Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Power of Habit – afterword and appendix

I found the afterword and appendix to actually contain some of the most powerful, straightforward stuff in Duhigg’s book (though you may need to read the entire thing for this to be the case).

The afterword includes follow-up stories with some readers who had written in with thier experience using Duhigg’s guidance to lose weight, quit smoking, stop procrastination and improve teaching. One of the things that struck me the most in this chapter was the discussion of setbacks, and the importance of developing a plan for dealing with them. Duhigg says that “if you plan for failure, and then plan for recovery – you’re more likely to snap back faster.”

The Appendix provides a practical guide to using all the ideas in the book. Duhigg is careful to warn that even with a common habit, such as overeating, the cues, cravings, rewards, etc may be different for each person – which is why he created the book as a framework rather than a prescription. His framework is:

1) Identify the routine – the habit loop of cue, routine and reward seems simple enough, but figuring out the cue can be more difficult than you might expect. The routine itself, however, should be simple to identify.

2) Experiment with rewards – the reason for experimenting with rewards is actually to help to figure out what craving the routine is satisfying. As you test each reward, look for patterns by jotting down the first three things that come to mind once you have completed your routine with the new reward. Then, set an alarm for 15 minutes and when it goes off ask whether you still have the craving for the routine. The rationale behind these steps is described in the book, and reviewing the notes on how you felt immediately after the replacement rewards as well as 15 minutes later will help identify exactly what craving this routine has been satisfying.

3) Isolate the cue – Duhigg shares scientific evidence that almost all habitual cues fall into one of five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people or immediately preceding action. So when he felt a craving for the routine he wanted to change, he wrote down answers to the questions: Where are you? What time is it? What’s your emotional state? Who else is around? What action preceded the urge?

4) Have a plan – Once the cue is identified and you already know the routine you want to change and a suitable replacement reward, all the elements are in place to create a better routine. The plan is crucial for dealing with setbacks, and gettting back on track.


Are we responsible for our habits?

The final chapter of Duhigg’s The Power of Habit discusses neurology and personal responsibility. Once again, he uses two powerful examples to make his point.

One example is of a man who killed his wife while experiencing sleep terrors (a slightly less conscious version of sleepwalking). Scientific and circumstantial evidence showed that this man had no intent to kill his wife, and that he was simply following a deeply ingrained habit – fight or flight – and was left with a deep sense of guilt. Not only was he found not guilty, the judge attempted to console him.

The next example was of a woman who developed a habit of compulsive gambling, declared bankruptcy and moved to another state to avoid casinos, but was drawn back in by predatory marketing and grief over the loss of her parents – which ended up in the loss of her $1 million inheritance.

A study of the neurology of problem gamblers showed that their brains showed the same reward reaction to near wins as they did to wins, whereas other gamblers correctly interpreted near wins as losses. This showed up in the brain stem and basal ganglia, the same areas as sleep terrors. Further, people who have taken medication that affects these areas have been found not to be responsible for sudden binges of gambling, eating, shopping, etc. So should all problem gamblers who exhibit this deterioration be excused for their actions?

Duhigg says no:

We can choose our habits, once we know how. Everything we know about habits, from neurologists studying amnesiacs and organizational experts remaking companies, is that any if them can be changed, if you understand how they function.


However, to modify a habit, you must decide to change it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routines, and find alternatives. You must know you have control and be self-conscious enough to use it…

The habits of societies – how movements happen

Chapter 8 of the Duhigg book, focusing on the Montgomery bus boycotts and the founding and growth of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, is the beginning of the third portion of the book – the habits of societies.

Early in the chapter, Duhigg introduces the concept of weak ties – the people who are not close friends but instead casual acquaintances or friends-of-friends. As I’ve heard before, weak ties can be more important than close ties in finding a job. But it also turns out that they are crucial to building a movement. In discussing Rosa Parks, Duhigg says:

A movement starts because of social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together. And it endures because the movement’s leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership


Duhigg talks about how Parks was an extraordinary individual, with ties that crossed many social boundaries and was admired throughout the community. But that is just a catalyst. It is when “the strong ties of friendship and the weak ties of peer pressure merge” that momentum is gained.

