The Secret of Keystone Habits

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about keystone habits.He defines a keystone habit as a pattern that has the power to start a chain reaction, changing other habits as it moves through an organization.

He tells a story about Paul O’Neill, who took over as CEO of Alcoa, an aluminum company in 1987. In his first speech as CEO he said something unusual.

"I want to talk to you about worker safety,” he said, “every year, numerous Alcoa workers are injured so badly that they miss a day of work. I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America. I intend to go for zero injuries."

The shareholders were confused. Normally CEO’s talk about profit margins and new markets. Many shareholders rushed out of the meeting and sold their stocks expecting the company to bottom out. But it didn’t. In fact, it did the opposite. Within a year of O'Neill's speech, Alcoa's profits would hit a record high. By the time O'Neill retired in 2000, the company's annual net income was five times larger than before he arrived, and its market capitalization had risen by $27 billion.

When later interviewed about why he thought his strategy worked, O’Neill said, "I knew I had to transform Alcoa. But you can't order people to change. That's not how the brain works. So I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing. If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.”

That’s the nature of a keystone habit. I decided to read parts of the book to our staff and we entered into discussion about habits and in particular about what we thought our corporate keystone habit was.

Here are some of the points we went through in that discovery.

  1. A ______________ habit is a small change or habit that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.

  2. A habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see ______________, I will do ______________in order to get a ______________.

  3. Identify the ______________which is the behaviour I want to change.

  4. Experiment with ______________in order to isolate what will actually drive the routine, which is essential in designing or redesigning the habit.

  5. Isolate the ______________which triggers the habit. Almost all habitual cues fit into one of five categories: a.______________- Where are you?b.______________- What time is it?c.____________________________ - What’s your emotional state?d.____________________________- Who else is around?e.__________________________________________ - What action preceded the urge?

  6. What are our ______________?

5 Not’s:

  1. Things are NOT going ______________.

  2. I’m NOT ______________for.

  3. I’m NOT from ______________.

  4. I'm NOT ______________.

  5. I’m NOT in a ______________.

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