Day 504: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Cover for The Power of HabitI borrowed The Power of Habit from the library because it was mentioned in an advice column and because I have some habits I would like to change. Its conclusions are based on solid research, but my main criticism of the book is that it is exactly one of those management books I have learned to despise. I guess I should have known by the inclusion of the word “business” in the subtitle.

What characterizes these books is that they have very little actual content. They usually make a few points, no more than 10, and the lack of substance is disguised by filling the book with anecdotes and repetition. As some of them are very popular, I guess business managers haven’t figured out that one example doesn’t prove anything.

Unlike most of these books, this one at least is full of notes and other evidences of an actual basis in research. However, its emphasis is on changing habits in a business environment or community. Only the first few chapters, which are admittedly interesting, and the appendix have much useful application for an individual.

If you are interested in the neuroscience behind the conclusions in this book, you can probably find more in-depth information in its source material, which is abundant. The actual content of the book only takes up 286 pages, with the same concepts and simple illustration repeated endlessly, and the final 100 pages devoted to notes, source material, and an index.

If you are simply interested in this subject, the book is well written and easy to understand. Note that all of the raves on the back cover are by authors who write exactly the same kinds of books.

Duhigg is obviously talented, as he is a writer for the New York Times and a contributor to some serious news magazines. I would like to see him tackle something of substance.

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17 thoughts on “Day 504: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

  1. Lady @The Snail on the Wall April 15, 2014 / 1:08 pm

    I used to edit business books, and I always thought the same thing: they repeated themselves over and over until they pretty much beat the reader over the head with a few basic ideas. It’s just a different genre altogether!

    • whatmeread April 15, 2014 / 1:22 pm

      Yes, I used to have a director who made all of his direct reports read these books and have a “management book club” once a week where we discussed them. It was sheer torture and a big waste of time.

  2. Cecilia April 15, 2014 / 1:28 pm

    Thanks, Kay – this is really helpful. I see this book everywhere and was curious about it but after seeing your review I will pass. I have read these kinds of books and I know what you mean about the repetitiveness and filler-content. I suppose they want to appeal to the mass market so they write the content as simply as possible.

    • whatmeread April 15, 2014 / 1:30 pm

      Personally, I think they want to make a bunch of money without the effort it would take to write a thoughtful, researched book.

      • Cecilia April 15, 2014 / 2:45 pm

        Yes…and so many people fall for it! argh…

  3. Ngan R. April 15, 2014 / 2:58 pm

    I read this book last year (also borrowed from the library) and thought the most useful part was the appendix! In fact, I advised people to just read the appendix. I thought this book was repetitive and could have been an article. That said, after I read this, I did think about some bad workplace habits I had (i.e. the cookie in the afternoon in the cafe with coworkers) and learned how to change it. Thank you for your review.

    • whatmeread April 15, 2014 / 3:02 pm

      That’s exactly right! I think you could check the book out for five minutes, read the appendix, and take it back to the library! Maybe he started with an article on the subject, which would have made more sense.

      I’m glad it worked for you. I couldn’t figure out a trigger for my habit or anything to substitute.

  4. Alina (literaryvittles) April 15, 2014 / 3:31 pm

    Yes, I’m so glad to hear that someone feels the same way towards these awful books as I do! I avoid them like the plague. Anything with a title along the lines of “10 tips to improve your life” is banned in my world.

    • whatmeread April 15, 2014 / 3:33 pm

      Me, too! Every once in awhile I’m forced to read one, and I always regret spending the time.

  5. Carolyn O April 15, 2014 / 3:40 pm

    I love your reviews — they make me laugh and, of course, they’re quite helpful. I’d like to stop biting my nails, but not enough to read a book full of corporate-speak.

    • whatmeread April 15, 2014 / 3:42 pm

      Exactly! I’m glad I made you laugh. Thanks for a great compliment!

  6. Cedar Station April 15, 2014 / 5:27 pm

    Thanks for the review. I’ve seen this book everywhere and I think I’ll pass. I usually avoid these kinds of books too, for the same reason, but I actually just read one that you might like better — it’s called The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal. It definitely had a bit more substance to it, and is aimed at individuals rather than businesses. It’s helped me with a few of my “bad” habits. 🙂

  7. Ariel Price April 15, 2014 / 8:46 pm

    These kinds of books always look interesting to me, because I do enjoy being in the business world. But I agree – the few I’ve picked up have disappointed in terms of actually helpful content. Looks like I’ll be passing on this one, too. Thanks for the review!

  8. Naomi April 16, 2014 / 7:38 am

    Like everyone else, I agree with your assessment about these kinds of books. They fill a whole book with something that could be written about in a nice, short article that would be much more helpful to everyone.

    • whatmeread April 16, 2014 / 7:40 am

      The content probably started as an article and was puffed up from there.

  9. Xu Gong April 18, 2014 / 5:07 am

    Reblogged this on xu gong and commented:
    Expecting to changing some of my habits. What is habit? It’s the advantageous pattern of your choices. It’s difficult to leave it and rebuilt another pattern. I am wondering where comes the motivation to changing yourself and your behaviors?

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