As always, Duhigg takes what seems like a simple 1+1 recipe and then says there its a secret ingredient – in this case it is this:

For an idea to grow betting a community, it must become self-propelling. And the surest way to achieve that is to give people new habits that help then figure out where to go on their own.

This was the secret to the growth of both the bus boycotts and then the larger civil rights movement as well as Saddleback church, posits Duhigg.

Movements don’t emerge because everyone  suddenly decides  to face the same direction at once. They rely on social patterns that begin as the habits of friendship, grow through the habits of communities, and are sustained by new habits that change participants’ sense of self.

When companies predict (and manipulate) habits

Chapter 7 in Duhigg’s book begins by talking about Target, and how they infamously used their analytics to identify pregnant women before they had told their families. The seemingly incongruous example paired this time is the Outkast song Hey Ya, which software had predicted would be a huge hit.

In both cases, the initial result was failure. The Outkast song was too different from what listeners were used to, and the Target targeting through coupons was too creepy.

Duhigg shares the secret recipe for creating habits from an old U.S. government study when they were trying to get Americans to eat more offal: people will try something new when it is surrounded by what is familiar.

So Hey Ya was played in between mega hits, and Target started putting the baby coupons next to unrelated common consumer items, and both succeeded.

The power of a crisis to instigate habit change

Chapter 6 of Duhigg’s book talks about the role crisis can play in instigating habit change. But first he explains the research of Nelson and Winter, who wrote about institutional habits as truces between warring factions within organizations. Duhigg says “There are no organizations without institutional habits. There are only places where they are deliberately designed, and places where they are created without forethought, so they often grow from rivalries or fear.”

Duhigg uses the examples of rampant medical errors and a major transit safety incident, which underscores his point: “Sometimes one priority – or one department or one person or one goal – needs to overshadow everything else, though it might be unpopular or threaten the balance of power that keeps trains running on time.”

Crisis brings this into sharp focus. Crisis brings a turmoil in which habits are more malleable and the sense that something must be done. It is easier to institute change and form new habits and routines in a crisis our its immediate aftermath.

While Duhigg emphasizes this for organizational leaders, it seems relevant to the individual as well. When we feel we are in crisis, out is easy to say “I can’t take on new changes during this time of chaos.” But maybe that’s actually the best time to make a change because we see the need and are open to it.

The evolution of strategic thinking in noprofits

Jed Emerson’s twitter feed (@blendedvalue) pointed me to this SSIR article by Barbara Kibbe entitled Five Things Strategy Isn’t, which Emerson describes in the comments as “just a really nice framing of how we got here and where we’re headed.”

The first half of the article is just that – a great summary of how “the dynamic duo of strategy and evaluation” has evolved from flip charts that simply record discussions, to logic models, to SROI and beyond. I’m oversimplifying what Kibbe herself calls an oversimplification, but that’s because it’s worth checking the article itself if you’re not familiar with the evolution of evaluation processes, tools and thinking from the 80s to now. My own nonprofit journey didn’t start until the 90s, but being in small local nonprofits, we certainly used 80s tools/thinking in the 90s (and sometimes still today).

The second half of the article opens by saying that the current debate over the value of strategic philanthropy is healthy, but in order to have that debate we should be careful in defining our terms. And Kibbe starts that definitional discussion by pointing out five times when what we call strategic thinking isn’t actually strategic:

  • when it’s fixed – good strategy is never fixed, nor is it a single tool (or a pair of tools). Kibbe quotes Rosabeth Moss Kantor of HBS: “Strategy is a lot like improvisation—setting themes, destinations, directions, and then improvising around those themes.”
  • when it’s insulated – context is key, and if strategy and evaluation are not considered together then both will suffer
  • when it doesn’t consider people – strategy needs to be flexible enough to deal with the complexities of human beings
  • when it’s old, hidden or boring – strategy needs to be current, compelling and shared in order for others to understand it and buy in
  • when we are too attached to it – here Kibbe quotes The Independent Sector’s founder John Gardner saying “Philanthropy is the only source of truly flexible capital for the social good” and following up with how important it is for foundations to listen to and support good ideas from the field.

