Tag Archives: Target stores

You’re Getting To Be a Habit With Me

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (Random House, $28.00, 400 pages)

Charles Duhigg is a highly educated (Harvard and Yale) business reporter (The New York Times), who is the epitome of the thorough investigative reporter.   In past weeks, Duhigg and his publicist have been circulating a flurry of teaser articles and Twitter posts that include excerpts from his just-released book.   The teasers are eye-catching because most folks in the USA shop at Target, buy household air fresheners (unless they are featured on A&E’s Hoarders) and like to think that the choices they make are acts of free will.   He has also been travelling on an aggressive cross-country tour of major media outlets.

As to whether folks really have the ability to make their own choices, not really, according to Duhigg.   His book supports a hypothesis that most, if not all, daily activities are the result of a habit loop consisting of a cue, routine and reward.   This behavior loop is applicable at the personal as well as organizational and societal levels.   Granted, the author has met and exceeded the burden of proof imposed by such a strong theme; however, too much of a good thing is not always the most pleasing event.

This reviewer was immediately interested in the book after reading an excerpt that focused on Target stores and the extensive shopper profiling that takes place thanks to a sophisticated computer program that slices and dices purchasing data.   A quick glance at my to-be-read shelf revealed an advance reader’s edition (ARE) of this very book.   A few chapters into the book, a familiar feeling arose.   It was similar to the one you get after watching a movie that had fabulous trailers/coming attractions but left little for the actual theater experience.   That’s how this reviewer felt – a bit let down, after reading The Power of Habit.   All the catchy and engaging information was in the teaser articles.   Absent these elements, the book became a traditional survey (overview) of the force of habit.

The sonorous, heavy tone of the text may have been lightened with the final editing process.   It’s doubtful that the notes and sources section was reduced.   It occupies nearly 20% of the book!   Hopefully, the charming diagrams made it to the release version.

Recommended for readers who are extremely curious about the force of habit.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Power of Habit was released on February 28, 2012.   The original title on the ARE was The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How to Change It. 

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Split Decision

The sub-title of Trade-Off is “Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t.”   It is a title that describes the book itself, which both worked and didn’t work for this reader.   In it Kevin Maney describes “the ever-present tension between quality and convenience” in the business world.   A better way of understanding this is his statement that companies can either be needed or loved…  Something he explains by looking at numerous companies that made the mistake of trying to be both needed and loved.

One clear example is Starbucks.   The company went from being a dependable brewer of bold coffee in select locations to – seemingly overnight – a company whose “shops” were everywhere; a company that tried to sell its customers everything from books to records to dishware.   Its standard mission of selling bold coffee seemed to be lost in its great expansion plans.   By getting bigger, Starbucks became smaller in the eyes of its customer base.   And its exclusivity – its value – was lost.

Think of Nordstrom.   If Nordstrom suddenly expanded to the point where you could find one of its stores next to every 7-11 or Wal-Mart, what would you think about it?   At the least, one would think that it had become ordinary and that something must be “wrong” with the merchant.   This illustrates another accurate point made by Maney, “Great companies figure out what they can do better than anyone else in the world, and then relentlessly focus on that.”

Yes, but the all-too-great temptation is to try to do other things, new things, and this is where companies from Motorola (RAZR, anyone?), to Starbucks, to Coach and Tiffany have stumbled.   Right this minute I see the same thing happening with Target, which has gone from being a solid purveyor of quality mid-level customer goods to one which is a sad knock-off of Wal-Mart.   Someone at Target’s corporate headquarters has decided to not let Target be Target, which is unfortunate.

So Maney does a fine job when it comes to making the point, repeatedly, that a business can offer either quality or convenience – it cannot do both.   Many will try to cross the line from quality to convenience – Starbucks again being the best example – and pay a high price for it.   And does anyone remember Krispy Kreme?

About four-fifths of the way through Trade-Off, however, Maney begins drinking his own Kool-Aid.   He began the book by being needed and he succumbs to trying to be loved, giving the reader his prognostications – his guesses – as to how certain businesses can be “fixed.”   His writings become rather silly at this point.   He jumps into the health care debate and decides that “doc in the boxes” are the future, notwithstanding that this trend came and went in the 80s and 90s, and the facts – as he admits – are that they tended to be cash-only enterprises (which does not help those without health insurance) staffed by nurse practitioners and R.N.s rather than licensed physicians.

