• The Power of Habit, part 5/9

    Today we will be taking a deeper look at The Power of Habit, in the second of our nine-part series on the mammoth hit that spent over a year on the New York TimesBestseller list. The Power of Habit was written by Charles Duhigg. Duhigg was a staff writer of The Los Angeles Times, until 2006; since then he has been a reporter at The New York Times, and was one of a team of New York Times reporters who won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for a series of 10 articles about the business practices of Apple.

    Chapter Five of Duhigg’s love letter to habits opens with Travis, a sad-sack loser who was a high-school dropout and couldn’t hold a job at McDonalds. But at Starbucks, he was able to turn his life around and now manages multiple stores – all this from a junkie’s son who couldn’t be bothered to show up to work on time before.
    The secret is the reprogramming that Starbucks does for its employees, all based on a 2005 study from a University of Pennsylvania study by Angela Duckworth, author of the other best-seller on habitology, GRIT. Expanding on the classic “marshmallow test” for pre-kindergarten kids, this showed not only a link between grit and success, but how being forced to exercise willpower in one area grinds you down for later willpower-required situations unless you’ve trained your “will muscle.”
    One of the key tools Starbucks discovered and implemented almost exactly was asking the partners, as their employees are called, to imagine specific pain points (such as a yelling customer) and what their plan will be. Whether it’s a good plan or not is irrelevant, simply having an idea of what that will require gives them a load off of their willpower reserves, letting them focus on other things.
    Training willpower, even by keeping such small habits as writing down what you ate each day, creates ripple effects, so that even unaffected areas like exercise and reduced smoking are affected. In effect, Starbucks – by putting willpower workouts front-and-center in their employee training – made every employee conscientious and and aware of everything they do.
    Most importantly, Starbucks gives employees freedom to direct their work and values their input. The autonomy to preform the task to their own standards is a risk, but a very low one since Starbucks has given employees the tools to use their discipline to do it right. As Travis says today: “If you tell people that they have what it takes to succeed, they’ll prove you right!”
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