Kibbe closes with her hopes for the future, including this quote that I really liked:

When we look strategy (and evaluation) in the eye, we will see a useful and evolving suite of tools—no more, no less. Practiced well, and in tandem, they will continue to be powerful aids for decision-making but never substitutes for judgment.


Making willpower a habit

The fifth chapter in Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit is about Starbucks, and features the success story of one of its employees. Starbucks has focused on developing the habit of willpower in its employees and in doing so has “…succeeded in teaching the kind of life skills that schools, families and communities have failed to provide,” says Duhigg, before he goes into the research, discussing the marshmallow study and several variants. 

Willpower has been shown to be a finite resource, says one of the scientists:

Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things

Studies showed that willpower exercised in one area often translated into other areas – whether subjects were asked to go to the gym, begin money management, or practice study habits, they got better at regulating their impulses and distracting themselves from their temptations. A study of orthopedic patients who were asked to write action plans for their physical activity recovered at a greater rate than those simply given instructions – researchers found that it was the plan for dealing with key inflection points of pain  that helped them through.

Starbucks used this to design a training system for employees. Employees were introduced to the situation where an inflection point – like an angry customer – could cause a breakdown, and a framework for how the company suggests dealing with the situation. The employee then filled in the answer, and role played so that their response became automatic. The angry customer “inflection point” becomes the cue in the habit loop, and the reward should be grateful customers, praise from the manager, etc.

The other thing Duhigg emphasizes in this is the sense of agency that Starbucks gives employees. When people feel like they are in control, when they feel like it is their choice to exercise willpower (rather than having someone brusquely demand that they exercise willpower), they don’t need to use as much willpower and their energy and attention for other tasks dramatically increase. 


75 Dollar Bill

I really enjoyed this, sent along by my friend Adam

Keystone Habits

Part 2 of Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit begins with a chapter that talks about keystone habits. These are habits that, once created or changed, have a cascading “snowball” effect on other aspects of a person’s life. Duhigg says:

Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers…The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.

This is the part of the book where Duhigg switches from a focus on individuals to a focus on organizations, so it seems appropriate that his examples include one of each – this chapter looks at Olypmpic swimmer Michael Phelps and aluminum manufacturer Alcoa. Duhigg initially focuses on Alcoa’s CEO, Paul O’Neill, who came in to run the company at a time when it was in decline and whose focus on workplace safety led it to outperform the competition even after he left. 

Duhigg begins the story of the Alcoa transformation with a lengthy background on O’Neill, demonstrating his knowledge of habits and how he honed this knowledge throughout his career. When O’Neill took CEO position at Alcoa, he recognized that if he were to succeed, he would need a focus that unions and executives could both agree was important – this was worker safety. O’Neill had determined that this was a keystone habit:

The key to protecting Alcoa employees, O’Neill believed, was understanding why injuries happened in the first place. And to understand why injuries happened, you had to understand how the manufacturing process was going wrong. To understand how things were going wrong, you had to bring in people who could educate workers about quality control and the most efficient work processes, so that it would be easier to do everything right, since correct work is also safer work.

In other words, to protect workers, Alcoa had to become the best, most streamlined aluminum company on earth.

Duhigg details some of the policies that O’Neill implemented, and shows how a focus on one thing – worker safety – had far-reaching implications for how the company operated. He then returns to Michael Phelps and talks about how exercise is often a keystone habit for people – how even exercising once a week can have a spillover effect in how people make choices about eating, sleeping, etc. Reading this section, I was reminded of the FlyLady, whose email list I was on for a while back when I could not manage to keep my house clean. One of her central tenets is to start with the kitchen sink, and ensure that at the end of each day, that is clean. Somehow, that really helped me, and now I see that it was part of a keystone habit around attacking cleanliness and organization.

