|Image Source: http://bit.ly/1IdPt94|
O’Neill gained that insight years earlier when he worked as a middle manager in the Veterans Administration. During that time, he recorded why certain projects succeeded while others failed and figured out that government programs weren’t driven by logical rules and priorities, but “bizarre institutional processes that, in many ways, operated like habits,” Duhigg wrote. “Bureaucrats and politicians, rather than making decisions, were responding to cues within automatic routines in order to get rewards such promotions or reelection. It was a habit loop—spread across thousands of people and billions of dollars.”
O’Neill’s insight and Duhigg’s analysis add up to a model for developing effective public policies, the kind that stick. As the graphic suggests, habits are routines triggered by cues and sustained by rewards. An economic development policy maker for example, might use the cue-routine-reward model to identify desirable business actions, such as hiring workers or expanding facilities; the cues that trigger these actions, such as getting a government contract or increased demand for a product or service; and the rewards that sustain the action, such as higher profits. Knowing how the cues, routines, and rewards align could help policy makers design tax credits and other incentives that affect the cues that trigger desired routines.