Summary of

The annoying habits of highly effective people


0.2 min

The main takeaway here is that a) it is easy to confuse correlation with causation. Success in business doesn’t imply success in habits, profit growth and share price performance may be ephemeral.

The second takeaway is that a ‘homilies about successful executives involve lots of virtue-signalling’. So down-weight aggressively.


Homilies about successful executives involve lots of virtue-signalling. No boss is going to admit that on Friday nights they consume pizza and watch box sets of “Game of Thrones”. Instead they claim to meditate or read improving books. Many business profiles resemble medieval “lives of the saints”, with the subjects of the hagiographies receiving share options instead of canonisation.

Probably the virtue-signalling thing is significant.

It is easy to confuse correlation with causation. Tim Cook would probably be just as effective if he rose at 6.45am. He will have some qualities other than hard work and an unusual circadian rhythm to explain his rise. If long hours were the key to success, after all, people who hold down two jobs, or nurses on the night shift in emergency rooms, would be rolling in wealth.

Some executive habits may be harmless, such as the preference of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg to wear the same outfit every day. But the danger is that a leader’s eccentricities and views become so embedded in the culture that they damage the business in the long run. Henry Ford achieved great success with the Model T , but he failed to change it when it became old-fashioned; his dislike of credit also held back Ford when other producers allowed consumers to buy in instalments.

The danger of copying chief executives is that what makes their habits fashionable is usually strong profit growth and share price performance, and those can be ephemeral.