Of course, Duhigg does not stop with keystone habits – there must be a secret sauce for each chapter, and in this one it is “small wins.” Duhigg introduces small wins with Phelps, then has a brief aside that mentions the wealth of research around the effectiveness of small wins and how they sparked a major movement for LGBT equality, and then returns to the Alcoa example to discuss how small wins helped the keystone habit of focusing on workplace safety become ingrained. Duhigg says “This is the final way that keystone habits encourage widespread change: by creating cutures where new values become ingrained.”


The Test

I started watching the video lectures for Dan Ariely’s mooc A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior today. The video above was a supplementary video demonstrating visual illusion, which was then used as a metaphor for our decision illusions – we often believe that we are good at making decisions and that they are rational, when in fact we are often very bad at this based on the ways that we process information.

I’m about halfway through the first week’s video lectures, and we’ve already covered defaults (the easiest decision is to do nothing, and whatever is framed as the default will become the option chosen most often), preferences and convictions (when asked to list 10 reasons for a decision we are less certain of it than when asked to list 3 reasons), choice sets and relativity (how the inclusion of a third “lesser” option can send people toward the option it is similar to), and the long-lasting effects of decision-making (once we make a decision we tend to keep making that same choice). Definitely enjoying this so far, though I’m eager to get beyond what I recall from reading The Upside of Irrationality.

The Golden Rule of Habit Change

The Golden Rule of Habit Change, subtitled “Why Transformation Occurs” is the third chapter in Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, and the final section of part one, The Habits of Individuals. 

The golden rule itself is “you can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.” Duhigg goes back to the 3-step habit loop and says that you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but change the routine.

Duhigg once again uses a couple of examples to demonstrate, this time a football coach who focused relentlessly on improving his players’ habits and the founders and members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Once again there are powerful, compelling examples of change, and strong results, so that you would think the above formula is “it.” But then Duhigg gives powerful counter-examples where each of the above failed – in both cases it was high-stress situations (the playoffs/superbowl for the football team, times of major personal crisis/loss for the alcoholics). Duhigg then comes in with the “secret ingredient” which was not explicit in the 3-step loop: belief. 

Duhigg doesn’t make it all seem easy, which is good. He first discusses the difficulty of identifying the cue, which can be subconscious in the case of many habits (Duhigg uses a brief but memorable example of an extreme fingernail chewer). Then, he discusses how it can also be difficult to identify the actual reward (e.g. with alcoholics, it is rarely the physical effects of alcohol, but a certain feeling). Only once these are properly identified can a new routine begin to replace the bad habit.

And of course, the belief part may be the most difficult. Duhigg quotes Lee Ann Kaskutas of the Alcohol Research Group:

There’s something really powerful about groups and shared experiences. People may be skeptical about their ability to change if they’re by themselves, but a group will convince them to suspend disbelief. A community creates belief.

I like that Duhigg takes the time to mention that while the process of habit change is easily described, it is not always easily accomplished. I wish that this was not relegated to a footnote, though.

Selfish Altruism

I’ll be attending the SEA Summit in April, and one of the projects they will be showcasing is a “street newspaper” called The Contributor. Tasha Lemley, founding Executive Director, wrote a post about how she started this social enterprise for selfish reasons:

The little street newspaper hobby was an outlet that combined my skills and passions and was an inlet into journalism—as well as an attempt to fit in, to earn my place as a friend of our homeless community.

When I worked for the Volunteer Center as Director of Youth Services, I interviewed a lot of young people looking for volunteer positions. When I asked them what they wanted to do, they often didn’t know. When I asked them why the wanted to volunteer, they often said they just wanted to help people. I always applauded this motive, but asked them to dig a bit deeper into what they liked to do, and what they wanted to get out of it beyond a good feeling.

My volunteerism at the time was primarily in two avenues: DJ and Music Staff at radio station WXDU and as a Board member at a non-profit professional association. Both of these came out of self-interest. WXDU gave me access to a bunch of new music, a connection to my favorite part of college, and a built-in social network when I moved to Durham. My Board service gave me a nice bullet for my resume, a built-in professional network, and a lot of opportunities for professional development. I’ve always been a big fan of enlightened self-interest, and think that rather than taking away from the “purity” of a desire to help others, instead it strengthens it and helps reinforce your resolve during the tough/boring/i-want-to-quit times. Adding self-interest to altruism makes that altruism more sustainable over the long term, in my opinion and personal experience.

