However, nothing could be further from the truth. Success results from having the right habits; innate ability has little to do with it. It is true that in sport, certain physical traits are an advantage. LeBron James probably couldn’t ride a winner at the Kentucky Derby no matter how hard he tried.The father of success is our habits. Who hasn’t started the New Year with the resolution that I am going to lose 5 kg or 10 kg, or I am going to go to the gym and getting fit? We start out strongly, going to the gym and running those miles, and by January 5 we are back to our old habits.Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business states that studies indicate that it is the small habits that make the big difference. He calls them keystone habits. Up until about 20 years ago, it was thought that the best way for people to lose weight was to radically alter their lives by engaging in strict exercise programs and dramatically changing their diets—basically doing a 180 degree turn in their lifestyle habits.A group of researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health published a study of a different approach for losing those unwanted kilograms. They assembled a group of obese people and asked them to write down everything they ate in a week. As the participants were writing their daily food logs, something strange happened. They started to recognize the unhealthy eating choices, and unhealthy habits in their lives in general, and began to make more healthy choices.The researchers hadn’t suggested any of these behaviors. They had simply asked everyone to write down what they were eating. But this keystone habit, eating healthily, created a structure that helped other new habits to flourish. Six months into the study, the people who kept daily food records had lost twice as much weight as everyone else.
Charles Duhigg recounts a great story of how, when Paul O’Neill was hired as the new CEO of Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), analysts and industry experts were dumbfounded by his constant preaching of safety first. Rather than talking about new markets and opportunities, he was only rabbiting on about safety. After his first presentation as CEO, obituaries were being written about this once great company.
However, Paul O’Neill had found a keystone habit of his company—safety. Duhigg writes, “Within a year of O’Neill’s speech, Alcoa’s profits would hit a record high. By the time O’Neill retired in 2000 to become Treasury Secretary, the company’s annual net income was five times larger than before he arrived, and its market capitalization had risen by $27 billion. Someone who invested a million dollars in Alcoa on the day O’Neill was hired would have earned another million dollars in dividends while he headed the company, and the value of their stock would be five times bigger when he left.”
What are your keystone habits in your company? Perhaps keep a journal of your daily activities. Do not try to change anything, but observe your keystone habits and you may just find the keystone habit that will change your company.
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