The Power of Habit

by

Charles Duhigg

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Paul O'Neill Character Analysis

Paul O’Neill was the CEO and chairman of Alcoa from 1987 to 2000, and then the Secretary of the Treasury under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002. By focusing on worker safety, O’Neill completely transformed Alcoa’s culture. In addition to eliminating almost all serious accidents, O’Neill’s policy also unified the workforce behind a single goal and gave ordinary workers the power to share their ideas with upper management. Ultimately, this helped Alcoa’s profits and stock price skyrocket. Charles Duhigg uses O’Neill’s tenure at Alcoa as a key example of how keystone habits can transform organizations by offering small wins, creating frameworks for further change, and changing organizational culture. Ultimately, he attributes O’Neill’s success to his time working as a budget analyst for the U.S. government—which helped him develop effective management habits and showed him how such habits determined organizations’ effectiveness.

Paul O'Neill Quotes in The Power of Habit

The The Power of Habit quotes below are all either spoken by Paul O'Neill or refer to Paul O'Neill . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Random House edition of The Power of Habit published in 2014.
Chapter 4 Quotes

Where should a would-be habit master start? Understanding keystone habits holds the answer to that question: The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.

Related Characters: Charles Duhigg (speaker), Paul O'Neill
Related Symbols: Keystone Habits
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

What most people didn’t realize, however, was that O’Neill’s plan for getting to zero injuries entailed the most radical realignment in Alcoa’s history. The key to protecting Alcoa employees, O’Neill believed, was understanding why injuries happened in the first place. And to understand why injuries happened, you had to study how the manufacturing process was going wrong. To understand how things were going wrong, you had to bring in people who could educate workers about quality control and the most efficient work processes, so that it would be easier to do everything right, since correct work is also safer work.
In other words, to protect workers, Alcoa needed to become the best, most streamlined aluminum company on earth.

Related Characters: Charles Duhigg (speaker), Paul O'Neill
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

O’Neill’s experiences with infant mortality illustrate the second way that keystone habits encourage change: by creating structures that help other habits to flourish. In the case of premature deaths, changing collegiate curriculums for teachers started a chain reaction that eventually trickled down to how girls were educated in rural areas, and whether they were sufficiently nourished when they became pregnant. And O’Neill’s habit of constantly pushing other bureaucrats to continue researching until they found a problem’s root causes overhauled how the government thought about problems like infant mortality.

Related Characters: Charles Duhigg (speaker), Paul O'Neill
Related Symbols: Keystone Habits
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:
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Paul O'Neill Character Timeline in The Power of Habit

The timeline below shows where the character Paul O'Neill appears in The Power of Habit. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4: Keystone Habits, or the Ballad of Paul O’Neill: Which Habits Matter Most
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...with the new CEO of the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), the former bureaucrat Paul O’Neill. To everyone’s surprise, instead of promising to increase profits, he spoke about worker safety, which... (full context)
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At first, O’Neill wasn’t sure if he wanted the CEO job at Alcoa. After rising through the Veterans... (full context)
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When O’Neill joined Alcoa, the company was struggling—quality was suffering and its workers were inefficient. But O’Neill... (full context)
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After taking over at Alcoa, O’Neill faced opposition from Wall Street, the workers’ unions, and the company’s vice presidents. But he... (full context)
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O’Neill’s focus on safety also changed other parts of Alcoa’s culture. Unions agreed to measure individual... (full context)
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Six months into his job at Alcoa, Paul O’Neill learned that a young worker in Arizona had jumped over a safety wall to try... (full context)
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When O’Neill was analyzing infant mortality data for the government, he learned to get to the root... (full context)
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At Alcoa, O’Neill used safety as a justification for building a company-wide email network. This happened in the... (full context)
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...report dangerous working conditions at an Alcoa plant in Mexico. While this was inconsistent with O’Neill’s records, he sent a team to Mexico to investigate. They learned about an unreported accident... (full context)
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In 2000, O’Neill left Alcoa to become the U.S. secretary of the treasury. Other companies have adopted his... (full context)