It seems to have worked for Tasha. Here she talks about “the impact of an excuse”:

Originally, our goal only had two parts: to create a quality publication with information about homelessness and poverty and to use that product to create a source of income for individuals who had experienced homelessness.

The third part of our mission revealed itself to us over time.

This is the most inspirational aspect to me and I believe this is where the greatest impact of our work lies.

Not the publication: the insightful journalism, the gritty stories about and by those affected by homelessness. And not the paper sales—even though 50% of our vendors are no longer homeless thanks, in part, to that significant combined income.

Our enterprise created a powerful excuse to dialogue. This face-to-face interaction between people who have experienced homelessness and those who have not is consistently changing lives on both sides of the socio-economic divide. Real friendships are being formed and Tennesseans are collaborating and inserting themselves into each other’s lives—meeting people who work where they live and who eat on the same sidewalks that their favorite restaurants share


Dan Airely sent out a couple of videos that demonstrate some of the phenomena studied in behavioral economics as a pre-course activity. The videos showed an experimental setup, then gave a quiz on what you think would happen, then gave the results and an explanation (I think Dan is using the power of taking tests as a learning tool).

The videos showed experiments that I hadn’t seen before, but I was familiar witht the concepts. The first video showed a study that took veterans and measured their pain threshold (when they first started to feel pain) and their pain tolerance (how long they could handle pain). Then doctors were given medical files on all of the participants and asked to categorize them as having had a medical history minor injuries or severe injuries. As expected, those in the “severe injuries” group took about twice as long to register the pain and had a much greater pain tolerance than the “minor injuries” group. Dan attributes this to the way that people with severe injuries associate pain with healing, and have learned that some amount of pain can actually be a good thing.

The second experiment, entitled “coherent arbitrariness,” asked students to take the last two digits of their social security number and assume that was a price in dollars. Then they were given a series of items and asked whether or not they would pay that amount for each item. Once that activity was done, the students were told that they would hold an auction for the items, and asked whether they thought their prior activity would have any affect on their bidding. The students said that the previous activity with their social security number would have no affect, but the outcome showed that it actually made a big difference, with those who had high social security numbers bidding on average $20 more than those with low numbers. This is due to anchoring – a psychological effect that shows that once we see a certain number, we are unconsciously anchored to it. In a way, I can also see the first experiment as a type of anchoring – how our life experience has us predisposed to perceive the world and our place in it in a different way than others – anchoring that is much less arbitrary than in the second expirment.


Cleve Pozar: I Did the Number

I was going through some older email, looking at videos that have been sent over the years that I kept unread for “when I have the time,” and found this one that is a trailer for an as-yet-unrealized documentary of Cleve Pozar.

I was introduced to Cleve’s music by my friend Adam, who has a nice interview with Cleve on his website at I’ve got a copy of his record “Solo Percussion”, which is great, and Cleve also has a number of clips up on youtube. I really like that he is steeped in the world of improvisation, but his compositions are incredibly intricate as well.

Taking tests helps learning (Ariely pre-reading)

Another piece of pre-course reading recommended for is this 2011 NYT article on test taking. It showed that people who took tests on material learned it better than people who studied and better than people who drew concept maps of the material (another popular teaching tool). Interestingly, those who took the tests felt they would have the poorest recall.

…“when we use our memories by retrieving things, we change our access” to that information, Dr. Bjork said. “What we recall becomes more recallable in the future. In a sense you are practicing what you are going to need to do later.”

It may also be that the struggle involved in recalling something helps reinforce it in our brains.

Maybe that is also why students who took retrieval practice tests were less confident about how they would perform a week later.

“The struggle helps you learn, but it makes you feel like you’re not learning,” said Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College. “You feel like: ‘I don’t know it that well. This is hard and I’m having trouble coming up with this information.’ ”

By contrast, he said, when rereading texts and possibly even drawing diagrams, “you say: ‘Oh, this is easier. I read this already.’ ”

This is intriguing – I’ve always preferred writing a paper to taking a test, but never thought about how the act of taking the test itself could help improve recall. 

