In the first of two parts looking at habits in the workplace the author uncover the preliminary results of research into habit formation success with almost 2000 senior managers in a major multinational.
“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional, and intellectual – systematically organised for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.” – William James
I’ve always been fascinated by the subconscious part of our brains. From reflecting on the predominance of tacit (versus explicit) knowledge during my Doctoral studies in virtual communication to our work in design thinking the past 10 years where methods are used to uncovers deep-lying needs. Though the value of subconscious thought and action for success in executive life may be recognised, the heavy weighting of it in comparison to our conscious selves is what surprises many. Gerald Zaltman, a professor at Harvard posits that conscious activity represents only 5% of cognition. And much has still to be discovered within this hidden 95%, giving us much to explore in the domain of habits for health and performance.
Thinking and decision-making are natural areas of analysis in the working context. Though some of the studies may be questionable a quick “wisdom of Google” search puts our daily decisions at more than 30,000 with only 70 of those being conscious. Certainly of more reliability is the work of Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman who writes on two systems of thinking, Fast or System 1 thinking which is the subconscious part of our brains and much more frequent, and Slow or System 2, our conscious self which is much less frequent. It is clear that we need both, and that without habits we’d be unlikely to proceed very far in our daily lives, if for example every single decision were to be slow and conscious.
We believe that habits in the workplace can have a significant impact on the organisational as well as individual level. Habits form routines and behaviour, which when aggregated on a team level can form culture. Although we may perceive certain behaviour as good or bad in others, it is not always so clear-cut for ourselves. When we create a habit the brain stops participating fully in the decision making process, and the brain doesn’t distinguish between “good” and “bad” habits.
About the Author
Dr. Steven MacGregor, founder of The Leadership Academy of Barcelona [LAB] and author of Sustaining Executive Performance (Pearson 2015) , has delivered over 1000 sessions the past 5 years in executive health and behaviour change for clients including Telefónica, Danone, IESE, IMD, and the BBC. He holds a PhD in Engineering Design Management and has been a Visiting Researcher at Stanford and Carnegie-Mellon. His executive education teaching is informed by academic interest in sustainability and design and he is an article reviewer for, among others, Industry and Innovation, Journal of Engineering Design, and the International Journal of Design Creativity and Innovation.