors experience in the medical world, it absolutely is not a book written for the medical profession.

Gawande takes a peek into other industries, and how they have solved hugely complex problems. Flying planes which experienced test pilots have crashed, building skyscrapers, finance, even operating a top restaurant. The secret to success? The humble checklist. Gawande states we have more knowledge than we ever have had, but the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly. The secret to success? The humble checklist.

Through his research of other industries and his own implementation of a checklist for the World Health Organisation Gawande shows some statistics demonstrating the power of checklists. These are simply staggering, to the point that when Gawande first saw the results of a checklist he had implemented, he could not believe them.

So why are checklists not implemented in more places? The book covers the fallacies of humans, and how they think a humble checklist is beneath them. For anyone who has tried to implement a new system in the work place, they will recognise the resistance seen by Gawande while trying to get others to adopt his method. Many people believe that a simple checklist is beneath them. However stories such as the pilots and crew of the plane which landed in the Hudson River in Manhattan soon remind you of their power. Was this ‘miracle’ down to the pilots skill; or the pilots checklist?

So while this book is about the humble checklist, and the vast benefits they can reap, it’s about so much more. Ticking boxes is not the ultimate goal. It’s about encouraging a culture of teamwork. It’s about recognising even the smartest, highly trained people can make mistakes. It’s about looking outside your world and learning from other industries. It’s about empowering staff. It’s about becoming more efficient.

Gawande has written an easy to read engaging book with a powerful message. I found it so compelling that when I reached the end, I turned straight back to page one and read it again. It is that good. I would encourage you all, even if you feel a checklist is beneath you, to follow the checklist I have created below.

Read this book.
Read it again.