Hidden Influencers

Good read today from the McKinsey Quarterly – an article called “Tapping the Power of Hidden Influencers” by Lili Duan, Emily Sheeren and Leigh Weiss.

The article introduces a surveying technique used by social scientists to get data from sex workers, drug dealers and other “hidden populations” who might not be all that thrilled or motivated to contribute to research. Basically, the technique is to keep the surveys very short and include the question “who else should I be talking to?” – it’s called snowball sampling because one name or group of names quickly snowballs into a high-quality cohort.

The authors suggest that this technique can be adapted by business leaders to identify who the “hidden influencers” in their organization are. Because their research has shown that the biggest hindrance to organizational change efforts is employee resistance, the authors encourage using this survey technique to identify influencers throughout the organization and involve those people in change efforts. They share examples of two companies that are using this method, and a few key takeaways from the early results of their efforts.

The research and recommended steps make sense to me – I think the hardest sell is to get senior management to admit their ignorance about who employees actually listen to. The authors address this point as well:

Moreover, we find that even when company leaders believe they know who the influencers will be, they are almost always wrong. At one large North American retailer, for instance, we compared a list of influencers that two store managers created before the survey with its actual results. Between them, the managers overlooked almost two-thirds of the influential employees their colleagues named; worse, both managers missed three of the top five influencers in their own stores. The retailer’s inability to recognize its influencers is no anomaly; we’ve observed a similar pattern in every other industry and geography we’ve studied.

Some of their recommendations include thinking broadly (don’t stop at middle managment – sometimes it is a well-connected and respected cashier that may be the biggest influencer in a store), vetting results (with thoughts on how to deal with the “bad eggs” who are nevertheless strong influencers), and cocreating rather than dictating (involving the influencers early and providing support later).

Good food for thought. While many of the nonprofits I’ve worked in/with are too small for such processes to be relevant, I think that the model could be adapted to include service recipients and other stakeholders.


A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior

Dan Ariely is teaching a MOOC on Coursera on irrationality – this is actually his second time teaching the course. I signed up for this course a few weeks ago, and read his book The Upside of Irrationality a few years ago. I recently loaned that book out to a couple of people, which probably predisposed me to go ahead and sign up for the course when I saw it was being offered. I’m interested to see how Dan uses online tools to teach. 

I tried participating in the Stanford AI class offered in 2011, but my computer at the time couldn’t handle the programs used by that class, and the subject itself was a bit more of a stretch of my abilities than I was ready for. Because I’ve always found Dan’s work to be interesting and somewhat intuitive, I’m hoping/thinking that I’ll have an easier time with this course.

I just got my welcome email with the course calendar and I’m interested to see how the course material intersects with the Duhigg book. I’m a bit concerned with the amount of time this course will take, but on the upside I think that it will provide excellent source material for more of these blog posts.

The Power of Habit: The Craving Brain

The second chapter in The Power of Habit starts out talking about Pepsodent toothpaste, and how Claude Hopkins was credited as a genius marketer for making the product a staple at a time when very few Americans brushed their teeth at all. Hopkins created ads that said “run your tongue across your teeth – you’ll feel a film that makes your teeth look ‘off color’ and invites decay.” This created a simple and obvious cue, and provided a simple routine that people could follow with a reward that they valued (beauty). Duhigg then stops and says that while this two-step process of finding a cue and promising a reward seems to be a simple, effective recipe, Hopkins did not know that there was a third step that was really driving consumer behavior.

Duhigg then brings up a discussion of how Proctor and Gamble struggled in its initial attempts to market Febreze. While testing showed that consumers loved the product and its results, after some time it ended up sitting in the back of their closets. Consumers who had obvious pet odors in their house were not using it, because they had become habituated to the smells and did not notice them. There was a struggle for the marketers of Febreze – how do you build a habit when there is no cue to trigger use of the product, and those who need it most don’t appreciate the reward?

