• The Power of Habit, part 8/9

    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.

    This week we take a look at how others can act to shape your habits (rather than reshaping them internally, personally). The lens is the South. 1955. Montgomery, Alabama and the most famous bus rider of all time, Rosa Parks. Duhigg walks us through the steps that led to a movement out of “I’m not moving.”
    1) Movements start due to the strong-tie habits of friends
    2) Movements grow due to the weak-tie habits of communities
    3) Movements endure because the leaders give new habits that create identity for its participants.
    The key thrust of this book is the middle point; standing up and/or helping out a friend isn’t really a revelation; in playgrounds, boardrooms and prison yards your rep and relationships is just how things get done, and cultivating strong ties with as many people as possible is just a good idea.
    But the “weak-tie habits” of people helping out those who are merely tangentially related to themselves; or reinforcing an act by those who are merely in the same circles, that can cause a movement to spread. In the example, the “Freedom Summers” Duhigg talks about another scientist, Doug McAdam at the University of Arizona, researching trying to uncover why over a thousand Northern white college kids signed up to go to the South and Get Out the Vote, but only 700 actually did. What he found was that it wasn’t opportunity or self-service that was the strongest tie, but how linked in to other weak-ties the person was. If the group you’ve seen around campus asks the weekend before when you need a ride to the bus stop, you’re basically forced into going, rather than becoming a pariah within those circles. Essentially, Peer Pressure works.
    Dr. Martin Luther King brought the third point of Duhigg’s simple-but-not-easy guide to building a movement into crystal clarity by essentially offloading his work, the same as Pastor Rick Warren would do decades later. By first engaging and then giving ownership of the message, the converts become the advocates. As Taylor Branch, a Martin Luther King biographer wrote, “People went to see how other people were handling it. You start to see yourself as part of a vast social enterprise, and after a while, you really believe you are.”
    Moments don’t arrive fully-formed out of the phlogiston, they must be curated by those who can link in the core zealots with their casual weak-link friends, and then once peer pressure has forced their hand, imprint new, positive habits that make the movement part of their daily life. It works the same in every country.
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