Chapters 6 and 7 of the Power of Habit


Chapter 6 is titled The Power of a Crisis.  It tries to answer the question, “How can an organization implement habits that balance authority and, at the same time, chose a person or goal that rises above everyone else?”  It gives examples of cultures that were not working:

  • A Rhode Island hospital where doctors did not listen to other care givers
  • The London Underground where different areas controlled only their sphere of influence
  • NASA

In each case a tragedy allowed them to look at their operations anew and see the flaws in their system.  The Rhode Island hospital had errant surgeries when doctors did not listen.  The London Underground had a fire that raged out of control since different areas did not share clues about the fire starting.  NASA had the Challenger explosion.

Just because you have a tragedy does not mean a leader will use it to convince people to improve.  Someone must act to change institutional habits.  A leader can also try to use an upcoming potential problem to play the role of the tragedy without actually having a disaster.

Chapter 7 is about how to predict and manipulate habits.  Using shopping data Target could predict which of its customers were pregnant.  But, it couldn’t let them know it knew this much about them.  Customers might not like this.  So they sent coupons for products they knew the consumer would desire mixed in with other coupons to make the amount they know about the customer less obvious.

This area seems ripe for college intervention systems.  If we could find the right thing to count or measure and could convince the staff or faculty to record the data then it might be fairly easy to do intrusive, effecting interventions.  The question is of course what to measure and how to make the data accurate in a system where the data comes from more than just the items purchased.

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