FF Daily #406: Organizational habits

June 24, 2021: Charles Duhigg on the power of habit; Why the problem with remote work is not remote work; What midlife crisis?; Do you keep too many tabs open in your browser?

Founding Fuel

[Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash]

Good morning,

Yesterday, we looked at how tiny changes in habits can alter an individual’s life in time. That is why, today, we felt compelled to go over The Power of Habit by award winning American journalist Charles Duhigg. A theme he delves on is the outcome of routines and habits on an organisation and its people. He looks at the work of people such as Richard Nelson and Sydney Winter and makes some interesting observations.

“[I]t might seem like the chief executive of a clothing company made the decision last year to feature a red cardigan on the catalogue’s cover by carefully reviewing sales and marketing data. But, in fact, what really happened was that his vice president constantly trolls websites devoted to Japanese fashion trends (where red was hip last spring), and the firm’s marketers routinely ask their friends which colours are ‘in’, and the company’s executives, back from their annual trip to the Paris runway shows, reported hearing that designers at rival firms were using new magenta pigments. All these small inputs, the result of uncoordinated patterns among executives gossiping about competitors and talking to their friends, got mixed into the company’s more formal research and development routines until a consensus emerged: Red will be popular this year. No one made a solitary, deliberate decision. Rather, dozens of habits, processes, and behaviours converged until it seemed like red was the inevitable choice.

“These organizational habits—or ‘routines’, as Nelson and Winter called them—are enormously important, because without them, most companies would never get any work done… They provide a kind of ‘organizational memory’, so that managers don’t have to reinvent the sales process every six months or panic each time a VP quits… But among the most important benefits of routines is that they create truces between potentially warring groups or individuals within an organization… Companies aren’t families. They’re battlefields in a civil war.

“Organizational habits offer a basic promise: If you follow the established patterns and abide by the truce, then rivalries won’t destroy the company, the profits will roll in, and, eventually, everyone will get rich.”

Interesting, isn’t it? Stay safe and have a good day! 

In this issue

  • Why the problem with remote work is not remote work
  • What midlife crisis?
  • Do you keep too many tabs open in your browser?

Why the problem with remote work is not remote work

Most people these days complain about remote work. Terms like, ‘Zoom fatigue’ (the tiredness and stress associated with video calls) and ‘Blursday’ (the feeling that time just goes by and there is no difference between a Monday and a Friday) have become common now. 

Alexia Cambon, a research director at Gartner, argues the problem is not with remote working.  “The problem is that, though most office workers are currently working from home, the way we work is still inherently office-centric.”

Take for example, the timings we follow. “By default, our days are organised around 9-5, a system that was formalised for factory workers by Henry Ford in the US in 1926. Many of us do not work in factories however. Why are we hanging on to this linear day as the only schedule in which work can be done?”

What then is the answer? Question everything. 

Cambon writes, “if 9-5 had never been invented; if ‘office’ were a foreign term; if the concept of a meeting sounded like gibberish—in short, if today were day one of the history of work—how would you design how you work?”

Dig deeper

What midlife crisis?

We stumbled across a compelling talk the other day that questions our understanding of midlife and goes on to upturn all notions of midlife crisis. Mark Jackson from the University of Exeter, talking at the Royal Society of London in 2019, argues that this is a manufactured crisis and traces its roots to a time when businesses had to think up new ways to sell products. He begins by recalling the time when the phrase first entered the public domain from academics in the mid-sixties invested in studying psychology. They could see vulnerable people fearing death.

But savvy marketing and advertising professionals could imagine this from a different prism. People with disposable income who must be tapped into. If the message could be hammered into them that this is the time they ought to be spending more, and that if they don’t, they’d be seen as failures, their effort would pay off. It’s an interesting hypothesis, the evidence is there for all to see, and men have been more susceptible to this.

Jackson argues that this does not stand to scrutiny any longer as lifespans are increasing and the so-called crisis around the 40s and 50s must be revisited. 

Dig deeper

Still curious?

  • Do you really want to start out on your own or is it your midlife crisis talking? Read this piece by Subroto Bagchi for an answer. I am so bored at work; should I become an entrepreneur instead?
  • D Shivakumar’s picks for the summer of 2021. Books include: Nobel laureate Jennifer Doudna's work on gene editing; the courage to stand up for what's right; which habits will stay, which will change; adaptive leadership; and giving your career a different direction. Read: My five summer books of 2021

Do you keep too many tabs open in your browser?

The Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg

What’s helping you get through these tough times? Send us the song, poem, quote that is your balm now. And we will share it through this newsletter.

And if you missed previous editions of this newsletter, they’re all archived here.

Bookmark Founding Fuel’s special section on Thriving in Volatile Times. All our stories on how individuals and businesses are responding to the pandemic until now are posted there.

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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