Charles Duhigg on The Power of Habit (Full Transcript)

Every habit has cues and rewards. And for years everyone from Aristotle to Oprah, when they talked about habits, they focused on the routine on the behavior. But what we’ve learned the last decade is that it’s the cue and the reward that influence how habits function.

Just to give you an example of this. Does anyone here exercise? It’s a young audience. Anyone here wished that they exercised? Okay. So there was an experiment that was done in Germany where they took an audience like this and they said all of you should exercise. And then they took about a third of the audience, and they said okay, look, this is what I want you to do. Choose a cue, like always put your running shoes next to your bed. Or go running with the same group of friends. And then when you get back from working out, give yourself a small piece of chocolate. This is counterintuitive, because not many people exercise in order to eat chocolate, or at least not quite that directly.

And yet what the researcher suspected is that even though all of you think that you want to exercise, your brain thinks you’re a liar. And that you hate exercise, and the only way that I can trick you and exercise is give yourself a reward you genuinely enjoy like a small piece of chocolate. And in fact, six months after they did this, they found that 58% of those people were more likely to be exercising and they’d stopped eating the chocolate. Because their head brain had learned there is endorphins and they can’t avoid these neurotransmitters that reward us for physical activity. But you kind of have to bootstrap your brain into believing that those rewards are real with a reward that you genuinely enjoy. Like chocolate.

All of which brings me kind of in probably to Starbucks. And what Starbucks can teach us about teaching in mindfulness. What does Starbucks sell? Coffee, right? No, wrong, Starbucks doesn’t say – Starbucks kind of sells coffee. They give you coffee in exchange for your money. But if you talk to Starbucks, what they will tell you that they actually sell is customer service. This is why they can pay — they can charge you $4.50 for a latte that costs about $0.13, is because when you walk in, there’s a wood paneling and soft music and there’s someone who asks your name and they write it in big cursive letters, right? This, Starbucks believes, is the centerpiece of their entire business model, is customer service.

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The problem for Starbucks is that most of their employees are high school graduates, or high school students or recent high school graduates, people with no professional experience. And the problem is many of you know, with being a high school student or recent high school graduate is that you act like a high schooler or recent high school graduate. You act like a moron, right? Like, I acted like a moron for an entire decade after I graduated. And for Starbucks, this is a problem because they had employees who couldn’t deliver customer service. This became particularly a problem in the age of YouTube and I’m going to show you why.

Before I show you something, imagine for a minute that you work at Starbucks, you oversee $250 million a year in advertising. You’ve had a long day, you come home from work, you sit on your couch and you open a beer, you turn on the TV. And this is what you see.

[Video: She was a loyal customer of Starbucks, loved the coffee, loved the service but that changed a few weeks ago. That day the New Yorker got steamed, not by what was inside her cup, but something written on the outside. That’s when she called Nina Pineda, and ordered a special brew of fully caffeinated [inaudible].

“When you looked at it, what did you think?”

“I was shocked. I didn’t understand why they would do that,”

Vicki Reveron is talking about this Starbucks cup. On the side, a Starbucks employee wrote what she ordered, a caramel frappuccino. But instead of scrawling her name on the side, she says he wrote the B-word.

“It says B****, my name is not b****, it’s Vicki,” ]

So have you ever wondered ideally what $250 million sounds like going up in flames all at once? Turns out it sounds like my name isn’t B, it’s Vicki. Starbucks went and did an investigation over what happened here. Vicki was served by this kid named [Dwartha], 19-year old kid, employed for eight months, he’d been doing a great job. The night before Vicki comes in, he had a fight with his mom. And his hour of seven into an eight-hour shift and this woman comes in, who orders this coffee with a bad word on it. Drinks the entire cup of coffee. Goes home. Changes clothes into a nice blue blouse. Comes back to the Starbucks, calls a TV camera. Waits 45 minutes for the TV camera to show up. And then gives this interview. It’s a long way of saying if [Dwartha] might have been totally right, right? But it doesn’t matter. For Starbucks this is a disaster. It doesn’t matter how rude a customer is. Starbucks delivers customer service. This is their basic promise. They are going to treat you nicely regardless of who you are.

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So Howard Schultz and his team, there’s been incident after incident like this and they have this meeting to try and figure out how are we going to fix this, because this keeps on happening. What they discovered — they decide is we need to increase our employees’ willpower. What they notice is that about 10% to 15% of their employees would do great. And then they would have this one shift where they would fall apart, usually about 6.5 to 7 hours into a shift. And they figured what they needed to do is figure out how to give their employees willpower to make it through that eight-hour shift, so they don’t do something stupid like write a bad word on a cup.

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