Maney also goes on to describe the current circulation problems with newspapers.   As a former reporter, his solution is for newspapers to target boomers in their print version, and young people with jazzy internet versions.   This is just plain ridiculous.   Young people avoid certain papers because they’re seen as irrelevant to their own lives.   In my own community of  Sacramento, for example, the alternative Sacramento News & Review sells more advertisements every week, while our mainstream paper claims it cannot find sufficient advertisers due to the recession.   Right… 

There’s simply no way a mainstream newspaper is going to design a website that attracts young readers who are avoiding that paper – that outdated (and un-cool) brand – in droves.   A better solution would be to de-construct what it is that makes the alternative paper attractive [hint: it has an attitude] and attempt to imitate it, although it is probably too late in the day for many of today’s – or rather yesterday’s – newspapers.   It may simply be that their time has come and gone.  

Near the end of Trade-Off  Maney writes, “I hope the trade-off was worth it.”   In the case of this $23.00 list book, the answer is no.   This likely would have made a great airline magazine article, good for passing a half-hour or 45 minutes in the air.   As a business-consumer psychology survey, it winds up being simply ok.   Maney lost more than he gained by going past the book’s logical ending point and filling it with stuffing.

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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Something Quite Blue

“I didn’t want him to think I was a slut…”.

This one was quite a shocker.   Somehow, since Emily Giffin’s books are sold at family-friendly locations like Target stores, I thought her series (Something Borrowed, Something Blue, etc.) would be PG rated.   Instead, this book had content that ranged from an adult R rating, to a harder R and even close to X-rated material.

There’s a lot of unnecessarily bad language in Something Blue which, when added to the highly charged sexual content, makes it more than a bit difficult to relate to its characters.   Unless, that is, debauchery is your thing.   How bad is this story?   Here’s the set up…   Darcy Rhone is the self-proclaimed beautiful woman (“I was born beautiful.”) who sleeps with the best friend of the man she’s engaged to be married to.   Subsequently, she’s completely shocked to learn that the man she was going to marry has been sleeping with her lifelong best female friend.

It’s the would-be groom, not Darcy, who calls off the wedding.   For some reason we’re supposed to care about Darcy’s long (356 page) journey to renewal – “her journey toward self awareness, forgiveness and motherhood.”   Thanks, but no thanks.  

Apparently Darcy was the villain – the “evil witch” – in Giffin’s first novel Something Borrowed, which makes it even less likely that the reader should be concerned about what happens to her in this installment.   The story line noted above might have been somewhat interesting in some type of dark-but-humorous satire, but this is not that book.   Need I add that the plot also includes an unintended pregnancy?Something Blue 2

I found this to be a tale that simply seemed to have little or no redeeming social value.   I sincerely doubt that I’ll be picking up any more Emily Giffin stories, even if the covers are cheerfully done in blue, pink, green and yellow.

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We Are Family: A Review of The Wednesday Sisters

Wednesday largeThis is a very good, charming tale about five women who meet in the late 1960s at a park in a city with an almost perfect climate – Palo Alto, California.   They first meet on September 6, 1967, when they are presumably in their twenties.   The book takes us along with them through the next seven years.   These were turbulent times in our country – from Vietnam to the beginnings of the feminist movement to Watergate – matched by the turbulence in the lives (and loves) of these five friends.

The friends have one thing in common, which is that they all would like to write and earn their living as professional writers; this during a period when being a wife and mother was expected to be enough.   Even without the notes attached to the Target Bookmarked version, one would guess that author Meg Waite Clayton told more than a bit of her own true life story here.   The best thing to this reader is that one does not have to be female to identify with the story and the trials of its protagonists.  

The tale, while not perfect, is well written enough to make you want to keep turning the pages.   Was it close to perfect?   Well, no…   There were at least two or three scenes in the book – romance directed – that could well have been excised.   Counterbalancing this, there were two or three scenes that touched the heart and soul – not just a bit, but absolutely.

At its end, this is a story about surviving – survival being greatly assisted by love, friendship, tolerance, hopes, dreams, faith…   and the belief that tomorrow will be even better than today.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Note:   This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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