Article Executive Director's Message Chris McKenzie

Summer Reading: Food for Thought

In his recent book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, author Charles Duhigg discusses how habits are formed and how individuals and organizations can use this knowledge to effect a transformation.

According to Duhigg, “Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision-making, but they’re not. They’re habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time … the way we organize our thoughts and work routines has enormous impacts on our health, productivity, financial security and happiness.”

A study by a Duke University researcher in 2006 showed that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits. Once a habit has been established, it becomes virtually automatic.

Habits, says Duhigg, are “the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day.”

Duhigg examines both good and bad habits in his book. He points out that only in the past 20 years have scientists and marketers begun to understand how habits work and also how they change. Perhaps the most interesting development is our relatively new understanding of the neurology of how habits are formed, how new ones can be created and old ones can be changed.

At the center of Duhigg’s book is the concept that habits can be changed if we understand how they work. He presents examples of how habits emerge within individual lives, the habits of successful companies and organizations, and the habits of societies.

Shaking Up the Status Quo

The book is thought-provoking in a number of ways. On an individual, personal level it offers some refreshing insights into the patterns of one’s daily life. On another level, it’s inspiring to read about how leaders who choose to create the right kinds of “keystone” habits in an organization can produce phenomenal, positive change. It also shows how good leaders seize crises to remake organizational habits. Duhigg points out that a crisis often provides the opportunity to do things that you could not do before, which leads me to some observations of my own.

Cities Demonstrate Leadership

While the State of California grapples with its perpetual fiscal crisis, in local governments we are seeing innovation that is to a large degree a direct product of coping with the economic crunch. As cities and other local governments seek better ways to deliver essential services in the face of ever-shrinking resources and provide taxpayers with the best value for their dollars, best practices are emerging that offer new models for efficiency and effectiveness. You can read about numerous examples of such innovation in this issue of Western City, starting with “Spotlighting Energy Efficiency in California Communities” and “Sustainability’s Many Faces: Beacon Award Program Participants Create Vibrant Communities”.

And the article “Draft Stormwater Permit Draws Cities Together in New Coalition” illustrates the power of an impending crisis to bring local officials together to seek solutions and compromise by working with state leaders to head off some disastrous stormwater regulations.

While solutions to the state’s budget deficit have yet to be reached, it’s heartening to see local leaders moving forward on so many fronts. Duhigg’s book reminds us all of the importance of re-examining what we do and reinventing ourselves and our cities. And as Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never, never give up.”

You can find many more examples of innovative city efforts at If your city has something noteworthy to share, we want to hear about it. Contact your regional public affairs manager ( to follow up.

This article appears in the July 2012 issue of Western City
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