• Nancy Beers

HAPPY SCRUM MASTER BOOKLIST: THE POWER OF HABIT – CHARLES DUHIGG


Reading is very important to me so I’m always on the look-out for a good book. Last year, I challenged you to try Xtrem Reading because it’s the perfect way to help you identify those books out of the many books available that are actually worth your time. And, oh man, there are sooooo many good books out there. So this year, I’m challenging myself: I’m going to read one book per week. Yes, that’s right, one book each and every week for an entire year. I wouldn’t be the Happy Scrum Master if I wouldn’t share not only my favourite games but also my favourite books with you.

This month’s book is: ‘The Power of Habit – Why we do what we do and how to change’ by Charles Duhigg

I’ll admit, I’m not super enthusiastic about this book. Oh, it’s easy to read and heavy on the science but it’s not been this amazing eye-opener like some of the other books I’ve discussed here on this blog. If anything, the book scared the hell out of me because it showed me how far companies will go to persuade me to buy stuff I don’t necessarily need or want and how far they’ll go to get me to keep coming back to them. Especially the chain of casinos Charles discusses in the last chapter. Their practices are immoral, there’s just no other word for it. And even though the lives of Starbucks staff are changed for the better because of the habits that Starbucks instils in them, at the end of the day, the reason why Starbucks created those habits is not to improve the lives of their staff but to persuade me to buy an overpriced cup of coffee – and preferably some tasty snack on the side. And that coffee, if I’m being honest, isn’t really that good, now is it? As a self-proclaimed Open Source Hippie, most examples given in the book were far too commercial for my liking. So no, it’s not one of my favourites. But what this book did do, is remind me how important habits are when it comes to making changes.

Being a Scrum Master and Agile Coach is all about change. It’s usually why I get hired by a new client, for one reason or other things need to change and I’m hired to help them make this happen. Change is difficult, people usually don’t like changes and will resist them. Why? Because change interferes with their habits. As Charles explains in his book, habits are a way to get a lot of things done without having to think too long and hard about it. It frees up our mind to focus on other things. So in many ways habits are a good thing. Each individual has their own personal habits, the way they brush their teeth, their morning breakfast routine, you name it. But companies are also made up of habits, collective habits in this case: who’s allowed to park where, the weekly team meetings, the company’s hierarchy. It’s all down to habits. And the thing about habits is that once something has become a habit, you tend not to think about it anymore, you just go through your routine and that’s it.

In his book Charles puts a lot of focus on negative habits and how to change them, which makes sense because changing negative habits is obviously a good thing but I guess that’s also why I didn’t like this book that much. It focuses so much on all the negative that the positive gets overlooked. And, as you know, I’m a positive person. I prefer to look at the bright side of life and spread happiness and playfulness around the globe! Habits can be positive or negative or neutral, what’s important is to be aware of those habits and the way they influence your and other people’s behaviours. Which is why I still decided to write a blog about this book, because even though I wasn’t blown away by it, it was good to be reminded of how powerful and important habits actually are.

You can’t decide to change a company and expect it to be changed just like that. There’s no magic wand you can wave and ‘Voila! Success! Things have changed!!' It just doesn’t work that way and that’s what companies tend to overlook. In order to change a company, you have to change the people who work there. And people usually don’t change because you tell or even order them to. People tend to resist change because that change conflicts with their habits. In order to create the big desired change, you’ll have to think about the new habits you want to create and the existing habits you’ll need to change to make that happen. As a company, you need to be really aware of all the collective habits that make up your company and most managers are so used to looking at the big and long term picture that they have no idea about the daily routines that run their company. So, what to do? Let’s hire Nancy, the Happy Scrum Master!

Changing habits takes time. Why? Because habits are routines that have been ingrained in our daily lives and most of the time we’re not even aware of what it is we’re doing and why. Charles calls this the Habit Loop. Basically, there’s a Cue that leads to a Routine which is followed by a Reward. The cue creates a craving that can only be satisfied by that particular reward and the only way to get the reward is to stick to a certain routine. Changing that routine will only work if you not only know what the routine is, but also which cue causes the craving and why that craving can only be satisfied by that particular reward.

Luckily, you can also change habits by starting new ones. By focussing on creating positive routines you can essentially create this snowball effect. For instance, one of the examples Charles gives in the book is if people start running and manage to turn that running into a habit, they will start feeling better and that will cause them to start eating more healthy foods and stop smoking. In other words, by starting a new habit, they will change an old habit or even replace an old habit with that new habit. Good, isn’t it? And the best thing is, you don’t have to create a new habit that takes a lot of time and effort. It works equally well, if not better, if you start with small habits. You know that story about the butterfly that flaps its wings and creates a tornado? That’s what I’m talking about.

Focus on creating a new habit that’s easy to maintain and it will boost your confidence. That confidence will help you not only maintain your new routine but will also give you the energy to make more changes and before you know it you have made that big change too and turned it into a new habit. And as I said before, I’m all about making positive changes. I love helping companies and people create that positive vibe and atmosphere that is needed to get the ball rolling and turn that change into a new and positive routine. And that is why I still think it’s a good idea to at least browse through this book, because even though it focuses on a lot of negatives the aim is to turn them into something positive.

A good example of the impact of one small change is: start off by making your bed each morning. Which I don’t, by the way, I just can’t be bothered. ;)

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