Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2010/02/23

The power of habits

About 15 years ago I received my first drum lesson. We began with terminology, basic beats and a little bit about time signatures. The rest of the lessons were spent doing drills that taught me how to break habits like moving my legs and arms to the exact same beat. In other words, I spent as much time learning how not to play poorly (bad habits) as I spent learning how to play well (good habits).

Most activities in life reward habitual behavior. When our bodies do it, this is called “muscle memory.” For instance, clapping works because our hands are in sync with one another. When you walk, your arms and legs are in matched pairs. Our bodies make shortcuts for us in order to spare us time and mental effort when performing simple tasks. Similarly, businesses develop habits to govern their daily duties.

From regulatory compliance, to accounts receivable to the hiring process, good habits help keep everyone happy and help keep cash flow positive. Bad habits produce headaches and waste money. They  also tend to hide themselves from sight. Fortunately, you can find them by listening for tell-tale excuses, “That is how I was taught” or “We have always done it this way” or “it is too much work to change it.”

As a business analyst, I get paid to turn bad habits into good habits. Here are some of the tools I use to accomplish this:

  1. Flowchart – Sometimes seeing how convoluted a process is on paper is enough to convince others to get on board for finding a better solution.
  2. “5 whys” – Start anywhere in the process and ask “why do we do it this way?” whatever answer you receive, ask “but, why?” four more times. Somewhere along the way you will likely discover  one of the four horsemen: laziness, group-think, fear or pride
  3. “In a perfect world” scenario – Ask how we would do this process in a “perfect world.” Now list every difference between our world and the “perfect world.” Tackle the constraints or problems one by one

Where could you apply these three tools today to get unstuck?

What tools do you use to uncover bad habits and convert them into good habits?


  1. Awesome Article! I guess I would treat relationship issues this way! Thanks for the approach!
    Would love to share it with people!
    Shipra Bawa


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