Breaking Bad Habits - Ideas for Leaders

Breaking Bad Habits

Defy Industry Norms and Reinvigorate Your Business

About Author/s:

Freek Vermeulen is professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at London Business School. He is the first-ever winner of the school’s Excellence in Teaching Award and has received various international prizes for his research on strategic management. Vermeulen writes regularly from Harvard Business Review, the Financial Times, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal.


Old ways of doing things are typically based on industry norms or ‘best practices’. The premise behind this book is that, to embrace the new thinking and innovation that will drive their future success, organizations need to ditch many best practices that they live by today – but have passed their sell-by date. Sub-titled ‘Defy Industry Norms and Reinvigorate Your Business’, the book shows how to identify and eliminate bad best practices and, illustrated with numerous cases, demonstrates how by creating fertile ground for innovation this can lead to profitable renewal.

Core Idea

“That’s the way we do things around here,” is the give-away phrase that, according to Vermeulen, signals the presence of a bad habit that needs to stop. These are often enduring structures, systems, processes and ways of working that once helped improve organizational performance, but are no longer relevant and may be hindering innovation. These inefficient practices which may have originated from good intentions can spread and become embodied in an organization for decades, often established by people long since gone, but unchallenged because, like bad habits, managers fail to recognise their negative effects.

Bad best practices come in many forms, both informal and formal. Examples include: medical staff chasing success rates, the way companies handle performance reviews, or the over reliance on management systems such as ISO 9000 or Six Sigma which by their inward focus on current processes can block innovation and change.

Having described how bad habits form and spread, Vermeulen goes on to show how to eliminate them. He offers a ‘ten commandments’ for identifying and eliminating bad habits, the first of which is: Cut out benchmarking – because this encourages a herd mentality “a real dud for innovation” and a way for bad practice to spread and persist.

The second half of the book, which is devoted to reinvigorating the organization, significantly points out that having got rid of bad practices it is essential not to breed new ones, before going on to provide valuable insights on innovation and renewal.


Much has been written about innovation, this book is exceptional in its focus on the corresponding need to clear out old ways of doing things in order to create the open fertile ground where new ideas can take root. Written in an engaging and witty style, and full of challenging examples it offers practical advice both for the clear-out and for fostering innovation and organizational renewal.


  • Title: Breaking Bad Habits: Defy Industry Norms and Reinvigorate Your Business

    Author/s Name/s: Freek Vermeulen

    Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press

    ISBN: 978-1-63369-382-1

    Publishing Date: November 2017

    Number of Pages: 258

Author Knowledge Rating: 1-5 (based on their years of experience, academic expertise in subject areas, and exposure to cross-functional thinking in the area)

Readability: 1-5 score(1=dense and v academic; 5=frantic; page turner)

Appropriate Length: (1=could have been written in 25% of the length;5=could have been longer)

Core Idea Value: (1=nonsense (or entirely esoteric); 5=game-changer)