The solution is, of course, that missing third step that Duhigg mentioned earlier – creating a craving. Duhigg shares studies on the brainwaves of monkeys that show that once a routine becomes habit, the brain starts anticipating the reward even before it comes. Going back and looking at consumers who used Febreze, the marketers found that those who used it at the end of the cleaning cycle were basically using the spritz as a signal of accomplishment for having made a bed, cleaned a room, etc. The marketers further noted that making things scentless was not most people’s desire – instead they wanted a nice clean fresh scent. So they went back and added some scent to the product, marketed Febreze as the final step in the cleaning process, and watched as Febreze finally started selling. Consumers felt like their house wasn’t really clean without that fresh scent at the end.

Duhigg then returns to the Pepsodent example and explains that the difference between Pepsodent and other toothpastes wasn’t the ability to remove the natural film that develops on the teeth, but a citrus ingredient that made the mouth tingle. It was that tingle that consumers respond to, and even though it has nothing to do with cleaning the teeth, you will find it in all toothpastes on the market today because consumers unconsciously associate that feeling with an idea that the product is working.

Building Leadership Development into Strategy

I’m stealing from my inbox again for today’s post – this one is an email I had “starred” and forwarded to a colleague some time back. It’s from Bridgespan again, which isn’t something I would have expected. If I had to guess, I would have expected that I would post content from HBR and McKinsey, and Stanford Social Innovation Review as much as Bridgespan (or more, since they send more frequent updates). So this daily blogging process is proving interesting in unexpected ways. For those interested in social entrepreneurship, particularly around questions of leadership development and scaling social impact, I highly recommend the free registration for Bridgespan newsletters.

This article by Elizabeth Bibb Binder and Kirk Kramer entitled “Facing the Future: How Successful Nonprofits Link Strategy to Leadership Development” hit my inbox in August 2013. It opens with the disconnect between how nonprofit leaders rank leadership development as very important but also rank it as one of their most glaring weaknesses.

Since leadership development is often something that is relegated to conferences, offsite trainings, and 2-3 day workshops led by consultants, this doesn’t really surprise me. Yet, that is not the case with all organizations and even those who prioritize internal efforts struggle with articulating how their efforts are impacting operations. I was struck by this in particular:

In our work with nonprofits, we have observed that the obstacles to effective leadership development in changing times arise most often when organizations:

  • fail to specify in sufficient detail how their business model will change and how that change will affect their activities and operations, including what their leaders must do differently to succeed; and
  • focus on generic competencies rather than on the specific behaviors needed to successfully execute the organization’s strategy. In addition, many organizations struggle to provide developing leaders with the underlying skills and experiences that would enable the behaviors that the strategy calls for.
I think it’s easy and intuitive to focus on how skills and certifications rather than behaviors and experiences, so this is really powerful. An example of how to do it right is given when they go over the way that global nonproft Tostan works:
Because one of Tostan’s tenets is to employ people from the countries in which it operates and to promote from within, an apprenticeship and training plan was created to develop the needed competencies internally. But Tostan would also need to fill some positions before those internal development efforts came to fruition, which meant it would need to complement its internal development effort with external hiring. Tostan’s external hiring requirements were carefully aligned with its internal development effort. As a result, when recruiting externally for a director of finance, it was emphasized that the successful candidate would be expected to develop the capacity of direct reports, thus building the pipeline of people with emerging chief financial officer competencies.
The authors also include a brief “how to” section, with some good questions to ask yourself to see if you’re linking leadership development to strategy. I’m glad I took the time to revisit this article.

“…(But) creat…

“…(But) creating effective solutions is not a matter of simply sorting what works from what does not work, and then scaling up what works. It is a matter of understanding what works under which circumstances and for whom. The world is more nuanced and complicated than we want to admit. Rarely is the solution to a problem ‘one-size-fits-all.’ We need to realize that what appears to be ‘best practice’ has to be qualified and is usually temporary, best only until something better comes along. And we should always be challenging ourselves to do better.”

-Greg Dees

Christopher Gergen co-authored a nice piece in yesterday’s edition of the News and Observer that focused on remembering Greg Dees and highlighting some of his students who are carrying on his legacy. The above quote was initially published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Christopher’s full article is at